Lampard: Premier League ‘the best in the world’

The start to Frank Lampard’s 18th season in the Barclays Premier League could hardly have been better as the Chelsea midfielder converted a penalty in his side’s 2-0 victory at Wigan Athletic on Sunday.

 

The 34-year-old is the highest-scoring midfielder in the competition’s history, the only player to have managed double figures in goals in nine consecutive seasons and last season he became one of only six players to have passed 500 Premier League appearances.

Lampard is set to make his 523rd League appearance this evening at home to Reading as Chelsea look to build on their winning start to the campaign and attempt to add to the three League titles Lampard has helped them win.

The England international’s 2011/12 season was bookended with trophies. He won the Barclays Asia Trophy with Chelsea in July 2011, before lifting The FA Cup in May and then adding the one major club honour missing from his collection: a UEFA Champions League winner’s medal.

Speaking exclusively before the start of the 2012/13 season the 34-year-old looked back on the drama of last season’s campaign and modestly reflected on his legendary status in Premier League history.

He reveals how Chelsea became united to become European champions and how he almost left these shores to play abroad.

 

“”All the way down the League teams are improving

and have something to fight for”

Frank Lampard

 

Exciting finale

How exciting was it to be a part of last season?

Frank Lampard: It was amazing. If you wrote it as a movie script no one would believe it. It just shows how competitive the Premier League is.

What’s the footballer’s take on Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winner that sealed the title for Manchester City – are those last-ditch goals about guts or luck?

FL: You need a bit of luck – every team does. We had some at Chelsea last season, but you have to keep believing and Manchester City never gave up. They pushed and pushed and got the reward. Aguero is a class player and with strikers like that in your team things can happen for you any time in a match.

Was it the most competitive season you’ve played in?

FL: For me personally it wasn’t, because we weren’t where we wanted to be in the League. Not to be challenging for the title and focusing on the two cups we eventually won changed the emphasis at Chelsea. Six teams competing for the top places made it harder than ever and it will be tougher again next season. Manchester City will be strong, Manchester United are always the benchmark and you can’t underestimate teams like Arsenal or Liverpool. It’s great for the League to have so much strength.

 

Chelsea’s victory in the UEFA Champions League ensured England were the top performing European league for the fifth year in a row. What makes the League so strong?

FL: It’s tough as there’s no easy games, no simple three points as all the way down the League the teams are improving and have something to fight for. Other leagues in Europe have top teams but I feel we have more strength in depth and more top players from around the world.

What was the secret to Chelsea’s Champions League win?

FL: It’s common knowledge we had some shaky times last season, but once the managerial change came there was a fresh unity – like the Chelsea of old. We all felt part of the campaign again and we wanted it badly – we always have. Players that are used to winning things don’t give that up easily. It’s about big players and determination.

 

‘Best league in world football’

Last season was the Premier League’s 20th. You’ve played in 17 of them – what has changed on and off the pitch in that time?

FL: So much has changed in my time. The TV influence is huge and it has taken the English game to such new levels with interest around the world. This has allowed teams to grow and attract the best players and they have helped raise standards and training techniques, which now leave us with the most interesting and, for me, best league in world football.

How proud are you of what you have achieved in the Premier League?

FL: When I signed for Chelsea I wanted to win things for my club. Having done that, personal achievements are great to have – but they’re just stats. It’s all about trophies. I’m part of a team and if I can break records to help my team I’m doubly happy.

 

What is your most memorable experience in the Premier League?

FL: When I scored the two goals against Bolton that won Chelsea the League for the first time in 50 years. Wow, that was something, even thinking back to it now. The reaction of the fans was unreal.

 

Drogba great

We said goodbye to Didier Drogba at the end of this season. He has been a wonderful ambassador for the Premier League, but what are your memories of your long-time teammate?

FL: Didier is a great player and a great man and he will always be a friend. We get on really well. He’s a winner and a decent human being and he does such tireless work for charity.

What about the next generation of Frank Lampards? Do you think we will see more home grown players coming through Chelsea’s training ground?

FL: Cobham is a great facility and I feel we have a good, fresh generation of young coaches working with our players. Everything is set up for the youngsters and Chelsea and I hope we bring through lots of great players.

