Frank Lampard: the greatest goalscoring midfielder in the modern game

After 22 seasons in the professional game, Frank Lampard is calling it a day. He will retire as a player to leave the pitch for the dugout and the TV studio as a coach and pundit, and a footballer who should be ranked among the very best of his era.

Was he the greatest midfielder of his generation? That’s a question that is impossible to answer. Firstly, what kind of midfielder? It’s a position that, given its operating area in the centre the pitch features so many different roles, responsibilities and interpretations, is a debate within itself – and one that quickly becomes lost in woolly philosophy about the merits of what comes first: taking control, taking command, putting in challenges, creating chances, and so on.
Lampard’s best qualities have never been up for discussion. His value to a team is obvious rather than vague, opaque or mystical. There is no context required to appreciate what he has always been about. He excelled at being exactly the kind of midfielder he set out to be, and there is no doubt that he was the very best at what he did. A record of 274 goals from midfield in 913 competitive appearances is pure end product.
In 11 out of his 22 seasons as professional player, he hit double figures for league goals. In 2010 bagged 22 in 36 Premier League games. That’s a return that would have won him the Golden Boot in seven seasons since the relaunch and re-branding of the English topflight in 1992.
He is fourth in the all-time list of Premier League scorers with 177 goals from his time with West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester City, and left Stamford Bridge in 2014 for the Etihad having already cemented his place in history, overtaking Bobby Tambling as the highest scorer in the club’s history. While Wayne Rooney may have claimed Sir Bobby Charlton’s records for club and country to become the most prolific player England and Manchester United have ever seen, Lampard is a more natural heir to the World Cup-winner in terms of their style of play.
A goalscoring midfielder rather than a forward capable of playing deeper, he is the finest player of his type in the modern game. No one else can touch his tally for goals from the middle of the park. He holds the record for the most goals scored from outside of the box in the Premier League with 41, yet his game wasn’t focused on ensuring that his goal count was inflated by taking every opportunity for himself. Rooney and Ryan Giggs are the only other players to count up 100 goals and assists in the English topflight since 1992.
The next midfielder in the Premier League historical rankings for goals scored is Steven Gerrard with 120 – 57 less than his former England partner. Compared to other great goal-scoring midfielders, Lampard still stands tall.
His return of 0.30 goals per game in all competitions is superior to Yaya Toure (0.18), Cesc Fabregas (0.20), Bryan Robson (0.20), Paul Scholes (0.21), , Alan Ball (0.22), Martin Peters (0.24), Paul Gascoigne (0.25), Michael Ballack (0.25) Lothar Mattheus (0.26), Michael Laudrup (0.27) and Gunter Netzer (0.29), equal to the great Colin Bell (0.30), and slightly inferior to Charlton (0.32) and Kaka (0.32), who played further forward on a more regular basis than the Englishman.
Scholes is the only central midfielder to score more Champions League goals than Lampard – 24 versus 23 – and the former Chelsea player can point to some absolutely absurd finishes on the European stage, including a scarcely believable dinked effort away to Barcelona in 2006, a year after a pile-driver against Bayern Munich.
Despite losing out on penalties against Manchester United in the 2008 final of the continent’s premier club competition, his side would have never made it to the shootout without his second half strike to cancel out Cristiano Ronaldo’s first half opener.
His critics may dismiss his formidable statistics due to his status as a regular penalty taker, or by claiming too many of his biggest hits received helpful deflections on their ways into the back of the net. To downplay his abilities, and the quality of his contributions, is to do him a disservice, and underestimate the grit and hard work behind his ascent to the top.
At 18 he broke his leg at West Ham, much to the satisfaction of those who had taken an early dislike to the youngster. His uncle, and then manager, Harry Redknapp, famously shouted down a fan at an annual general meeting who called his nephew’s talent into question, along with the opportunities he had been given ahead of the likes of Scott Canham and Matt Holland.
“There will be no comparison between what Frank Lampard will achieve in football and what Scott Canham will achieve in football,” he told the supporter in question – 20 years on, the teenager would retire as a winner of three Premier League titles, the Champions League, the Europa League, four FA Cups, the League Cup on two occasions and various individual honours. In 2005, he finished second to Ronaldinho in the Ballon d’Or.
“He will go right to the very top,” Redknapp continued. “He has everything that’s needed to become a top class midfield player. His attitude is first class, he’s got strength, he can play, he can pass it and score goals.”
After coming back from injury as a youngster, and building up his experience and physique to win a move to big money move to Chelsea in 2001, the Englishman became one of the central pillars of the dressing room, and a vital driving force within one of the Premier League’s genuine power teams.
It was Lampard, alongside the likes of Didier Drogba and captain John Terry, who set the tone and created the right kind of atmosphere for the Blues to become one of the most consistent and ferocious sides in European football.
Even after the departure of Jose Mourinho in 2007, it was the Englishman and his cohorts who ensured that at Chelsea, player power ensured a self-sufficient winning mentality was maintained, not frittered away by distractions to take away from the business of trying to win games and trophies.
He was accused of treating his later move to the USA as a spell of semi-retirement after a disappointing first year in MLS with New York City – he was even called the worst signing in the league’s history – only to bounce back in his second season to answer his critics.
There was always more to this success than a work ethic and a strong sense of professionalism and commitment to his craft, however. Lampard was gifted too. When Chelsea’s backroom staff put the squad through various tests to measure up their physical and cognitive abilities, the Englishman was way out in front.
His peripheral vision and spatial awareness was off the charts. If he was a player who always benefited from arriving in the right place at the right time to tuck away a shot, there was a reason for it. Forget the trivia about his GCSE in Latin.
Lampard is a player who can rightly be considered to have been an intellectual heavyweight on the football pitch. He saw and read things otherwise couldn’t. No matter how many spot kicks may have inflated his goal count, those penalties still had to be put away.
Now, a second career awaits in management and in the media. Like David Beckham before him, Lampard leaves the dressing room as a role model for other players to follow, who made the most out of his abilities and achieved one of the rarest feats in modern football: he fulfilled his potential. The best goal-scoring midfielder of his generation who would make for a worthy contender for that title across every age and era.
Source: All Football

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