Is Lampard Really A Chelsea Legend?

The Frank Lampard contract saga has brought up plenty of issues, from wage capping, to loyalty, players honouring contracts and even a player’s status within their club. And it’s the final one on that list I have issues with as far as Lampard’s concerned. I mean, he keeps being referred to as a ‘Chelsea Legend’ and whilst I’ve repeatedly stated I’d always acknowledge the huge contribution he’s made to the team during his 7 year stint, ‘legend’ isn’t a word I’d use when it comes to describing him.

When I think of Chelsea legends within my own lifetime, there’s one man who epitomises that for me, and when I recently heard a supporter suggesting they are of equal status in Chelsea’s history, well it prompted a reaction to say the least.

You see, the epitome of a Chelsea legend for me comes in the shape of a 5 foot 6 Sardinian who arrived at Stamford Bridge in November 1996. A player with nothing to prove when he arrived, Gianfranco Zola’s impact was instant. He put his heart and soul into Chelsea from day one and despite joining us part way through a season, just six months later he’d been named the Football Writers’ Player of the Year.

Zola turned in a series of devastating displays, his technique and repertoire of tricks adding something pretty special to an inconsistent Chelsea side. Who could forget his free-kicks, the sight of him leaving the United defence for dead in a league game before sliding the ball past a static Schmeichel? And what about his equaliser against Liverpool in the 1997 FA Cup game that saw us eventually turn them over 4-2? Not forgetting Norwich, what can you say about that back-heel except – sublime?

Taking players on, setting up countless goals and scoring some spectacular ones himself, he illustrated everything that is great about football. His vision and sheer hard work, along with the partnership he struck up with Mark Hughes helped Chelsea to FA Cup victory in 1997 and the League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup the following year. Sparky said of him at the time “He’s so good on the ball it’s untrue. He sends in these inch-perfect passes which are so accurate that you don’t have to break stride. If I cannot play well with a player like Gianfranco Zola then it’s a bad reflection on myself.”

Even when he had the disappointment of injuries in his second season coupled with missing his life in Italy, and later still, facing family pressure to return, Zola just got on with it like a true professional. I swear the man always played with a smile on his face. In fact it wasn’t just his football that endeared him to fans of not just his own club but many other clubs, it was his character. A real down to earth player who only ever hit the headlines for the right reasons – unlike some of today’s media whores.

Anyway, it came as a very sad day when, shortly before Roman’s arrival Zola made the decision to return to Italy. In true Zola style though, rather than returning for one last year in Serie A, having vowed to one day return to Cagliari, Zola decided it was time to honour that promise. Not for him either personal or financial gain, just the desire to repay them what he felt he owed and in doing so, showing what a true gentleman of the game he was. In November 2004 Zola was awarded an OBE for services to football. The British Embassy described Zola as “the most enduring and popular foreign player in the history of Chelsea.” Dead right.

Zola played for Chelsea for seven years, scoring 80 goals, helping us to six trophies and marking himself out as the best player ever to wear the shirt. In June 2005, after some 20 years in football, in a career during which he’d achieved more than most players can even dream of, Zola retired – and the number 25 shirt for Cagliari, just like the number 25 for Chelsea previously, retired with him.

Of course, we tried to persuade Zola to make a return but unlike the players of today, the little man could not be bought. You see, money was never Zola’s god and he sums up what stands him out against our players today when he says “Money can give you many things but respect cannot be bought. What I have achieved in the way people regard me, in my mind, is remarkable.”

Talking about money, that brings me nicely on to Frank Lampard. He too has had a seven year stint at Chelsea, but for me, that’s the only thing the two players have in common.

Lampard definitely still had something to prove following his £11million arrival in 2001. Here was an average midfielder with a far from average price tag, who wasn’t even liked at his former club and his first two seasons did nothing to warrant that transfer fee as he was completely outshone by Gianfranco. Only when Zola departed and the team was built entirely around him, did Lampard thrive – achieving the now common double figures in his annual goal tally.

Of course I acknowledge his success, he’s been a virtual ever-present in today’s Chelsea side, holding the record for consecutive Premier League appearances. He hits double figures in goals every season, sits seventh in Chelsea’s all time goalscorer’s list and is the only midfielder to score 4 goals in one Premier League game. In his seven seasons with us, we’ve won two Premier League titles, two Carling Cups, an FA Cup and a Charity Shield. He’s also been nominated several times for European and World Footballer of the Year. Yet, he commands anything but respect outside of Stamford Bridge, with opposition supporters mocking everything from his weight, to his shooting and ‘deflected’ goals. And whilst I’ve never had issues with his game, indeed it’s something I’ve defended many times, his behaviour over a new contract threatens to wipe out whatever respect he earned inside Stamford Bridge over the past seven years.

And this is where the differences in class really show up, because when Zola made the decision to leave, he went about it in the right way, for the right reasons and he stuck by that decision. Had Lampard been a big enough man to say he wanted to leave this summer, he could’ve walked away with whatever status the supporters bestowed on him intact. Instead, whilst making out with his badge on a weekly basis, he chose to insist negotiations would be a mere formality, before showing the club as much commitment as his pictures with European lovelies show his missus.

In their desperation to keep him, the club made a very generous offer guaranteeing Lampard £140,000 a week for the next 4 years. But whilst a true legend would’ve had the club’s hand off for that sort of deal at 30 years of age, Lampard sent his agent out to suggest this simply wasn’t good enough. In fact, such is his loyalty that ‘Super Frank’ feels £150,000 for the next five years is the least he deserves apparently. Oh, and if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll join former boss Jose Mourinho at Inter.
And for the duration of the summer, a summer in which Frank Lampard himself had promised “his people” he’d pledge his future to them, what has the man himself had to say? Nothing for fear of losing that ‘status’ he’d been so wrongly rewarded by the club he “loves”. He continues to disrespect those who pay his wages and call him a ‘legend’, whilst seemingly looking for excuses to get out.

So forgive me for not granting Lampard the same status that some of you believe he deserves, but for me, the true legend is the man applauded not only by his own; the man I felt honoured to call a Chelsea player; a man who carried himself as a role model for all those who followed him; who made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck then and still does now when I watch him; a man who truly put the club before himself. In short, a man who really epitomised and deserved the title of a true ‘Chelsea Legend.’