One of the finest of his generation

Frank Lampard during the World Cup qualifier group H match against Ukraine at the Olympiyskiy national stadium in Kiev, Ukraine. This was Lampard’s 100th match for England.-AP

In Kiev, Lampard became England’s eighth centurion. He can’t reflect on how football dragged him out of the gutter. But the milestone is no less deserved because of that. By Simon Stone.

Frank Lampard’s battle to the top was not conventional. He did not grow up on a council estate and fight his way out of a life that might otherwise have turned bad. He did not need to beg for a pair of football boots.

Lampard’s scrap was against prejudice that came from his background. From the belief of some he was only offered a chance because of who he was. And then singled out for criticism due to the team he played for.

His dad, Frank senior, was also an England player. More importantly, he was a West Ham legend and assistant-coach to Harry Redknapp.

So when young Frank enrolled onto the club’s academy in 1994, questions about his ability were asked. Questions about his character too given he went to the exclusive Brentwood School.

When he ran out at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Lampard would have known he has answered all the doubters in spades.

Nothing can now challenge his status as one of the finest midfield players of his generation.

Although Lampard made his West Ham debut in January 1996, he didn’t stand out from the crowd for another three years, when he was ever-present in a side that finished fifth in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp.

On October 10, 1999, he made his England debut, recognition for having priceless combination of being able to stay fit despite operating in the most demanding of positions, and score goals with amazing regularity.

Yet football being the game it is, his stay at West Ham was never going to be a long one. When his dad was sacked along with Redknapp — his uncle — Lampard went too. To Chelsea, for GBP11 million.

Aggrieved at the way his dad had been treated, Lampard made his allegiance obvious. The West Ham fans didn’t like it — and still don’t. They never let Lampard forget.

That negativity probably goes some way to explaining why the midfielder got so much grief in the wake of England crashing out at the group stage of Euro 2008.

Though he had been voted fans’ Player of the Year four seasons earlier, Lampard was singled out as a scapegoat for England’s failure.

A central component of a Chelsea side who had established themselves as England’s finest under Jose Mourinho, it was perceived Lampard was reserving his best performances for club duty. It was rubbish of course. But the boos rained down anyway.

Yet, as with the snipers at West Ham, Lampard faced them head on.

For he is more than just a player who stays fit and scores goals. He has another absolutely priceless commodity, which has been central to his stellar career. Lampard has character.

Rather than shirk a challenge, or shrivel in the face of it, the 35-year-old gets stronger. He has never lost the hunger to be the best he could possibly be and keep striving to improve, no matter what obstacles were in his way.

At Brentwood they didn’t play football. So he went out into the park with his dad, day after day, to make the most of the talent he had. The results are impressive.

Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups. Then, in the last two years he has captained Chelsea to Champions League and Europa League glory.

Individually, it is impossible not to marvel at Lampard’s goals record. More than 200 for Chelsea, where he is now the club’s record scorer. And all from midfield.

With England he is edging towards 30, although it is the one he didn’t get — the shot that crashed down off the crossbar and bounced way over the Germany line but inexplicably was not given — which gets remembered.

It all makes it even more odd that Roman Abramovich waited so long to offer Lampard a contract extension. Once he did, there was never a doubt Lampard would sign it.

For he had another challenge to meet. A century of England caps, a figure he would have reached already had injury not robbed him of a place at Euro 2012.

In Kiev, Lampard became England’s eighth centurion. He can’t reflect on how football dragged him out of the gutter.

But the milestone is no less deserved because of that.

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