Chelsea’s famed Frank Lampard wants to put New York Soccer on the map

Frank Lampard Joins NYCFC

Frank Lampard Joins NYCFC

It’s the challenge, above all else.

Frank Lampard says that’s the reason he crossed the pond to unpredictable circumstances, joining an expansion team with only four players.

“Some say it was a risk,” says New York City FC’s newest signing in an interview with the New York Daily News.

At 36 years old, Lampard is in a unique position of comfort. This isn’t a reference to his enviable finances or television star girlfriend, Christine Bleakley, but rather the legacy secured in the highest levels of club soccer. It’s an easy argument, armed with ample evidence, that Lampard is the greatest player in Chelsea’s 109-year history, a hero at Stamford Bridge nicknamed “Super Frank” and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. There isn’t a title Chelsea didn’t claim during Lampard’s 13-year stint, and much of the success was initiated by the midfielder’s leadership and relentless effectiveness.

Not blessed with speed, Lampard relied on grit, cunning and technical skill to make his mark in the English Premier League. He may not be in as many underwear ads as David Beckham, but he enjoyed a career that was equal, if not better than, his fellow Englishman’s.

“I’m very pleased with my legacy at Chelsea,” Lampard says.

There are reasons beyond soccer for European stars to cross the ocean, including sponsorships, introductions to American markets and different MLS owners. It all benefited Beckham during his very profitable stint in L.A.

But Lampard understandably doesn’t volunteer much into these considerations during interviews. He also won’t delve into the specifics of the recruiting and negotiating process, which was handled by NYCFC’s parent club, Manchester City, owned by the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. In the end, these details are not Lampard’s job to fret over, nor are they beneficial to the cause of bringing a title to New York.

“In terms of what you can expect of me as a player, I give everything, I help teammates get better,” Lampard says. “I was fortunate at Chelsea to have a great rapport with the fans there because they knew that I give everything. So I hope the New York City fans see that in me, realize that we want to bring a team here that we can be very proud of. If we can do that, then I’ll go away a happy man.”

It wasn’t too long ago that NYCFC believed Lampard was unattainable. Coach Jason Kreis helped compile a list in January of about 10 potential targets for Designated Player slots, reserved for those who can sign contracts exceeding an otherwise hard salary cap. MLS allows for three DPs per team, and NYCFC — which begins its inaugural season next year at Yankee Stadium — used its first on Spanish striker David Villa.

Lampard didn’t make the initial list.

“We were looking for the right type of players to announce as our first signings. We were sort of combing the world, so to speak, and thinking about who those players might be,” says Kreis. “I think obviously we knew about Frank’s situation. Our initial thinking was that certainly he was going to stay at Chelsea. So he was never kind of on our short list.

Lampard became a fan of the U.S. more than 10 years ago, and has been taking yearly vacations in New York, L.A. and Las Vegas. MLS was already on his radar as a post-Chelsea destination. He nearly signed with the L.A. Galaxy last year before Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho persuaded him to return for a final season.

The Galaxy made another bid at Lampard this year, but he instead chose NYCFC on a two-year deal. It provides him a more desirable timetable: rather than joining the club midseason — as Beckham did with the Galaxy and Thierry Henry with the Red Bulls — Lampard gets to go through an MLS training camp and start fresh. Of course, the season doesn’t start until March, so Lampard says he’s in the process of deciding the best way to stay fit — whether it’s on loan with another club or through offseason training.

The announcement of the signing, Lampard says, was delayed until after the World Cup, where he captained England to a disappointing first-round knockout.

“I knew my future was up in the air and I had to get something set up, but (during the World Cup) certainly wasn’t the time for me to come out and announce something,” Lampard says.

Lampard gets it — his answers, his attitude, his smile. He understands what Beckham understood seven years ago, when an English superstar and marketing phenomenon made his risky leap and significantly raised the profile of MLS.

Lampard is not just a soccer player in New York City.He’s an ambassador, the face of an expansion team with big ambitions and a big home stadium. His first day on the job Thursday was a crash course in that lesson, a whirlwind media tour around the city filled with repetitive questions and photo shoots.

“Thirteen years at the same club,” says Lampard, polite and accommodating at every stop without revealing much beyond the surface. “This is a big move for me. I wanted to make the right decision. I’d like to think I’ve done that.

“(The press conference) was a bit surreal, to be honest,” he adds.

Lampard, who has two daughters from a previous relationship, is far from the dumb jock.

Lampard reportedly scored over 150 in the 2009 exam, placing him in the category of genius.

In the very early stages of his career, Lampard was involved in two scandals — one in which he and two other players were filmed having sex with women (the tape was leaked), and another when he and teammates allegedly taunted Americans in a drunken stupor just a day after the 9/11 attacks.

The latter resurfaced as a topic when Lampard signed in New York, and he denied taking part in any taunting.

With his brilliant mind — which can be often seen on the field — the next natural transition is to coaching.

It’s a challenge for another day. Right now he’s focused on the one as New York’s future midfielder.