The minute Chelsea signed Frank Lampard they have been synonymous with one another. In many ways Lampard signifies what Chelsea have been all about during his thirteen year stay: relentless; professional; hard-working; energetic; and a touch of class to round it off.
As Lampard earlier today announced an ending of his playing association, we'll take a trip down memory lane to rank the Chelsea legend's best seasons at the club.
To the left is Frank Lampard making his Chelsea debut against title-chasing Newcastle United in 2001. The 01/02 season was a mixed bag for Lampard; brought for £11 million (a big deal back then), he failed to impose himself on the Chelsea team and ultimately missed out on a World Cup place. He had yet to find his goalscoring boots as he scored 5 goals in the Premier League (7 in all competitions) - his second lowest tally. Though playing in 37 Premier League games (53 overall) hinted at the supreme fitness that would characterise his career.
To the left is Frank Lampard scoring for what would be the last time in his Chelsea career. Lampard celebrating after scoring a goal was something Chelsea fans witnessed over 200 times, though only 8 times this season. This is not to suggest Lampard was just a goalscorer but it was his best asset, closely followed by his fitness. Losing both saw him drop deeper away from goal and played less.
Lampard looking down and dejected, it rarely happened during his 13 year stay but the 2010/11 campaign was full of moments like this. For starters, Chelsea could not adequately defend their Premier League title, finishing a distant 9 points behind Manchester United, the same team who knocked them out the Champions League quarter finals. They were also knocked out the 3rd round of the Carling Cup by Newcastle. Even the FA Cup - a tournament that has treated Chelsea well in the past - was beyond Chelsea's reach as Everton knocked them out the 4th round. What was Lampard doing? Being injured for much of season. Consequentially, the 10 goals he scored in the Premier League (13 overall) ended a run of years of scoring 20 or more - something he would never do again, thus signalling the beginning of his decline.
2003 was a massive year for Chelsea, it was the first time they qualified for the Champions League since 1999. It was also the year Chelsea were brought over by Roman Abramovich. There is a strong rumour that had Chelsea not secured 4th that season, they would have entered administration. Thankfully, Lampard had improved from his debut season to score 6 Premier League goals (8 overall) and play in every single game to help Chelsea. 2003 was also the year Lampard's inclusion into the England set up forced Scholes out wide.
Chelsea fans will remember this moment clearly, it was the moment Lampard became Chelsea's all time record goalscorer - breaking Bobby Tambling's long standing record in the process. 2013 also represents the last trophy won as a player - the Europa League. Lampard hit 15 goals this season (17 overall), playing 29 Premier League games and 50 overall.
Here is where the list becomes supremely difficult. This was the season Lampard came of age as he was heavily influential in his first ever Premier League title race and Champions League campaign. Inspired by Lampard, Chelsea were neck and neck with Arsenal and Manchester United for the 1st half of the season. He was the Barclay's Player of the Month in September 2003 and PFA Fans' Player of the Month in October 2003. In the end Chelsea fell short to Arsenal as they proved unbeatable and lost to Monaco in the Champions League semi-final. Nonetheless, finishing second to Thierry Henry in the FWA Footballer of the Year Award and voted into the PFA Team of the Year should signify Lampard's growth. He scored 10 goals in 38 Premier League games and 15 in 58 overall.
In another tough choice, I have plumped for the 2008/09 season simply because Lampard's influence in this season was not as strong as it was or as it would be in the next season. Felipe Scolari replaced the likeable but ultimately out-of-his-depth Avraham Grant. With him he brought Barcelona playmaker Deco, a new formation and a new style of playing. This impacted negatively on Lampard. A sharp dip during the middle of the season hurt Chelsea dearly as they missed out on the Premier League by 7 points. He scored 12 goals in the Premier League, playing in 37. Overall he played in 57 games, scoring 20. The most important one was saved for the FA Cup final; he scored the winning goal to help Chelsea beat Everton 2-1.
