English soccer legend Frank Lampard is all set to make his debut for New York City Football Club at Yankee Stadium this Sunday against Toronto FC.
Lampard is the all-time scoring leader for Chelsea, with 172 goals there, and he won three English Premier League championships, the 2012 UEFA Champions League, and four FA Cups.
Lampard addressed the media at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at the Hyatt Grand Central. He opened it by talking about joining NYC FC and playing in the United States, “It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. MLS is a fantastic league which I’ve seen grow over the recent years, and having spoken to everybody at the Football Club, it was a very easy choice for me, great challenge for me to come and play here, and to live in this great city and be part of a new project, starting a club, starting a fan base, which has been great the first half of the season, and hope to improve on that.”
He committed to join NYC FC last summer as the club’s first big signing. It was only the beginning of intrigue as to what was really behind the deal. In August, it was announced that Lampard would play for NYC FC parent club Manchester City to ostensibly keep him in shape for the NYC FC season, set to begin this past March.
Lampard thrived in the early stages of the season for Man City, with the most emotional moment coming when he notched an equalizer late in a game at Chelsea in a game in late September. He declined to celebrate out of respect for his former club and the fans, some of whom booed him as he entered the game in the second half, gave him a rousing ovation.
After the Chelsea game, Manchester City Manager Manuel Pelllegrini made it clear he wanted Lampard to stay past his transfer deal was up in January and stay there for the full season, which would go until May. It was obvious that his time with Manchester City was more valuable than being ready for the NYC FC season opener in March. It then was revealed that Lampard’s contract was with Manchester City and not NYC FC, so by this point it was obvious that this was a ruse to get Lampard to Man City without bringing him directly over from bitter rival Chelsea.
The shame of Man City keeping Lampard for the full season was how little he was used after January 1st, and only saw significant time in the final few games when Man City’s title hopes were gone. He scored six goals in 32 appearances this past season.
On his biggest challenge with NYC FC, Lampard said, “That’s a big question I suppose. I think the challenge is to come here and do the best I can, simple answer – win. I think it’s the perfect challenge for me at this part of my career. The decision to come here was an easy one relatively. The MLS, the way it is, the club itself, as I said earlier, how it was sold to me. My challenge is to try to win. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I had a lot left in me in terms of fitness, in terms of freshness. I’ve always had a huge desire to win throughout my career and been fortunate to do that. My challenge is to show people I’m here to win and play well as regularly as I can.”
Lampard will be joining a team that includes David Villa, the all-time leading scorer for Spain; and Andrea Pirlo, the Italian star who was just signed on Monday. They all competed against each other in the UEFA Champions League and the World Cup. To the question of if he ever thought about the chance to play with them, Lampard said, “I did think that, I was fortunate enough to play against many great players, and I have to say David and Andrea are right at the top of that list. I played against David when he was very young back at Valencia. I remember him very well, the quality of him was straightaway. Andrea Pirlo, he’s a joy to watch as a footballer anyway, and there was one time at Chelsea where there were rumors that he was going to come and play when Ancelotti was there, and he wanted to sign him, but it never happened. Both are players I’ve admired from afar, an absolute joy to play with. I didn’t realize it would happen at this stage of my career, I’m a lucky man to be on the same squad as them.”
Lampard said of his first week training with NYC FC, “It’s been great for me, I mean I had a couple weeks break, which is good for my freshness. I was really excited to get back on the training field with the players and I was fortunate because I have met most of the squad, pretty much all of them before I met Jason (Kreis, NYC FC Head Coach) and I had those conversations, so it didn’t feel like a complete new say at the office, it was very comfortable for me straightaway, so enjoyed training. The quality of training was high, as I expected it to be. I’ve seen the boys train before the season in Manchester. Jason’s sessions are very sharp and it was very easy for me to fit in. It was a joy to train this week, get to know the lads a bit more, and hoping I do everything on my end to integrate as quick as I can, making friends, making relationships on and off the pitch, just try and help the team.”
On if there’s any regrets about how his move here played out and if that will motivate him to make his mark here, Lampard said, “I’ve always been a very determined character. In football, my career’s always been about big moments, and any player who’s had as long a career as I’ve had will have moments of decisions, and how to learn from them. So, for me, I’m not interested in looking backwards at all, very, very excited to be here. I’ll try to make all my answers on the pitch in the coming months this season and next season.”
On his impressions of New York, Lampard said, “I haven’t done the subway yet, but I will. It’s too big a city to take all in in one week, especially when you’re training and trying to rest in the afternoons. I did drive the car the other day, which was interesting (he said with a laugh). It’s a great city, I mean, I’m delighted to be here, I’m a city boy, I lived in London for many years. I love the energy of the city, the sounds, which we can hear now as we’re talking (referring to a siren outside), so that’s made me very comfortable straightaway. I will explore it as time comes. I’ve been very pleased, such a great reception here. People talk about soccer here, and talk about how it’s easy it is to walk down the street and not get recognized compared to England. You wouldn’t know it from that because I can see the game’s really growing. I walk down the street now, lots of people interested in the games and NYC FC, so for me that’s been a pleasure. I’m blessed to live in a great city like this and play my football here.”
On the pressure of playing here: “This is what it’s about. If it was to come play in a country without pressure, it’s a holiday. A lot of pressure means that you’re in a serious business.”
On how much he has followed NYC FC throughout the first four months of the season and what he can bring to the team, Lampard said, “I’ve watched a great deal actually, I’ve watched I would say probably 55 percent of the games. Fortunately, they are broadcast over in England regularly now and now, with the internet, you can watch most games. I obviously wanted to see them, I’m a big football man anyway, it’s my life, I enjoy watching football. In terms of what I can give the club, I’ll try to do what I’ve always done, Jason said I will be a center midfield back. I don’t see myself as an attacking midfield player, I like to help the team with and without the ball, so I’ll try to do that. Then, obviously, I’ll try to create and score goals, I think that’s probably been one of the defining things of my career is scoring from midfield, so if I can do that for the team, as well as working for everyone else, I’ll try to do that.”
Lampard’s father saw most of his games in England. He said of how many games his father will see here, “I’m picking my dad up at the airport tomorrow (Wednesday), so he’s in already essentially, and my sister. I’m not sure my dad can commute as regularly as he did, but I’m very fortunate to have a strong family around me, family and friends. I think my hardest part is going to be to get them to stay away because this is such an attractive city to come to. I’m going to be inundated with people wanting to come, so I do have a job to do, people think I’m on holiday, I think my friends do. I’m grateful if they come over, my dad hasn’t been to America for many years, I’m glad to get him here once, and hopefully he enjoys the experience and keeps coming back.”
On the MLS having a playoff structure far different from the English Premier League, which does not have playoffs but has relegation, Lampard said, “I think it’s great, to me it’s great because it’s a new experience. I don’t know that Jason (Kreis) or people who played here involved in the league regularly can give you some more details or reasons why it’s so good or not so good. For me, it gives us a real interest that every team probably has an interest in it longer into the season, you know, in England, we pretty much know the two or three teams that can win the league very early on, so that’s nice. It’s a different culture, just the way it is. With regard to the parity and the teams being slightly more even, it’s a good thing.
“Going back to England, we would know two or three teams can win the league, I think here you see different teams have strong seasons and you never quite know who’s going right until the end, so it can be an overly quite exciting finish. I’m just going to enjoy the ride and that’s the way it is here, so we’ll see,” said Lampard.