Frank Lampard breaks Bobby Tambling's Chelsea scoring record
Timing has always been one of Frank Lampard's strong points and Saturday's match-winning performance at Aston Villa was no exception.
The chase to eclipse Bobby Tambling as Chelsea's leading scorer had gone down to the wire as the season ran down, with the England midfielder out of contract in the summer and still one goal short of the historic landmark.
And yet there was always a sense that Lampard would not be denied.
With his side a goal and a man down at Villa Park and at risk of allowing their grip on a Champions League place to slip away, he produced the sort of display that has come to be expected of him, scoring not once but twice to turn probable defeat into a crucial victory.
Lampard v Tambling
- Frank Lampard
- Apps: 607
- Goals: 203
- Bobby Tambling
- Apps: 370
- Goals: 202
The celebrations that followed his second goal were an outpouring of relief for player and team, as Lampard slid to his knees and raised his fingers to the heavens in memory of his late mother Pat.
It was a moment that encapsulated a career - goals, glory, strength of character and raw emotion.
There are those who will tell you Lampard was always destined for greatness, destined to become a household name, destined to break records. After all, his father played for West Ham and England, his uncle was a football manager, his cousin played for Liverpool - it was in the blood, in the genes, a forgone conclusion.
Having been born into comparative wealth and educated at the prestigious Brentwood School (picking up 11 GCSEs, including an A* in Latin) many thought he was given a privileged path to the top.
By the age of four he had joined Heath Park Boys' club. By 10 he was being scouted by Arsenal. By 11 he had signed for West Ham. On Saturdays he would, together with his sisters Natalie and Claire and his mother Pat, stand at the window to wave to his dad as he left to play for the Hammers.
But Lampard would soon discover that he had no divine right to follow in his father's footsteps. By 15, he was, by his own admission, "a bit chubby". As part of Tony Carr's academy he was impressing without standing out. The likes of Lee Hodges and Martyn Mullen were fitter, stronger, faster, better.
His father told him he would have to worker harder. "Dad would drag me out to do it - at times it wasn't much fun," was how Lampard put it.
Harry Redknapp on Lampard Speaking in 1996
“I didn't want to say this in front of him, but he will go right to the top. Right to the very top. I couldn't be more strong on this”
Passengers on the trains that rattled past the club's Chadwell Heath training ground en route from Romford to Liverpool Street might have seen a lone figure in the far corner doing the hard yards in those days, running for hours, left foot, right foot, dribbling, shooting, pushing himself long after his team-mates had gone home. He bought sprinting spikes to improve his speed, even training at home in the evenings.
"I am a tough task-master," Lampard Sr said of his son at the time. "But he was brought up in the royal tradition of the English game. I had the highest standards set for me by Bobby Moore. I passed that on to my lad.
"Do I see something of myself in young Frank? Yes I do. And something of Mooro. He's as critical of himself as we were."
Criticism came from all quarters in those days. Lampard's Hammers debut came as a 17-year-old against Coventry City in January 1996. Some viewed his arrival with suspicion; words like 'favouritism' and 'nepotism' were used by those who felt he had been taken on because of his father, and because the manager, Harry Redknapp, was his uncle.
As an 18-year-old, Lampard witnessed it first hand at a fans' forum in 1996. One fan stood up in front of hundreds more and said Redknapp had too much faith in his nephew, who was sitting two places to his right. "I don't think he is good enough and yet you have let someone like Scott Canham go," the supporter said.
Redknapp puffed out his cheeks as he considered his response. "I will tell you now, without any shadow of a doubt, there will be no comparison between what Frank Lampard will achieve in football and what Scotty Canham will achieve in football."
"But you'll give him the opportunities," responded the fan.
Who has Lampard scored against?
• Aston Villa
- Bolton Wanderers
- Blackburn Rovers, Portsmouth
- Everton, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur
- Liverpool, Manchester City, Sunderland, Wigan Athletic
- Manchester United, Newcastle United, Southampton, West Bromwich Albion
- Stoke City, Arsenal, West Ham United
- Derby County, Norwich City
- Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Charlton Athletic, Ipswich Town, Leicester City, Macclesfield Town, Reading, Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Birmingham City, Blackpool, Huddersfield Town, Lazio, Watford, Wycombe Wanderers
- Anderlecht, Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Bordeaux, Brentford, Crystal Palace, Fenerbahce, Hull City, Leeds United, Levski Sofia, Middlesbrough, Monaco, Napoli, Olympiacos, Sheffield United, Southend United, Swansea City, Valencia, Viking Stavanger
"No, I won't give him the opportunities," said Redknapp. "There is no favouritism. If anything I am holding him back. I am telling you now, and I didn't want to say this in front of him, he will go right to the very top. Right to the very top. Because he has everything needed to become a top-class player. I couldn't be more strong on this."
What happened to Canham? He made 34 appearances for Brentford and 49 for Leyton Orient before dropping out of league football.
And the chubby kid? He has won 95 England caps (and counting), a European Cup, three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, has twice been voted Played of the Year and was runner-up to Ronaldinho as World Player of the Year in 2005. All of that has come since joining Chelsea in June 2001 for an £11m fee that many ridiculed at the time.
Then Blues manager Claudio Ranieri had been told he could sign either Lampard or Michael Carrick, not both. History would suggest he made the right decision. Lampard has always acknowledged a debt to Ranieri, as the man who showed him how to live his life in order to become a top player.
But it was the arrival of Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2004 that took his career to a new level.
Within days of his arrival, the self-proclaimed 'Special One' had called Lampard into his office. He told his midfielder he liked what he saw and wanted to turn the England international into one of the best midfielders in the world.
Lampard later told friends he left the room feeling 10 feet tall. It wasn't long before he was to become a giant on the field, driving on a side that won back-to-back Premier League titles.
"I'd never had a manager who, while I'm standing in the shower, tells me I'm the best player in the world. He did that. I'll never forget it," was how Lampard once put it.
That air of arrogance, that confidence, rubbed off on Lampard. As did the professionalism. In those early days, Mourinho gave his players a rulebook with guidelines on punctuality, rules on curfews and above all else, an expectation that players must behave like a professional at all times. It was a virtue that Lampard came to embody.
That meant professionalism even in the most difficult times - never more so than in April 2008 when five days after the sudden death of his 58-year-old mother Pat from pneumonia, Lampard returned to the field, seized the ball when Liverpool's Sami Hyypia fouled Michael Ballack and, with a place in the Champions League final at stake, sent Pepe Reina the wrong way from the penalty spot.
It was a career-defining moment.
"The pride I feel as Frank's mum means more to me than any football success," was how Pat Lampard had put it before her death.
"I'm proud he's a decent human being. People come up to me at games and say, 'we love Frank, he's so down to earth,' or 'he's so polite, he always gives people time and signs autographs'. I worry that I sound like a bragging mum sometimes, but as a mum, what more can you want?"
His mother's death left him broken and took him to the brink of leaving Chelsea for Mourinho's Inter Milan in the summer of 2008. It was the last time his Chelsea future was in genuine doubt, save a difficult period under Andre Villas-Boas, but even now having etched his name into Chelsea legend, and despite insisting again that he wants to stay, the end of the love affair could be in sight.
If this to be a farewell, how will the Chelsea fans remember him? Away from the field, as a polite and courteous man who, despite being engaged to a high-profile television presenter, has never been remotely interested in the extravagance of the "typical footballer" lifestyle.
On it, he will remembered as the embodiment of commitment and dedication, one of the great endurance men of European football.