What will be your memories of being part of the Premier League’s history?

FL: I love playing in the Premier League. It’s no secret I nearly went to Italy with Jose [Mourinho] and I would have liked to have seen what it was like playing in a totally different league. But I’ve no regrets as the Premier League is watched all over the world and it’s great that people enjoy what we do. To play in the Roman Abramovich years at Chelsea has been incredible. He gave us the chance to challenge for all the honours and it’s been a real pleasure.

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one of Azkal Players joins the 1st Division of German Bundesliga

 

Philippine national men’s football team member Stephan Schrock will be playing at the top echelon of German football after signing a three-year deal with Bundesliga first division squad TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, according to a report on the league’s official website.

The 25-year-old Azkals member had spent the past eight seasons as a member of the first team of SpVgg Greuther Fuerth, which currently sits atop the standings in the second division of the Bundesliga. Last month, Schrock helped the club make a Cinderella run to the semifinals of the DFB Pokal, Germany’s top Cup competition.

Ironically, Fuerth defeated Hoffenheim in the quarterfinals of that tournament.

Schrock missed Fuerth’s semifinal match against defending Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund due to injury.

“I’m very much looking forward to the challenge at 1899, who have made a name for themselves on their way to becoming an established side in the Bundesliga. I can take the next step in my career here,” Schrock told the Bundesliga site.

“Stephan Schrock was a prime transfer target of mine. He has all the qualities that a modern day defender needs to have. In signing him we have gained the necessary substance and will have more alternatives in our defensive department for the future,” said Hoffenheim coach Markus Babbel.

While Schrock is deployed as a defender in the Bundesliga, he played the midfield for the Azkals in three matches last year.

NCAA Standings: San Beda roars back to No. 1

1. San Beda Red Lions

(Overall record: 8-2; Last week: 2nd)

Entering the second round in a three-way tie for the top spot, the Red Lions were the only team that took care of business this week, pounding the Lyceum Pirates, 77-47, behind a season-high 16 assists from Baser Amer and 17 points from Jake Pascual.

Despite the loss to San Sebastian near the end of the first round, San Beda is starting to look like the steadier team. In their last three wins (against JRU, Letran and Lyceum), no team has come closer than 22 points. And that gives them the solo lead in the NCAA standings and great position moving forward in the second round.

2. Perpetual Help Altas

(Overall record: 7-3; Last week: 4th)

Perpetual got back to its winning ways against Saint Benilde this week, bouncing back from an upset loss to Arellano at the end of the first round. The Altas have had a lot of close calls against lower-ranked teams in their last few games, including this one where they let a 15-point third quarter lead dwindle down to one point with a minute and a half remaining.

That’s not a great sign for the Altas. But what is a good sign is that they got the ‘W’ – which puts them three victories ahead of their closest pursuer for the last spot in the final four.

3. San Sebastian Stags

(Overall record: 7-3; Last week: 1st)

San Sebastian suffered upset losses in two of their last three in games that probably say more about them than about their competition. There’s no doubt the Stags have a great on-court product, but one has to wonder about their motivation to continue competing at a high level at this point, especially reigning Most Valuable Player Calvin Abueva, who was drafted by the Alaska Aces in the PBA Draft last Sunday.

To top things off, they’ll have to deal with the surprise resignation of coach Topex Robinson, who will focus on his duties as part of the Aces’ coaching staff.

4. Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers

(Overall record: 7-3; Last week: 4th)

After closing out an impressive first round with losses only to San Beda and San Sebastian, JRU disappointed this week, falling to the Arellano Chiefs. The JRU defense, which held opponents to under 80 points in seven of their first eight games, has allowed 83 and 85 in the last two contests.

On the plus side, the scoring has been high of late – the Heavy Bombers are averaging 91.5 points in the two games since San Beda held them to a season-low 37 earlier this month – but they’ve had a lot of success keeping the scores low and it’s interesting to see how this plays out for them in the coming days.

5. Mapua Cardinals

(Overall record: 4-5; Last week: 5th)

The Cardinals stayed idle this week, but things are looking up for them after winning back-to-back games to close out the first round. Defense has been leading the way for the Cards in their current streak, holding San Sebastian and Arellano to 54 and 49 points, both season-lows for Mapua.