The previous two season saw Lampard reach levels previously thought to beyond him and indeed most. 2006/07 was a step down from those high levels. He would go on to play 62 games in all competitions (the most he would ever play) with 37 in the league, scoring 21 goals (11 in the league). He helped Chelsea to win the FA Cup and Carling Cup double but could not inspire them in the Champions League, where Liverpool knocked them out (again) in the semi's and Manchester United pipped them to the Premier League title. Considering how close Chelsea were to winning it all and Lampard virtually played every game, this easily could have higher. However, quality always goes over quantity and this season will be remembered more for the heroics of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, than Lampard who seemed subdued in the new 4-1-3-2 formation.
Continuing with the quality over quantity theme, in contrast with the previous season Lampard only played 40 games (24 in the Premier League), yet he scored 10 Premier League goals, 20 overall (one less than the previous season). This season is infamous for Chelsea narrowly missing out on the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup as the hierarchy of the club became a magnet for shined negative publicity. Despite this, with Lampard in full flow, one wonders what would have happened if he played more. To give you a hint, he was Chelsea's top goalscorer (despite his injuries) and was voted UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year for his Champions League contributions.
Fast-forward four years and Lampard final got himself club football's biggest trophy. The smile planted on his face erased years of close shaves and mishaps. Drogba drew all the superlatives but Lampard's contributions should be underestimated as he captained in absence of the suspended John Terry. After a slow start which saw Lampard arguing behind the scene's with Andre Villas-Boas, Lampard improved under fellow club legend Roberto Di Matteo to help his side to an FA Cup double as well. He played 46 games (30 in the Premier League) to score 16 overall (11 in the Premier League).
This was a fantastic season for Lampard as he was for the second season running Chelsea's highest goalscorer with 20 goals (16 in the Premier League). This was recognised with a place in the PFA Team of the Year and European Sports Magazine (ESM) Team of the Year. From beginning to end Chelsea had no peers in the Premier League, it is just a shame Lampard's spectacular goal against Barcelona failed to knock them out the last 16 of the Champions League.
Lampard broke all sorts of records in this season. His 22 goals in the Premier League (27 overall) were and still is the highest total ever for a midfielder. He also assisted an astonishing 17 goals in the Premier League ensuring Lampard's legacy as one the best all round players the country has produced and the Premier League has seen. Predictably, Lampard's achievements went a long way to helping Chelsea win the Premier League and FA Cup double. Bizarrely, he was not voted into the PFA Team of the Year award but Chelsea recognised him as their best player that season (something Drogba tightly contested). He was also voted into the ESM Team of the Year for a final time. In a season of great feats, the only thing that keeps this off top spot is the quarter-final Champions League knockout to Inter Milan and former manager Jose Mourinho.
All the promise Lampard had shown in the previous season was finally realised in an unforgettable season. Scoring 13 goals (19 in all competitions), and playing 38 games (58 overall), Lampard was a model of consistency as Chelsea ran away with the league. For a while it looked as though Arsenal would keep up with Chelsea, but the robotic manner Chelsea kept on grinding out results (in the manner of talisman Lampard) ensured they ran away with it. In typical fashion, Lampard got the winning goal against Bolton to secure Chelsea's first title in over 50 years. After beating Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final and overcoming their hardest challenge in Barcelona (arguably the best team at the time), all that stood in their way was AC Milan (arguably the best as well), at least until a ghost goal from Liverpool's Luis Garcia put the Reds in a date with destiny. Nonetheless, Chelsea's achievements that season go down as the greatest ever in the club's history and Lampard was the main reason why. He came second in the Ballon D'or vote to Ronaldinho and was voted into the World XI, PFA Team of the Year, ESM Team of the Year and Chelsea's Player of the Year. In addition to his 13 Premier League goals, Lampard also assisted 16, highlighting once again Lampard's skill as a creator as well as a finisher.