203 Goals and One More Year
Frank Lampard made a dual news splash several days back: he became Chelsea’s all-time leading goal scorer with 203 goals and signed a one-year extension to his contract. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that Lampard had been identified by then-manager Andre Villas-Boas as the first among the five purported has-beens who had to make way for young blood.
The extension was welcome news to the Chelsea faithful. Their favourite midfielder may not have the legs to propel him on those lung-busting runs he regularly used to set off on but, then, at 35 who does? What’s important is that he still retains many key attributes of his game. These attributes, most critically his deadly shooting boots, have won Frank many accolades including Premier League Footballer of the Decade Award.
Chelsea’s Beating Heart
All that said, I’ve got a new angle for you; a radical new angle. Frank Lampard is not a ‘midfielder’ per se. Now don’t get me wrong: he’s been the beating heart of central midfield for Chelsea since, well, almost since he joined the club in 2001. However, let’s compare now. Has he been the type of midfield general as was Zidane? Is he the type of long-ball maestro as is Alonso? Is he the ticking metronome that is Iniesta? No, he has always been described as the ‘bombing forward midfielder’ whose speciality is scoring goals.
Could Lampard have been a natural front man who was remodelled as a central midfielder because of his talents in the middle and his stamina?
Could Lampard be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? A hungry striker who plays as a midfielder?
As Rafa would say, ‘Facts’
Our ‘wolf’ has 203 goals for Chelsea in 562 appearances, including substitutions, in all competitions at a scoring rate of 0.36. These numbers are unmatched by any midfielder except for a few legends of the game and his goals-per-game ratio puts many strikers and centre forwards to shame. Further, with 91 assists, Chelsea’s number 8 has second spot in the Premier League all-time!
Frank has fired in who-knows-how-many 25-yard rockets, of course. You’ll find plenty of those screamers on YouTube. But let’s look beyond those take-your-breath-away thunderbolts; think of the goals that you won’t find on YouTube: hasn’t he scored tons from inside the box: tap-ins, bundled-in balls, reactive headers or jerking stabs? Plenty, plenty and plenty. That’s what natural goal scorers do.
Furthermore, doesn’t Frank have a knack for being in the right place at the right time and doesn’t the ball seem to be drawn to him like a magnet? Two players who’ve made a career of this sort of thing in the BPL who come to mind are Dimitar Berbatov and ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez.
Another player who’s in a class of his own — indeed, is the apotheosis of this type of goal-scoring — is Miroslav Klose. But all of them are forwards, which Lampard is not. Each one of Berbatov, Chicharito and Klose is classified as a ‘goal poacher’ and, on the evidence and the comparisons, we must conclude that ball-magnet Lampard is, among other things, a goal poacher too.
Central midfielders with similar goal-scoring prowess are a very rare breed; Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Waart, and Marco Reuss are three such players. However, Frank’s opportunism and predatory instincts are nearly peerless among central midfielders and these are the traits of . . . a goal poacher.
Though he can no longer run like a demon as he used to, Frank’s movements are far from ponderous. He moves very swiftly and can pounce like a cobra from a near-stationary position. These are more goal-poacher attributes.
Finally, have you noticed that — besides his up-and-down runs — Frank not infrequently displays unpredictable and relatively unorthodox movement, has an eye for space, and every so often ghosts into the box and loses his marker like the marker never even existed? These are the hallmarks of a de luxe striker.
He also has nerves of steel. Trust Frank to step up to take a spot kick and, most likely, put it away. He has scored more penalties for England than anyone else! These are yet more striker credentials.
All this points very strongly to one conclusion: play Frank as the second striker off the target man’s shoulder in a 4-4-2 or any other two up-front formation, or — perhaps even better — play him ‘in the hole’ in a formation like a 4-4-1-1. He doesn’t need any coaching or training for it; over ten-plus years he has shown that he’s a natural for the position if you have the eyes to see it.
If Frank is used in his manic midfield role, his playing days at Chelsea are limited to two or three more years. But if he is re-modelled into a striker — correction: no re-modelling necessary, if he is deployed as the second striker that he has been in disguise for so long — then his career may extend to five more years at a top club like Chelsea with the distinctly possible bonus of a deluge of goals and assists.