Last week Frank Lampard was awarded an OBE for his services to football; another wonderful achievement in a career that has had a track record for consistency on and off the pitch. Lampard, long considered a model professional, is the epitome of greatness defying those who suggest that players over the age of 30 will proceed to fall off a proverbial cliff.
Decline has not affected the 37-year-old. In fact Lampard is rare among professional footballers in that he avoided serious injury in a career that brought unprecedented success while at Chelsea. During his thirteen years at Stamford Bridge, Lampard also broke the record for most consecutive games for an outfield player with 164. If that does not illustrate his durability I am not sure what will.
We stand in awe at what he has achieved in his career, but we must remember Lampard overcame some serious obstacles to grow in to the player he became.
While breaking through at West Ham, many considered him too small while others accused then West Ham manager Harry Redknapp, Lampard’s uncle, of nepotism over his decision to keep Lampard while letting Matt Holland go.
It goes without saying that you need an inner drive and determination to succeed at anything and Lampard had that. He also had the discipline required to keep his body in shape which perhaps serves to illustrate why his career has not only been fruitful, but of such longevity. After all, the now New York City midfielder is approaching 900 career games.
This notion, however, that players begin a sharp decline as they enter their thirties is propagated by many in the media. It is inevitable, one would think, that clubs will begin to prioritise blooding new talent at the expense of older players and this may have an adverse effect on the performances of those deemed expendable. Footballers, in fact any sportsman for that matter, thrive when they are given an extended run of games, albeit the ability to keep up with the demanding schedule we see in the modern era can take its toll.
That is where Lampard stands alone in many respects. Many players who have contributed as much to their respective clubs as Lampard has find that their contribution begins to dwindle as they enter the latter stages of their careers.
Lampard’s importance during his time at Chelsea was never questioned and some may even say it became even more valuable as he got older. Regularly netting in excess of 10 goals a season, his knack for being a reliable and prolific scorer was unique in itself for a midfielder – a fact illustrated by his status as Chelsea’s all-time top goal scorer with 211 goals.
The big part of his game that sets Lampard apart from many other players in their thirties is his consistency. Lampard never experienced a dip in performances, a lack of desire or the injuries that can combine to end a career. He also never peaked prematurely like the Michael Owen’s of this world. His insatiable appetite for success also proved a driving force, even amid the high managerial turnover that characterised his time in west London.
While talk rages on about Wayne Rooney now he has reached the dreaded 30, Lampard is evidence that you can still contribute and achieve success. It is easier said than done, as many will testify, but you need the right attitude and desire to keep playing. For some, the decline is not of their own doing, for others it is.
Chelsea’s current descent into crisis only seems to show that Lampard is exactly what they are missing in the middle of their midfield. Lampard’s engine, even into his thirties, was unmatched. So as several players enter the twilight of the career, Lampard is evidence that it is not always bad news.
There are many who could learn from him.
Image courtesy of Julian Mason