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Frank Lampard talks the MLS, young English talent and drinking with Pirlo

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Joe Ellison
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Ahead of the new MLS season - and to help promote Football Shirt Friday as part of The Bobby Moore Fund - ShortList caught up with New York City FC's Frank Lampard

You've been in the MLS for over six months now. What are the noticeable differences from the English game?
I think there are definitely differences, cultural ones too. Everyone tries to make you aware of the so called pitfalls, which are probably the travel and the conditions - sometimes we play on AstroTurf - but I was pretty aware of all that when I came into it. I’m also pretty low maintenance so those aspects don't bother me so much. The basics are pretty much the same, it's just I’m at a new club which only started a year ago which means there’s a lot of work to be done on growing the club and its fan base. It’s been really enjoyable on that front.
 
And on a personal level?
I came halfway through last season which was difficult, but this year I’ve got a full pre-season to get ready for it. We have a great dressing room is brilliant, all the lads are great. One thing I will say about the American-based players is that their mind-set and attitude is brilliant. They want to play well, they want to improve and work hard. And now Patrick Vieira has come over here to be our manager we’ve got a team and good mix of players who can do big things. 
 
Compare New York City to an English team for us.
If I could compare it to any club in my career it would probably be Chelsea. Of course Chelsea aren’t a new club but the Roman Abramovich era changed everything, expectations suddenly became very high. There’s already expectancy here. Being in New York, where people are very proud of their teams, people don’t want a bad team, or even a mediocre team, so we’ve got to do well. 
 

Better than the Red Bulls, surely?

Yeah, but because the Red Bulls play out in [New] Jersey, we are the team of the city, we are the only ones playing in the five boroughs at least. Plus we play in the Yankee Stadium. The derbies are very competitive mind. When we played home and away last year I think there were 50,000 at our game and a full house at their game. People tend to see it from the outside and talk the league down but it’s growing so fast we are going to see even more players come here and it’ll get even more competitive.
 
New Yorkers can be a shouty bunch. Are they quite vocal compared to most MLS fans?
Very vocal. We’ve got a great crowd. Actually the biggest difference I’ve found between the MLS and the Premier League is that wherever you go there’s a positive feeling. Even a few games specifically in which I remember we were beaten at home, the fans were fully behind us and kept supporting us even after the final whistle.
 
Ever found yourself being targeted or marked out of games because you’re an established name? 
Maybe a little bit but nobody has overstepped the line, nothing underhand has gone on. Certainly when we play against some teams who do predesignate a player they will usually make it someone from Europe or a well known guy.

Another Euro expat at New York City is Andrea Pirlo. Do you hang out of the pitch or go shopping? He’s also quite a fashionable chap...
Yeah like myself [laughs]. Andrea really does stick out in terms of dress sense compared to the American guys when he comes to training. I love him, he’s a great lad and he’s really starting to get the language down. He was quite limited with English to begin with but he’s getting better all the time. He’s certainly a cool bloke and not your stereotypical footballer as he's got so many different interests. We spend time together with our other halves, go to dinner, share a glass or two of red wine. He owns a vineyard back in Italy, where he makes his own family wine, so he’s a bit of a connoisseur.
 
Have you tried introducing him to any English interests?
Funnily enough, I always try to get him a nice lager or a beer. He’s quite open to that but he is Mr Italian man, so loves his Italian restaurants, which there are a lot of in New York.

We interviewed Pirlo recently and he told us he met Bono in the city. Have you hobnobbed with any A-listers during your time in the Big Apple?
I’m fairly friendly with Adele’s other half, Simon, so I went to watch her do a one-off concert at Radio City Music Hall and we were sat with Bette Midler, Steven Spielberg, Sienna Miller, Bradley Cooper and his girlfriend - the Russian girl [Irina Shayk], not sure if he’s still with her.

A few years ago I was looking at England and wondering where exciting players were coming from

Not fancy asking Spielberg to come and watch a game?
I didn’t speak to him, I’m not like that. I just tend to be nosey from a distance. In New York you do tend to see a lot of celebrities. When I first got here and stayed in a hotel, I got in a lift with Samuel L Jackson, who was in the corner with his head down. I just played it cool and left him be. He didn’t look like he wanted to talk anyway.

Maybe because he’s a Liverpool fan. 
That could be it [laughs].

But what about you? Have you enjoyed having slightly more anonymity in the US?
We live in Manhattan, quite near Central Park so it’s quite touristy and I do get a few Europeans and South Americans who are quite into their football recognising me, even Americans, but certainly compared to London and England it's refreshing. We love walking and eating out, we’ll go days without being recognised at all. I think any well-known player will tell you it is quite nice to flitter around and do what you want without being stopped.

Before New York you had a spell with Manchester City. Now Pep Guardiola is heading there. Did he take the easy option?
No, when you’re Pep Guardiola and achieved what he’s achieved with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, I think top clubs would want you, and equally I think he wants a top club rather than a lesser club. He deserves that, he’s more than earned his stripes to be at somewhere like Manchester City who obviously have funds. He’s a great character, a smart looking man, he speaks really well and builds good teams. For Manchester City, as well as the Premier League as a whole, he’s a good addition.
 
