Frank Lampard has decided to hang up his boots. He joins Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes in doing so. Here we have the three standout English central midfielders of the Premier League era and there will always be comparisons between them and debates on which of them is the best. All three enjoyed fantastic club careers but will always go down as part of the golden generation that didn’t perform for their country.
Lets have a look at their careers and achievements.
Lampard started out at West Ham where he played under his uncle Harry Redknapp who was their manager, and his father Frank Lampard Snr who was the assistant coach. He helped West Ham to their highest ever Premier League position of fifth place in the 98/99 season.
Lampard decided to move to Chelsea in 2000. It is said that the move was fuelled by both the poor treatment of his father who was sacked by West Ham, and Harry Redknapp stepping down as manager which was probably linked to the departure of Frank Snr. He made his debut in the very next game and went on to set the record for the most consecutive premier League appearances with 164. This is made even more impressive by the takeover of the club by Roman Abramovich in 2003 and his infamously open cheque book. Abramovich allowed his managers to spend a lot of money to improve the team and there were a swarm of players in and out of the club in the coming years. Throughout all this, Lampard always remained in the starting line up. His contributions to help Chelsea win back-to-back titles in the 04/05 and 05/06 seasons were a major part of the club’s success.
Lampard’s goals and assists record is outstanding. In the all time Premier League lists he sits seventh with 177 goals (and only strikers ahead of him) and second with 102 assists. His most prolific season was in 10/11 where he had 22 goals and 17 assists in all competitions. He is also Chelsea’s record goalscorer with 211 goals and was voted the Chelsea player of the year three times.
In 2012 Lampard captained Chelsea to win the Champions League. This was despite the fact that the manager at the time, Roberto Di Matteo had only stepped into the role after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. Inspired by Lampard, captain John Terry and the big man up front, Didier Drogba, they managed to get through round after round, despite being outplayed in most of the latter stages of the competition.
His Chelsea career seemed to end in a rather bitter fashion; a club legend that seems to have been pushed out the door. He signed for Manchester City, a title rival and as a kick in the teeth to Chelsea, he scored his first City goal against his former club to level the score at 1-1 and end their winning streak. Despite this, he received an applause from most of the Chelsea fans at the end of the game. After one season in Manchester, a move to New York City happened and would be the last of his playing career.
Lampard had to wait until Euro 2004 before he nailed a regular spot in the England starting line-up, to the frustration of the England fans who wanted him in there long before. He scored 3 goals in 4 games before they were knocked out in the quarter finals. He went on to make 106 appearances for England sitting eighth in the all time list and scoring 29 goals. He never scored a World Cup goal even though he registered 40 attempts at goal in 3 tournaments. In the 2010 World Cup he had a shot hit the crossbar which was clearly over the line when looking back at replays, The goal was never given and would have levelled the score to 2-2. England ended up losing the game 4-1 and were eliminated from the competition.
Gerrard is Liverpool through and through, signing for them when he was 14 years old. He broke into the first team in 1998 and was a regular in the starting line-up by 2000. He was one of those players that could lift his team on a bad day and on many occasions seemed to almost single-handedly win important games for them. The determination he showed in games and the positive effect he had on his team was rewarded in 2003 with the captain’s armband, which he went on to wear for 12 long years until he left Liverpool.
Gerrard never gained a Premier League winners medal which is regarded by most football fans alike as a real shame, given his individual talent. In 2005, he gained the biggest achievement of his career in winning the Champions League, against AC Milan in the final. Liverpool were 3-0 down at the halftime break but then under a Gerrard-inspired performance, they pulled the game back to 3-3, going on to win the tie on penalties. Gerrard scored the first goal and won a penalty for the third to draw level. It was a similar story in the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham. Coming from 2-0 down, Gerrard levelled the score twice, including a stunning 35 yard strike to take the game into extra time, going on to lift the cup. He is the only player to ever score in the finals of all four cups: the Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup. This again shows that when Liverpool needed someone to step up, Gerrard did it time and time again.
