Frank Lampard admits he will feel a sense of vindication if he wins his 100th cap in England’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Ukraine today.
Despite being one of the most successful goalscoring midfielders English soccer has ever produced, Lampard, a member of a generation of players regarded as underachievers at the international level, has not received universal acclaim.
Off the pitch, he is intelligent, eloquent and diplomatic; on it he has scored a record 204 goals for Chelsea and 29 goals in 99 appearances for England. However, all the same, there has been plenty of criticism to deal with throughout his career.
As recently as last year, there were suggestions he was past his best as Chelsea stalled on offering the 35-year-old a new contract.
However, Lampard responded in style, just as he had done earlier in his England career, when fans at Wembley booed him during a particularly difficult time in 2007 — a time when the midfielder admits he briefly considered retiring from international soccer.
Earlier in his career, it was even tougher, coming through the ranks at West Ham, where his father Frank Lampard Sr was assistant manager and uncle Harry Redknapp the manager, and where he suffered some terrible abuse from his own supporters at Upton Park.
A YouTube video clip of a 1990s West Ham Fans Forum that has recently found its way onto the Internet underlines the difficulties Lampard faced as he tried to make his way in the game.
The clip shows a young Lampard being angrily harangued by one irate supporter, leading Redknapp to produce an impassioned defense of his player, claiming he would one day become a major star for England.
Redknapp has been proven right, but the experience still left a scar.
Perhaps those memories will come flooding back when Lampard, currently on 99 caps for his country, steps onto the field to complete his century in Kiev.
“It was difficult,” Lampard said. “I’ll never forget it actually, but I was surprised it popped up when it did recently. It was a tough time for me.”
“I had the nepotism one thrown at me regularly there and as a kid, I found it quite hard to deal with,” he said. “Certainly that day I did. I think Harry went out on a bit of a limb at the time. Looking back, he made some big judgements there and was very supportive of me. It’s nice when people say things like that. When you get a bit of stick and someone sticks up for you like that, I suppose it makes you want to make them right and I’m pleased I did because it looks great now when you look back, doesn’t it?”
That steely determination, together with a work ethic inherited from his father, has helped Lampard achieve more than other arguably more naturally talented players of his generation.
Lampard also says that if England, currently top of Group H as they prepare to face third-placed Ukraine, reach the World Cup in Brazil, it is likely to be his farewell tournament.
“Realistically I think so,” he said.