Frank Lampard: box-to-box magician
Box-to-box has become almost a dirty word in today’s cosmopolitan world of football. It seemingly implies a lack of skill, nous; it lacks the required je ne sais quoi that pundits say is the hallmark of greatness and yet, few could deny that Chelsea’s Frank Lampard has greatness in spades.
The England international has been running box-to-box since arriving in the Premiership from the famed West Ham United academy. The son of former Irons great, Frank Lampard Sr., Lampard jr was blessed with the rich footballing heritage that almost guarantees success.
And success Lampard has enjoyed, winning multiple Premier League and FA Cup winners' medals, before crowning all those achievements with the Holy Grail for any professional footballer at club level: the Uefa Champions League title.
And yet, Lampard has rarely been given credit for all his talents because he has been labeled as a box-to-box player.
So what is box-to-box and why is it revered in England but shunned by the rest of the world?
To perform like Lampard you require above all else, what the British like to call an engine. A rough translation is that you can run, forever, or at least for 90 minutes. However, in the rest of the world, they’d like to think an appreciation of the ball would be more applicable to a sport called football.
Even the Englishman’s goalscoring record seemingly falls by the wayside when critics examine his game. The small matter of more than 150 Premiership goals - the only midfield player to have hit that mark - is irrelevant. While almost completely overlooked are the 91 top-flight assists, the consecutive appearances, the consistency, the - dare I say it? - work rate.
Only once has the world’s press recognized Lampard on a global scale and that was in 2005 when he was runner-up in both the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or, losing out to Ronaldinho in both awards. Beauty and the beast; flair versus work-rate . . . you decide.
That same year, the English press recognized his achievements, though, naming him the Football Writers player of the season. Coincidence?
With Chelsea imploding off the field thanks to the antics of his England team mates, John Terry and Ashley Cole, the problems have deflected attention away from the impact that Lampard has had in the Blues' explosive start to the campaign.
Four goals in six matches for the kings of Europe and three goals in two matches for his country in World Cup qualifying indicate to me that at 34 years of age there is no slowing down this box-to-box player.
When the pantheon of great players is created for the men who have graced the Premiership over the past three decades, I’d like to see categories.
Skill, flair, improvisation, courage, mentality, leadership should all be recognized. But, for my money, the king of box-to-box will be a straight up contest between Lampard and his one major rival for that title, Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. .
It’s a shame they could never play together – discuss!