The summer that followed that amazing Champions League win almost ended in heartache for Liverpool fans. A deal was agreed to move to Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions, and Gerrard had one foot out of the door. The temptation to seek a more promising route to a league title seemed too good to turn down. Just as the deal seemed to be complete, he made a U-turn. The Liverpool boy just couldn’t leave. After a small spell in America with LA Galaxy at the very end of his playing days, Gerrard retired and is now back at Liverpool in a coaching role.
Though not the most decorated player here, or compared to players from the great Liverpool teams of the ‘70s and ‘80s, he is regarded as being amongst the greatest of them all.
Gerrard was a regular in the England team from a young age though didn’t make a World Cup appearance until 2006 having missed the 2002 World Cup through injury. He captained the team on a few occasions when regular captains Terry or Ferdinand were injured and went on to become the first choice for Euro 2012 until his retirement after the 2014 World Cup. Gerrard made 114 appearances for his country, placing him fourth on the all-time list, and scored 21 goals.
Scholes came through the youth academy at Manchester United as part of the famous ‘class of ‘92’ which also included David Beckham, the Neville Brothers and Nicky Butt. It took him a while to get going and had to wait until the 94/95 season to break into the first team. In the early days Scholes was played in a very advanced role as an attacking midfielder. While Eric Cantona was serving an 8 month ban in 95/96, Scholes was utilized as a support striker to great effect, scoring 14 goals in all competitions and winning the Premier League and FA Cup double.
In the 97/98 season, Scholes was moved to a more central midfield role due to a season-ending knee injury to Roy Keane. It is here where Scholes cemented his place as one of the greats, becoming the most decorated English player of all time after winning 25 trophies, including 11 Premier Leagues and two Champions Leagues..
His biggest achievement came in the 98/99 season when he helped his team to the famous treble of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Sadly, there was heartache for Scholes; he received a yellow card in the Champions League semi-final second leg and a one game suspension that ruled him out of the final.
Scholes was a very quiet guy and avoided the limelight. It took a long time for fans to recognise how important he was to the team and just how good he was, maybe because he stayed away from the media. To his peers, however, he was always regarded as one of the best.
To quote some of the greats:
“If he was playing with me, I would have scored so many more.”- Pele
“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder.”- Zinedine Zidane
“I’m star-struck when I see Paul Scholes because you never see him. On the pitch you can’t catch him. Off the pitch he disappears.”- Luis Figo
In 2011, Scholes announced his retirement but stayed on at Manchester United in a coaching role. The team didn’t start too well and looked weak in the midfield area. Scholes was asked by Sir Alex Ferguson to come out of retirement, which he did. He needed some boots, and bought a cheap pair from the local sports shop. Despite this, and his six-month absence, he had a pass completion rate of 94% in his first full game. United’s form instantly got stronger and they only lost out on the title on goal difference to local rivals Manchester City. Scholes played one final year and bowed out with the last of his winners medals for the Premier League 12/13 season.
For England, Scholes started very brightly. He scored 13 goals in his first 35 games but then the goals seems to dry up, only scoring once in the next 31 games. He retired from international duty at only 29 years of age. He said his club career, and spending time with his family, were more important to him. However, it is widely believed that being played out of position, to accommodate Gerrard and Lampard in Euro 2004, was the real reason for this decision. This would have been particularly disappointing after being a key player in the 2002 World Cup, which many believe England were unlucky to go out to the eventual winners Brazil. Six years after he stepped down, leading up to the 2010 World Cup, Scholes was asked by the then England Manager Fabio Capello to play again for his country. Scholes turned down this request, though later said that he would have considered it given more notice, and regrets not taking the opportunity to have played in another World Cup.
So who was the best?
Ask a Chelsea fan and they will say Lampard; a Liverpool fan, Gerrard, and a United fan, Scholes. This debate will echo for many years. I am just pleased to have been able to witness three very talented players who are for me amongst the greatest midfielders of their generation.
Thanks for reading