What makes him so good?
His forward thinking - there are certain managers who come along and create something of a new thing. [Jose] Mourinho did it during his first season at Chelsea, with his coaching methods and playing in a way that was ahead of the game. Pep did that at Barcelona. People can say he inherited great players but he made them even better. He took that approach to Bayern Munich. His teams play with such technical ability, they pass the ball from back to front, he has a very certain way he wants to play and he makes it happen, so I think you have to respect anyone who has ideas like that, sticks to them, and is successful at the same time.

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Do you miss anything about the Premier League?
I had such a long time there I’m quite enjoying being out of the pressure of it all. I support Chelsea and have an interest in Man City, so I watch the games from afar. I will say I do miss the big Champions League nights, because I had some fantastic nights with Chelsea, especially winning it in Munich, so there will be the odd occasion I’ll miss that, or a big Premier League game and you get that tug to be there. But I’m happy with the challenge I have over here, and I’m happy with what I achieved in Europe.
 
You did pretty well…
I did alright,  I’ll take it.
 
I imagine you’ll have an eye on the Euros this year too. Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy – you have to start two, but which two do you play?
I’ll be honest, I’ll go for Kane and Rooney now. Wayne’s the talisman, the captain, he has to be in there, and Kane for what he’s done in the last year and a half. He’s the type of centre forward that England have been crying out for. Without taking anything away from Vardy, I think he will be a fantastic impact player, the sort of player who could come off the bench in game one and change it, using his pace later in games.
 
Which other young England players do you expect to make a big impact?
Well there’s Ross Barkley and Dele Alli in midfield. I love the pair of them. A couple of years ago I didn’t see that. I was looking at England, wondering where these exciting players were coming from, I wasn’t sure where. All of a sudden, you look at our team now and you have young boys coming through, attacking midfielders with bags of ability. Alli has a real knack for scoring goals and looks as though he’s already becoming a top player, as is Barkley, and I think they’ll go really far.
 
Who has been the most underrated player you’ve played with during your career?
Perhaps not at the end of his career but during his time with me at Chelsea, Claude Makelele. Early on nobody on the outside appreciated his role, and what he did at the time. He complemented me so well because I wanted to get forward a lot, he was just happy to stay back, break things up and make the ball move quickly. It was a messy job that people don’t always give credit for.
 
Should Chelsea offer John Terry a new deal? 
I would like to see them offer it. I think it’s obvious John wants it and I think he can still stay at Chelsea. I’m friends with John, but purely from a football perspective and from what he’s done on the pitch, and as a starting player in all their big and important games when he’s started them this season, I think he’s been their best defender this year.
 
And would the dressing room be keen to see him stay?
Of course. What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that - he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players. I don’t think Chelsea will make decisions for the wrong reasons but if I was there, that’s the message I’ll be saying.
 
Terry’s also been linked to the MLS. Would you like to play with him at New York?
He’s the best defender I ever played with, quite comfortably. So if Chelsea let him go and John’s sitting there, I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here myself.
 
Speaking of the MLS, what’s the goal for New York City this year?
Well the ultimate goal is to win the MLS Cup, but the first goal is to get to the playoffs. Once you reach the playoffs it becomes a bit of a lottery in a way, and it depends how you are at that point, but we have to make the playoffs this year.Last year we had a few excuses, it was our first year so that’s perhaps why it didn’t go for us on the pitch. Whereas now we have a full squad, a strong squad, everyone knows each other and of course we have the arrival of Patrick Vieira.
 
He was a youth coach when you had a late spell with Manchester City. Did you get on well then?  
Yeah, there wasn’t much love lost on the pitch given he was at Arsenal and I was at Chelsea – he was very competitive and we wanted to beat each other badly, but I respected him hugely and still do. I was with him for a year in Manchester, he was with the young boys and I’d spend time with him around the training ground. I really admire what he’s done on the pitch and he’ll bring a really European influence here which I think will make us a stronger outfit.
 
Patrick aside, you’ve enjoyed some other feisty midfield battles down the years, most notably with your former England team mate Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso against Liverpool. Did you relish those fixtures?

We all relished it. Stevie and Jamie Carragher would tell you the same. For a short period we played each other like five or six times a year and kept getting drawn together in the Champions League. They were good days, if competitive. We didn’t like each other much on the pitch. Stevie G and Alonso were top players. I actually met Alonso on holiday a few years ago and we got on very well. Sometimes it’s difficult - when you’re so competitive on the pitch you don’t realise what nice guys they are off it.

Frank is supporting Football Shirt Friday. For more information on the Bobby Moore Fund or to sign up for Football Shirt Friday on 22 April, go to Bobbymoorefund.org

[Images: Rex]

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Joe Ellison

Joe is a writer and editor. Specialising in film, food, sport, current affairs, travel writing and adept at pilfering David Brent quotes, Joe describes himself as ‘basically a chilled out entertainer’. Follow Joe on Twitter: @Chevychased 

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