Year Zero: The making of Frank Lampard (Chelsea, 2004/05)
“I have never had a manager who, while I’m standing in the shower cleaning my balls, tells me I’m the best player in the world,” Frank Lampard once recalled. “Jose Mourinho did that. I’ll never forget it. So casual. ‘You’re the best player in the world, but you need to win titles.’”
Mourinho’s words that day would echo throughout his own Chelsea career as much as those he would later whisper to Lampard
It was the first season of Mourinho’s epic reign as manager in west London; a season that would deliver Chelsea a first league crown in 50 years. He had not long before ripped a Champions League winners’ medal from his neck with a look of dissatisfaction and disappeared down the tunnel at the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, bowing out on his time as Porto manager.
Mourinho would soon resurface for public viewing at Stamford Bridge, being unveiled as Chelsea boss in the press room just a few metres from where Lampard was later showering. The Portuguese's words that day would echo throughout his own Chelsea career even more those he would later whisper to Lampard.
“I’m not one from the bottle, I’m a Special One,” he told the English media. A legend was born in that moment. His arrogance; the temerity of the man to declare himself as such, carried the stench of success. In order to achieve all that impression demands, to back up the confidence, Mourinho knew he needed to breed that exact same characteristic in his players.
Talk about picking your moments, though. The shower? Really? We’ve heard that Mourinho can be unconventional, but that was pushing the boundaries, even by his own standards. Where was the sense of occasion to make this grand statement that would alter a player’s career? Where was the glamour? The sense of prestige?
Still, so far as symbolism goes, the shower scene works on enough levels to satisfy. Perhaps that was Mourinho’s motive all along, knowing that for years to come, the legend of this meeting would be regaled with the vision of a naked Lampard, listening to him preach. It cast Lampard as the mortal man; Mourinho the holy spirit, lurking in the shadows to preach his doctrine.
Mourinho was watching his midfielder wash away the failures and frustrations from the past, cleansing his soul for a new era at Chelsea. All that had passed before was going down the plughole.
A different player
“From that moment, the extra confidence was in me,” Lampard said. “Not that I thought I was the best player in the world, but the manager who had just won the Champions League thought it. So I went out a different player.”
In the same way Mourinho’s words were laced with something resembling substance, Lampard’s words carry a truth themselves. His Chelsea career changed dramatically under Mourinho. He did become that different player.
Lampard was no longer the son of a famous footballer. He was the famous footballer
In 2004/05, while we were watching the dugouts wherever Chelsea played, anticipating Mourinho’s next move, something very special was happening on the pitch. A club was beginning to restructure the landscape of English football; Lampard himself redefining what we expected from a midfielder. It wasn’t enough to maraud box-to-box anymore – the demand on players in his position meant sharing the striker’s duty. They had to score goals.
Chelsea weren’t the plucky underdogs they had been at times in their history, and Lampard was no longer the son of a famous footballer. He was the famous footballer. From that impromptu shower meeting to the goals he scored on the pitch, this was a player taking his first steps to greatness.
From claret and blue to Blues
Chelsea had signed Lampard for £11m from West Ham three years before Mourinho’s arrival. It was a fee that raised eyebrows; the Hammers had wrongly been laughing all the way to the 'iron tank', thinking they had robbed Chelsea blind.
A product of the east Londoners' youth system, Lampard’s DNA was claret and blue, let alone his blood. He was in his comfort zone at Upton Park, the place where he had grown up, and departing when he did was the jolt his career needed.
Still, joining Chelsea didn’t propel him forward as rapidly as Blues fans – and maybe he himself – would have hoped for. Lampard’s transfer fee was significant for those times, and yet it took the No.8 until December 23 that season to open his Premier League account for his new club.
That was a run of 17 matches – 19 if we include League Cup appearances. He had scored a goal in the UEFA Cup earlier in the season, yet it didn’t feel quite as significant. Week in, week out, on home soil, he didn’t seem to be settling.
Lampard would finish the campaign with just five league goals to his name, which was hardly the impact £11m was supposed to bring. That lack of influence meant him missing out on a place in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad for the 2002 World Cup with England as well.