There may not be as unfairly maligned a player as Frank Lampard. Unless, of course, you are a Chelsea fan. Something in the English football psyche does not align itself with the love of a trier. At Stamford Bridge, however, he must be remembered as the finest of all the club's players.
In the club's golden era, which saw them win three Premier League titles and a Champions League between 2005-12, Lampard was the engine of Chelsea's success. If John Terry was the lionhearted leader, then Lampard was no less committed to the cause, his goals always vital, his energy levels driving on the club's development from roubled rebels to a force established among the continent's best. For someone to play 13 years for a club and score at a rate of one in three from midfield is a shining achievement, and especially when all of those goals came at the top level of English and European football.
Casting the mind back to his early days as a Chelsea player and it may now be difficult to recall that he was once considered an expensive folly. The price was 11 million pounds from West Ham, a club he departed under a cloud in the summer of 2001. His uncle, Harry Redknapp, had been removed by the Hammers, along with his own father Frank Lampard Senior. Fans at Upton Park had taken against him, with nepotism the accusation, though Redknapp had long predicted that his nephew would "go right to the very top", as a video of a supporters' club meeting revealed when it was unearthed in 2012.
The nickname of "Fat Frank" was always desperately unfair, and usually levelled by those who would struggle to fit Lampard's designer jeans, since this was a player who devoted himself to fitness. Even in his first season at the Bridge, he was an ever-present. By the 2002-03 season, his influence was growing, though it took the arrival of Jose Mourinho, in 2004, to make him into the jewel he became.
Early on in his tenure, Mourinho approached Lampard in a shower at Chelsea's training ground. "I have never had a manager who, while I'm standing in the shower cleaning my balls, tells me I'm the best player in the world," revealed Lampard in his autobiography. "He did that. I'll never forget it. So casual. 'You're the best player in the world, but you need to win titles.'"
The pair were soon winning titles together, in both 2004-05 and 2005-06, and Lampard was playing like someone who believed he was the world's best player. Only a peak-era Ronaldinho stopped him winning both the Ballon D'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2005. Older generations of Chelsea fans may talk, and with good reason, of Peter Osgood, or even Gianfranco Zola from the 1990s, but their club has never otherwise had a player performing at such a high echelon as Lampard did back then.
Lampard is usually thrown alongside Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard in comparison, including a famous TV argument between Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. It is almost certainly true to say he did not share Scholes' ability to control the pace of a game, or possess Gerrard's eye for the spectacular, but his roll of honour lives comfortably alongside them, and he was no less vital to his own club than either of them.
Having to work harder at his game hardly lessens his career when the hard work led to him being so garlanded with success. Lampard, educated at a private school, and with an exceptionally high IQ, has always been a man apart from his peers. He has harnessed that innate intelligence into making himself the best player he could be, and a true Chelsea great.
Munich in May 2012 was the moment that Chelsea fans' dreams came true, and those of Roman Abramovich. The long-distance running had to be tempered as his age advanced, but Lampard was at the heart of a rearguard effort against Bayern from a withdrawn midfield position. On the night, he captained the team to the Champions League they had all dreamed of -- and been denied -- for so long. It was a night symbolic of the determination which has defined his professionalism.