ON THE pitch, Frank Lampard looks like he’s one of the most intense footballers in the English Premier League.
He is always squinting, and his back and neck are constantly hunched forward like he’s straining so he can have a closer look at the game around him.
In person, however, Frank (or Super Frankie Lampard as it says on the banner hanging over the Shed End of Stamford Bridge in England), is just one cool, easy-going guy.
I interviewed the current darling of Chelsea FC and England midfielder in London last week after he finished a shoot for a World Cup advertising campaign. Even after about four hours of filming and promotional duties, Frank was still really friendly and candid during our interview.
Maybe it was because he’d just help his team to a 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers the night before; incidentally, I watched that match from the corporate box in Stamford Bridge after a three-course meal and champagne in the hospitality suite.
Imagine me, a Manchester United fan, in the Chelsea corporate box, cheering for Bolton. It was a priceless experience, spoiled only by the fact that Chelsea’s win put them four points ahead of United.
After that game, even the usually diplomatic Frank admitted he felt Chelsea had just taken a big step forward in the title race.
”Yeah, we’re in a very good position now,” he said, wearing a red checkered shirt, skinny jeans and looking much bigger than he does on the television.
”Are you a Chelsea fan?” he asked.
I wasn’t going to denounce my United allegiances, even to Frank Lampard.
”No. I’m a United fan, actually,” I replied sheepishly.
”Oh. I shouldn’t have done this (interview) then,” he joked.
”Personally, I think the team to beat (in the World Cup) is Spain. At the moment, they play very good football, they’re European Champions and they have quality all over the pitch,” he said.
Of course, they have the player I wrote about last week, the often-unnoticed genius, Xavi Hernandez.
”If I had to pick a midfielder at the moment, it’s Xavi. He’s so good on the ball — he passes and keeps it very well. Whenever you play against him, you know it’s going to be a tough game. Whenever we play at the Nou Camp (Barcelona’s stadium), the pitch is so big yet he controls the game. He always receives the ball so well; always has time on the ball,” said Frank when asked which midfielder has been the toughest one he’s come against so far.
Frank, however, reserved his highest praise for Xavi’s Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi.
”I think he is (the best player ever). I’m a huge Diego Maradona fan. When I was growing up, he was the best player ever. And now, what I’ve seen from Messi puts him at that level, if not more. And there’s more to come from him. Hopefully he’ll perform like Maradonna did at the World Cup,” he said.
It takes a really good-natured guy to wish that the best player of one of your arch-rivals has a smashing tournament, but Frank comes across as exactly that kind of guy.
He actually looked really embarrassed when I told him about the female fans he has in Malaysia. A friend of a colleague e-mailed a photoshop-ed picture of her and Frank together when she found out I was going to meet him. She wanted me to show it to him.
”Oh really? I didn’t know that,” he said, trying to sound surprised and nonchalant at the thought.
”I don’t really feel like that in England. Hearing I have female fans in Malaysia, that’s nice. I’d rather people give me good attention than bad,” he added.
He might pretend not to know about getting girls interested in the game, but he still remembers what all the fans were like the last time Chelsea visited Malaysia.
”The support was amazing. I remember walking into the hotel and there were Chelsea fans in the reception, and they filled the hotel. It’s nice to know that someone a thousand miles away is supporting you. It’s a nice feeling, and we’re very thankful,” he said.