Year Zero: The making of Frank Lampard (Chelsea, 2004/05)
An 89th-minute winner on the opening day of 2002/03 produced some faith that Lampard had something to offer. He arrived at the right moment to snatch three points to get Chelsea’s campaign off to a flier against Charlton.
With over £150m being spent on new players, Lampard's days were numbered if he didn’t buck up his ideas
Indeed, given how Chelsea would squeeze into Champions League qualification at the end of that season (defeating Liverpool on the final day in a game that became a European play-off), the three points Lampard earned that day proved crucial.
Eight goals in all competitions was a gradual improvement, but still not eye-catching enough leading into the summer when Roman Abramovich arrived and showed no restraint in putting his hands into his deep pockets.
Lampard got the message in a roundabout way: with over £150m being spent on new players, his days were numbered if he didn’t buck up his ideas. As he later reflected to FourFourTwo: "I was definitely concerned I would slip down the order. When Roman arrived, I looked round and thought 'the big boys are starting to arrive now'.
"There was Claude Makelele and Juan Sebastian Veron – it seemed like every day they were signing a new midfielder. I can remember sitting on the bench for our first Champions League game that season next to John [Terry] and Eidur [Gudjohnsen] and thinking, 'I’m not sure I like this Chelsea revolution...'"
But buck up his ideas he did in 2003/04, enjoying his best season in a Chelsea shirt and helping his team reach the Champions League semi-finals.
By the end of that third season, the player Chelsea had invested so heavily in was showing himself. Yet he needed Mourinho to arrive and sculpt the finished article, in what remains one of his finest achievements as a manager.
It’s when the shower scene becomes so pivotal. It instilled the belief in Lampard that he could mix it with Europe’s best and come out on top. That was the requirement now; Mourinho standing before him demanded that the rules change.
The manager symbolised the magic of that Chelsea side. He inherited so much from Claudio Ranieri when we consider the dressing room, but if the Italian had hung around for another season, would we have seen what was to come from Lampard? Would we have seen all 19 goals that rippled the back of the net?
Probably not, and Blues need only reflect on Lampard’s record up to then to appreciate that fact.
His rise was very much a reflection of Mourinho’s gradual influence. Lampard didn’t blast his way out of the blocks in 2004/05 – it took time for him to discover his Midas touch. The Englishman scored just six times before January. Chelsea’s goal threat was coming from Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Didier Drogba. Lampard was the work in progress; there were a few more showers to be had before greatness could be achieved.
Train and gain
All season, though, Mourinho would be chipping away at his resolve. “His training sessions were to the dot,” Lampard later explained, offering an insight into how hard Mourinho made his players work under his tutelage. “He was so organised. There was always a point to what he was doing and his man-management was the same.”
Post-Christmas, Lampard was unstoppable
It produced the epiphany; the phenomenon that cemented Lampard’s place in Mourinho’s and Chelsea’s affections as those six goals in five months would eventually become 19 after nine. Post-Christmas, Lampard was unstoppable.
As the momentum gathered in Chelsea’s season, so it did with Lampard’s form and legacy. He bagged a brace in a 2-0 win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in January. Later that month, he scored the opener at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the League Cup semi-final as the Blues barged their way into a final that they would win – Lampard’s first major honour as a professional.
In the Champions League, where the barometer of greatness is always at its toughest setting, Lampard didn’t let up. He scored in the 4-2 defeat of Barcelona – a game dubbed the greatest Stamford Bridge has ever seen – before finishing one of the finest bits of individual skill a Chelsea player has demonstrated on such a stage when he swivelled on the spot to launch a volley beyond Bayern Munich’s Oliver Kahn in the quarters.
As the big moments arrived, Lampard was chalking them off with his influence. The player Mourinho had pontificated about was realiing the hype. His manager may have been the only one thinking it at one stage, but now the 26-year-old’s performances were showing that Lampard believed in his own legend.
He stepped forward to embrace it at the Reebok Stadium later that April. No player in half a century had scored a goal to win Chelsea English football’s finest honour, yet that all changed against Bolton as Lampard netted twice to seal the Premier League crown.
So much about what Chelsea have become since 2004/05 has pivoted on Mourinho’s influence. The arrogance to not only win trophies, but sustain the triumphs enough to be England’s most successful club in the 13 years since. The ambition and desire to not only break up an established elite, but help create a new one in the process.
Since then, Lampard became England’s pre-eminent player. In 2004/05, for the player and for his club, everything changed.
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- Eric Cantona (Leeds/Manchester United, 1992/93)