Has Frank Lampard aged better as a footballer than Steven Gerrard?
The similarities between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are uncanny. Both- in their prime- rampaging box-to-box midfielders capable of providing a quantity of goals a world-class striker would aim for. Both have been runners up in the Ballon D’Or. Both icons and legends at their respective clubs. Both so similar in style that their international partnership was often blamed for a golden generation’s shortcomings. Both still performing at the highest level in the twilight of their careers.
If you rewind two years to when Lampard was 34, he played an incredible 50 games in Chelsea’s demanding Europa-League winning campaign, scoring a remarkable 17 times. Gerrard, this season, at the same age, is falling quite far short of that consistency- he’s scored 4 in 17 appearances. His relationship with manager Brendan Rodgers and the methods and means by which he has been managed have been heavily scrutinised.
Has Gerrard’s gradual decline been surprising? Has Lampard adapted in his thirties better than Gerrard? If you look at Lampard’s career, he’s always been less injury prone and more physically consistent than Gerrard- in fact, despite being two years his senior, he’s played in a staggering 855 games, 169 more than Gerrard’s 686. If by that logic Lampard possess some form of better natural fitness, then his consistency at an older age is perhaps unsurprising in light of the way the physical demands of the game fatigue each player.
That’s an assumption however that fails to appreciate Gerrard (and Liverpool’s) situation. For one, Lampard has never had to operate as a lone holding player as Gerrard currently does. That role is relevant, because it gives Gerrard less impetus to score goals in open play (and more so via set pieces) and demands more of him physically. In Lampard’s 50 game season, he was often paired with Ramires, one of the most athletic players in England, and was rotated more frequently too. That allowed him to exert himself less on a match per match basis. Lone holding players traditionally cover more ground than any other player on the pitch (except for very attacking full backs) and Rodgers is demanding more of Gerrard than Rafa Benitez did of Lampard in that season.
But there’s something greater than that. Post-Suarez Liverpool are more reliant on Gerrard than they’ve ever been. That expectation was never placed on Lampard in a Chelsea side who that season purchased Eden Hazard and Oscar.
The aura, the talent, the persona- Gerrard is still the focal point of Liverpool, both on and off the pitch. Their go to man in times of need. The hero who will rescue them in a deteriorating situation. Lampard has never been burdened with that expectation at any point in his career, let alone in his thirties. If he has a bad day at the office, you won’t hear about it, while Gerrard (and subsequently Rodgers) will have to ponder press reports of their relationship.
If Gerrard is to evolve into a Ryan Giggs, or a Clarence Seedorf, or a Paulo Maldini, Liverpool need to adjust their expectations of him. None of those players were the best players at their clubs past the age of 34. Lampard is not performing any better than Gerrard at this stage in their career. Old players are typically reliant on their technical ability to keep them at the top, and a demanding defensive role is an extraordinarily tough ask of an old player. As they always have in their identical careers, their both still exceeding expectations at their ages. It’s just that fundamentally, those expectations have slowly become profoundly different.