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”
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.
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.