Frank Lampard's Century Will Cement His Legend for Chelsea and England

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

HERTFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08:  Frank Lampard of England talks to the media during an England Press Conference at The Grove Hotel on September 8, 2013 in Hertford, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Zinedine Zidane achieved so much in his glorious playing career that seven years since his retirement, when he speaks, football people still sit up and take notice.

The Frenchman was one of the finest players of his generation. He knows talent when he sees it. That’s why, in this week when Frank Lampard is set to win his 100th cap for England, Zidane’s evaluation of the Chelsea midfielder holds special significance.

"The one [player] that is standing out and is really a leader [in the England team] is Lampard," Zidane said in a recent interview with BBC Sport.

Outside of Jose Mourinho’s emotionally driven speeches lauding Lampard's value, Zidane's words rank among the best endorsements the player has received.

Those comments mark the respect Lampard commands among his peers. Even those who have long left the game still remain fond admirers.

In England, however, this respect hasn't always been the case for Lampard.

From a young age at West Ham United, he was earmarked for criticism from the terraces. Fans were adamant that he was gifted his starting place because his uncle was the manager.

Harry Redknapp saw a lot more in Lampard than just a nephew, though, as he explained to fans at a now infamous Q&A session in 1996, captured in the YouTube clip below.

Supporters of the Hammers didn't quite realize what they had on their hands, but Claudio Ranieri did when he paid Chelsea's London rivals £11 million for Lampard’s services in 2001.

What seemed like an expensive purchase has become one of the Premier League's best bargains, with a record 203 goals in Chelsea blue testifying to Lampard's ability.

It hasn't been just at club level where he has excelled. A total of 29 goals in his England career outlines just how deadly he has been from midfield, while in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, he outscored all of his Three Lions teammates.

He has changed the way players in his position are viewed. That he is now judged on the goals he scores speaks volumes for Lampard's ability, although there is much more to his game.

For all this, however, there have been times when he has been booed by England fans carrying an agenda driven by their frustrations with England's lack of success.

He has been targeted at home matches, his name jeered at Wembley when it was called out over the Tannoy system.

The mood has improved in recent years, but the feeling remains that Lampard is a player who has been under-appreciated throughout his international career. Awarded god-like status at Stamford Bridge, it hasn't been quite the same with England where fans are quick to pounce at the slightest hint of a bad performance.

To revisit the YouTube clip of Harry Redknapp's disagreement with a West Ham fan over the wisdom of giving Lampard a chance early in his career, the current QPR manager said:

"Without any shadow of a doubt, there will be no comparison between what Frank Lampard will achieve in football and what Scotty Canham will achieve in football.

"He [Lampard] will go right to the very top, right to the very top. He has got everything that is needed to become a top class midfield player."

It's 17 years on and Lampard has won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups while captaining Chelsea to victories in the Champions League and Europa League. His legend in West London is cemented.

When he steps out at Kiev's Olympic Stadium to collect his 100th England cap, finally his  international career will be legendary as well.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes