x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Frank Lampard's place in Chelsea's history intact

Frank Lampard could cement his place in Chelsea history by scoring his 200th goal for the club.

Frank Lampard is considered among the greatest players at Chelsea alongside the likes of Gianfranco Zola and Didier Drogba. Robert Ghement / EPA
Frank Lampard is considered among the greatest players at Chelsea alongside the likes of Gianfranco Zola and Didier Drogba. Robert Ghement / EPA

It was a different era, but perhaps not that different.

Then as now, Rafa Benitez's name was chorused by Liverpool fans while the Spaniard was hugely unpopular with their Chelsea counterparts. Then, whenever the Londoners visited Anfield, they were told, at deafening levels of volume and with precious little concern for grammar, "you ain't got no history".

By winning the Uefa Champions League last season, Chelsea rather disproved that. Indeed, the insult has been embraced by their supporters to such an extent that a website has been called "we ain't got no history".

But, if 2003, when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, can appear year zero in the existence of a reinvented club, they do have a past.

And, even before the unwanted, unpopular Benitez is consigned to it, it has been mentioned in ever greater frequency. The reason, rather than nostalgia for happier days, is simple: Frank Lampard's enduring hunger for goals.

Score at Old Trafford today and he will have a double century of them in Chelsea colours and becoming the first man in over four decades to bring up that landmark. Had he converted a penalty at Manchester City two weeks ago, he would already have done that. Instead, another trip to Manchester offers another opportunity.

Lampard is why a pensioner in Ireland is a constant in the conversation. Bobby Tambling scored a club record 202 times for Chelsea between 1959 and 1970, days when they were a dashing, youthful team who threatened to win more than they did.

The persistent, consistent Lampard has been chasing him down, a race he will surely win before the clock ticks down on his Chelsea career. He has the third highest number of appearances for the club, but remains over 200 behind Ron "Chopper" Harris, a teammate of Tambling's. He stands second in the list of marksmen and, barring injury, it seems his destiny will be to top the pile.

Chelsea's reluctance to give him the new contract many feel he deserves makes him a cause célèbre now. After the controversy has died down, the numbers will remain, testament to his remarkable efficiency.

Even for a penalty taker, 200 goals in a dozen years is impressive for a striker. For a midfielder, however, it is unheard of. In a generation of serial scorers from deeper positions – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard have all reached 150 for their respective clubs – Lampard is the most prolific, even before the 67 goals he has scored for West Ham United, Swansea City and England are factored into the equation.

Perhaps, however, his efficiency will prompt a reappraisal of his place in the pantheon.

In 2003, Gianfranco Zola was voted Chelsea's greatest player. The smiling genius had an artistry Lampard could never rival. By 2012, however, there was a case for Didier Drogba, the colossus who was the premier contributor to their improbable Champions League triumph.

And now? Perhaps the safest assertion is that Lampard belongs alongside the Italian and the Ivorian in the top three. He offers neither the beauty Zola brought nor the brutality Drogba supplied.

Yet 10 consecutive seasons of 13 or more goals, including five straight seasons of at least 20, plus the small matter of 130 Chelsea assists, supply an argument in themselves. If football shared the fixation sports such as baseball or cricket have with the facts and figures, his case would be inarguable.

Instead, his achievements can be measured in other ways. Being voted the world's second best player in 2005, for instance, which was a remarkable turnaround for a player who was unappreciated in his first year at Stamford Bridge.

Or even the hints that, assuming Chelsea let him leave, Sir Alex Ferguson would be interested in taking Lampard, 35 in the summer, to Old Trafford next season.

By then, he may be history as far as Chelsea are concerned. But he will also have his place in it.

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