In fact, all four of their wins this season happen to be the games where they allowed the least amount of points. They lost all five games in which they allowed more than 63 points, and are 4-0 when allowing 63 or less.

6. Arellano Chiefs

(Overall record: 4-6; Last week: 7th)

Arellano picked up a big win this week, knocking off the favored JRU Heavy Bombers, 85-82, behind big performances from Rocky Acidre, Nard Pinto and James Forrester who all had 16 or more points.

The Chiefs have defeated higher-ranked Perpetual and JRU in two of their last three games, but they’ll have to defeat the teams in the lower half of the standings if they want to keep this run going. They’ll get the chance for that this week when they play EAC on Saturday’s playdate.

7. Letran Knights

(Overall record: 4-5; Last week: 6th)

The mysterious disappearance of center Raymond Almazan has apparently been solved with the 6-foot-7 Mythical Team member sitting behind the Letran bench in their game against San Beda and expressing a desire to suit up in the second round in spite of his going AWOL in the last six games.

His return will be a huge boost for the Knights’ campaign. They aren’t out of the final four race yet, but they do have a lot of ground to make up. And it’s unclear whether Letran coach Louie Alas will give Almazan his regular minutes back – or even whether he should.

8. Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals

(Overall record: 3-7; Last week: 9th)

The Generals pulled off the upset of the season when they toppled the powerhouse Stags, 77-67, behind strong efforts from Russell Yaya, Igee King and, of course, Noube Happi. Even more impressive? They did it without two of their guards, Francis Munsayac and Jorem Morada, and coach Gerry Espalana who were all out serving one-game bans.

Many have harped about their record not being indicative of how well they play because they’ve lost a bunch of games that could have easily gone either way. Looks like they’re out to prove that right now, and that deserves a small bump up the Power Rankings.

9. College of Saint Benilde Blazers

(Overall record: 3-7; Last week: 10th)

Carlo Lastimosa made his return to the Blazers this week, dropping 23 big points and leading a big fourth quarter run against the Altas, but it wasn’t enough as they fell to the Perpetual, 78-74. The suspensions to Joel Tolentino (three games) and Rhoel Maconocido (one game) hurt, as they could have used a little extra lift in what turned out to be a winnable game against a final four contender.

The Blazers have a long way to climb if they still want to make a run at the playoffs, but things are looking much more difficult after this tough loss.

10. Lyceum Pirates

(Overall record: 2-8; Last week: 8th)

The Pirates got trounced by 30 points this week, and though it’s tough to be too hard on them for that – it was San Beda, after all – the fact is they’re still in the middle of a five-game slide where only one has been in single-digits (an eight-point loss to San Sebastian).

Two of the losses were by 30 or more while the other two were by 10 and 14 points. They need to do a much better job staying in games if they want the opportunity to grab a win, like they did in back-to-back games against EAC and Mapua earlier this season. Otherwise, they could find themselves in this spot for a while.

Top 10 Muslim NBA players of all time

10  MEMO OKUR

This Turkish inside/outside workforce missed a bunch of games in the last few years because of his injuries but his stock started to grow when he played a wonderful backup role to Ben and Rasheed Wallace in the Detroit Pistons’ championship run in 2004. And then he signed with the Utah Jazz where he averaged 18.0 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game in the 2005-06 NBA season.

9  HEDO TURKOGLU

Here’s another Turkish basketball juggernaut whose game resembles that of Toni Kukoc. Admittedly, I was a fan of Hedo when he played for the Sacramento Kings (his parents were born in Serbia) but it’s with the Orlando Magic that he became scoring threat – averaging 19.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Magic in the 2007-08 NBA season.

8  WALT HAZZARD

This two-time NBA All-Star also represented the United States in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (Filipinos know this as the Olympics where Anthony Villanueva won a silver medal in boxing). Hazzard had his best year while playing for the Seattle Supersonics (24.0 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and 6.2 assist per game) in the inaugural season in 1967. His number was retired by UCLA in 1996 but gave permission to let a standout newcomer use it. Perhaps he thought Kevin Love would become a successful player eventually. He would later change his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman and it stayed that way until his death on November 18, 2011.

