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Lampard's mixed experiences of walking fine line on last day


Frank Lampard: ‘I know I’ve given everything. That’s all I can ask of myself and try to improve as we go forward.’ Photo: PA

Frank Lampard: ‘I know I’ve given everything. That’s all I can ask of myself and try to improve as we go forward.’ Photo: PA


Frank Lampard: ‘I know I’ve given everything. That’s all I can ask of myself and try to improve as we go forward.’ Photo: PA

Frank Lampard and Jody Morris were two of the Chelsea players at the 2003 meeting in which the squad were warned that the club may no longer exist if they did not avoid defeat by Liverpool and qualify for the Champions League.

It was the final game of the 2002/'03 season and proved to be the last of the pre-Roman Abramovich era, which almost certainly would not have come to pass had Chelsea lost and failed to reach their target.

Lampard played the full 90 minutes of the 2-1 victory over Liverpool which dramatically changed the course of Chelsea's destiny, while Morris watched from the substitutes' bench as Marcel Desailly and Jesper Gronkjaer scored the home side's goals.

In his autobiography, Totally Frank, Lampard recalled the team meeting with Trevor Birch, chief executive at the time, by writing: "'I need to tell you something very important,' said Birch. 'In order to ensure that Chelsea FC will still exist next season, you have to make the Champions League. In short, if you fail to beat Liverpool then the club will go out of business.'"

Lampard later added: "I look back now and wonder what would have happened had we lost. I don't dare to even think about it."

Today's final-day shoot-out brings no such jeopardy, but, now head coach with Morris as his assistant, Lampard's memory has been jogged by the need to again secure a point or better, this time against Wolves, to secure Champions League qualification.

Asked what it was like to be in the meeting in which Birch put everything on the line, Lampard said: "It was pretty shocking. When you hear that on one game the club may go out of business, go into administration, it was a huge deal. It was the first time in my career that I could feel the tension at that level because of what was at stake. I was loving playing for Chelsea. We had a good group of young players, some experienced players, and the idea that might turn on one game was very hard hitting.

"It was very inspiring, of course, and the story ends well so it was great we managed to get the result. I remember we had an army general come to the hotel and speak to us in a motivational talk, which was actually really good, and then we went out and produced. It was a huge day for Chelsea Football Club as a whole and something really interesting to be part of. It was one of the big experiences of my life because of what it meant going forwards."

The fact Abramovich would have turned his attention elsewhere had Chelsea not qualified for the Champions League makes his expectation over the level at which the club should be competing crystal clear.

In 2003, the final match was dubbed the £20m game and the value of qualifying for the Champions League has since increased to around £50m. But, in reality, the victory over Liverpool has been worth billions of pounds.

Chelsea and Lampard are not at a "sliding doors moment" against Wolves, but the 42-year-old knows he will have to choose his words carefully to help inspire the players without making them fearful.

"That's the balance you strive for," Lampard said. "My experience is that when it feels very real or when it feels the right moment, it does so. If you try too hard to overplay something or over-motivate or go completely out of the box, you have to be quite careful.

"It was a very good tool to have the army general and when we played in the Champions League final with (Roberto)Di Matteo, we had videos of our children saying 'good luck' and 'we love you' and that was a completely different tone. So it just shows you the spectrum and how it can work.

"We're not quite in that situation this time. The club was on the line in 2003, it was a huge, almost sliding doors, moment, and the Champions League final was a huge moment. Now, we're in a moment where we have an opportunity to get in a position where maybe people didn't expect us to be in. I think it would be some form of achievement, not the ultimate achievement, but some form of achievement."

Gronkjaer, who scored the winning goal against Liverpool, has previously spoken of what the game meant and the impact of Abramovich's takeover on the summer and pre-season that followed.

"I didn't imagine he (Abramovich) would have so much money and everything would change. No one did," he said. "I remember on the second day of pre-season Abramovich turned up at the training ground and spoke to us in Russian, with someone translating. There were rumours about everything - new coach, new players, new training ground, new stadium. He wanted us all to calm down. It was a stressful period, and the players had mixed feelings. Most were worrying about their own situations, would they stay or go?

"We went on pre-season tour and new players were arriving all the time, which was funny. One day Wayne Bridge would arrive and someone would leave, the next day Damien Duff turned up, then Geremi, Joe Cole, Veron. He bought a whole new team in a few weeks."

Although the player turnover will not be as dramatic or as far-reaching, Abramovich has proved he is ready to spend big again this summer, having already financed the signings of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner. Chelsea are confident Kai Havertz will follow from Bayer Leverkusen, while Lampard also wants a new left-back and could yet try to sign a central defender and a goalkeeper.

Qualification for the Champions League may accelerate Lampard's plans, but success or failure today will not change the club's direction as it did in 2003 and the former midfielder believes his first season in charge should not be judged solely on whether Chelsea hang on to a top-four place and win next weekend's FA Cup final.

"I think some of the strides we've made generally as a team, there will be, hopefully, really positive things to come," Lampard said. "Let's hope we do get the right results in the next eight days. If we do, then I think I will be certainly very happy because I know I've given everything. That's all I can ask of myself really and always try to improve as we go forward."