7  SHAREEF ABDUL-RAHIM

When he joined the Sacramento Kings in the 2005-06 season and the Kings scored a playoff spot, Reef ended a dubious record of playing the most number of NBA games without a playoff appearance. Originally drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1996 NBA Draft, Reef averaged 18.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game in a 12-year injury-plagued run. He also represented USA in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he won a gold medal.

6 RASHEED WALLACE

One of the most popular and hated players of his time, Sheed was the fourth overall pick by the Washington Bullets in the 1995 NBA Draft. He was the leader of the terrorizing Portland Trail Blazers of the late 90’s but it is with the Detroit Pistons where he won a NBA title. The four-time NBA All-Star also had a dubious record of all-time technical fouls with 304. He never backs down when the going gets tough and can drain the rainmakers in awesome accuracy.

5  LARRY JOHNSON

If you’re not a New York Knicks fan back then, you’ll probably be annoyed the “L” gesture he does whenever he hits a trey. “Grandma” was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1991 and had an Alvin Patrimonio-type of career where he started out a ferocious power forward but ended his career as a deadshot outside shooter. He is a one-time All-NBA Second Team, a two-time NBA-All Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and played alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller on Dream Team 2. He also the only player to have his talent get crapped at by the Looney Tunes.

4  JAMAAL ABDUL-LATEEF WILKES

Alongside Bill Walton and Coach John Wooden, “Smooth as Silk” would stir UCLA to a lot of championships. In the NBA, his winning streak continued where he won a title with the Golden State Warriors and three plums with the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 17.7 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game in a 12-year career. A three-time All-Star and the 1975 Rookie of the Year, he received his highest citation by being inducted in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2012. He is a valuable teammate to many and even if he got dethroned by James Worthy at his spot in his later years, he managed to do his best despite limited minutes.

3 SHAQUILLE O’NEAL

In some ways, I find it hard to believe that I’m writing this. This is the same jolly guy who cracks jokes, does a lot of wacky endorsements, and says things without thinking. I am a fan of Shaq but I was thinking on whether or not inserting Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and taking him off the list is a good idea. Fact is, Shaq’s dad is a Muslim. In an interview he told everyone that Hakeem Olajuwon is his brother and he’d like the idea of him and Hakeem going to Mecca together. And oh yeah – Shaq is a one-time MVP, multiple time All-NBA First, Second, and Third Team member, a 15-time All-Star, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Rookie of the Year winner, and a future Hall of Famer.

2   KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

Shocked? Oh do tell. The former Lew Alcindor was undoubtedly the best college player in time of the 1968 Mexico Olympics but he didn’t want to do anything with the United States as objection for the country’s participation to the Vietnam War. And then, he changed his name because he wanted to latch on his heritage and that he wants to educate the black people that they came from a positive culture. But then he also sued Miami Dolphins’ running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar after the former UCLA standout (same school as Kareem) twisted his name and used the number 33 (same number as Kareem) as sort of milking off his popularity. Nonetheless, Kareem is the most decorated NBA player ever with six MVPs, 10 First Teams, five Second Teams, two Finals MVPs, 19 All-Star citations, and a Hall of Fame ring.

1  HAKEEM OLAJUWON

Yes, I said it. This Hall of Famer is my top choice for my best. Kareem should have been here but then I thought that I wanted my Best Player to combine his skills with his devotion to his religion. I am not saying that most in the list aren’t devout Muslims but the climb to the NBA must be different for Olajuwon. As a kid growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, he was raised to follow the teachings of Islam ardently. That would have been trying especially when he made the trip to US where the sins of success are at its height. Because he didn’t understand the American ideals, he would go into fights with his teammates and this all changed with him becoming an even more devout Muslim. Even with the frustrating NBA schedule, The Dream remains unfazed in practicing the ideals of his religion. In 1995, he was named NBA Player of the Month even though Ramadan began on February 1 of that year. Olajuwon won a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and finished his career as a 1-time MVP, a multiple-time All-NBA Team member, the only player to win the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP in one season, and the all time leader in blocks.