Lamps vs. Stevie G: Who ya got?

Iconic midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are shipping their careers -- and their footballing rivalry -- across the pond

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Across England for over the last decade, one question kept cropping up among football fans, from the pubs to the terraces: Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard? Lamps or Stevie G? Who ya got?

Now, Major League Soccer has them both as fans in the U.S. can decide the answer of that generational dilemma for themselves over the next two years, and maybe longer.

For much of their careers, Gerrard and Lampard have been compared and contrasted. They are two players who have propelled rival clubs to success from central midfield with their goal-scoring exploits, but despite all of their similarities, subtle differences set them apart.

Both will make their first appearances for their new clubs in the U.S. this weekend, as Gerrard debuts for the LA Galaxy and Lampard suits up for New York City FC.

Just when we thought we’d seen the last of Gerrard and Lampard squaring off after 15 years in the Premier League, their seemingly never-ending rivalry is about to get a new lease on life. And stateside, no less. The following is an in-depth look at how they’ve managed to reach similar echelons within the game, but by very different means.

The same, but different

On the surface, Gerrard and Lampard seem extremely similar; two of a kind, even. Both superstars are adored by millions around the globe after being the face of powerhouse clubs in England. Both prefer a quiet life away from the pitch and have young families. This weekend both are embarking on what they hope will be a glorious sun-drenched swansong in the United States after slugging it out in the mud and rain of their homeland for nearly two decades as professionals.

But when you scratch the surface, you realize these two are not peas in a pod. Not at all.

Gerrard grew up in Whiston, Liverpool, on the “Bluebell Estate,” which is the equivalent of a housing project in the U.S. It was one of the most dangerous areas in what has historically been one of the UK’s most deprived and crime-riddled cities. In stark contrast, Lampard grew up in the leafy suburbs of Essex, just outside east London, and was the son of a former professional soccer player. Gerrard toughed it out in the streets, while Lampard had a comfortable upbringing in suburbia.

“People who know the Bluebell, it‘s a normal council estate. That‘s where me and my brother grew up. Every time when we got the chance to play football when we were younger, we were always out in the street kicking a ball about,” Gerrard recalled of his childhood in an LFC TV interview. “We had a lot of friends and that‘s basically where it started for me. That‘s where I kicked my first football. … A lot of my friends were older than me ’cause I used to try to tag along with my brother‘s mates and joining in football matches with them. I think that‘s helped me to become the player I am today. Getting knocked about when I was a kid and picking myself up and going again and learning a lot of things off players who were older than me. I‘ve got a brother who‘s three years older than me and he used to kick me about a lot, punch me about a lot as well, so I think that helped me toughen me up a bit.”

Lampard played cricket and wore a flat cap to private school, where he thrived as a student, gaining top marks and excelling in subjects like Latin, while he also recorded a score off the charts when testers came into Chelsea to give the players an IQ test. Mensa believes Lampard is a genius.

“I’m not a genius,” Lampard laughed when asked about the IQ test by American baseball commentators following his initial move to New York City FC last August . “The IQ went well but I’m not sure about that. I’ve made lots of silly mistakes, I’m not sure I’m a genius but I showed up well in the test.”

Lampard: NYCFC challenge equal to Chelsea, Man City tasks

In both of their autobiographies – the eerie similarities continue as both books were released within a month of each other just after the 2006 World Cup in Germany — they tell contrasting tales of growing up playing, and falling in love with, the beautiful game in England.

Gerrard opens with a tale about how he and his brother were kicking a ball around a field that was full of garbage close to his home. The future Liverpool captain kicked the ball as it lay in the bushes but he didn’t see a rusty pitchfork sticking out from the undergrowth and badly gashed his foot. He almost had to have his big toe amputated. His career was almost over before it began. As for Lampard, he learned tricks from his father, Frank Lampard Sr., and older cousin Jamie Redknapp, who was captain of Liverpool at the time and a midfielder for the English national team. Frank’s uncle, you guessed it, was Harry Redknapp, a renowned manager in the Premier League. Lampard told fond tales about visiting the Redknapp residence on the English Rivera in the exclusive seaside town of Sandbanks, kicking a ball with his cousin Jamie at an ornate bird house which hung high in the trees of the vast back yard.

Like I said, Gerrard and Lampard are the same … but at the same time, very different.

For many, the Gerrard-or-Lampard debate wasn’t purely down to which team you supported or whom you preferred as a player. It reflected your social class and beliefs in post-millennium Britain. Lampard is a self-confessed supporter of the Conservative party, while Gerrard comes from the heartland of the British Labour party. But put aside their vastly contrasting socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and one thing that isn’t different is their desire to win.

Gerrard rose through Liverpool’s academy and despite being knocked back at a young age as the likes of Michael Owen and others were pushed on to the national stage, he persisted with his game and had to curb a violent streak which almost saw him thrown off of the club for numerous incidents related to reckless tackling. Now you know where the “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard. He’ll pass the ball 40-yards. He’s big and he’s f***ing hard. Steve Gerrard, Gerrard,” song comes from (sung to the tune of “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”

Lampard speaks of doing his “spikes” each and every day throughout his time growing up. He would put on special running shoes and run sprints until his lungs were about to burst. His father gave him inside tips on how to succeed in soccer, but the elder Lampard could only do so much. From a young age the younger Lampard had that desire to succeed, but also the ability and soccer brain to go with it. However, ask any West Ham United fan today what they think of Lampard. It’s unlikely to be a particularly pleasant exchange.

Throughout his teenage years, Lampard suffered abuse from West Ham fans as he was the son of the assistant manager and his Uncle Harry was the first team manager. Lampard was berated on a daily basis for years after coming through the ranks with Rio Ferdinand at Upton Park, before moving to Chelsea. The treatment probably helped add steel to Lampard’s character as he has gone on to silence those who believed he was getting preferential treatment. He was a slightly overweight midfielder who many believed was born with a silver-spoon in his mouth. Lampard had to stave off being tarnished as a private-school pretty boy who was from the middle to upper classes of English society. West Ham is a team, like most in England and around the world, entrenched with a working-class identity. To this day, Hammers fans hiss and boo at Lampard no matter what team he played for, even when he played for England. He has had to take the rough with the smooth and along the way he has been in trouble for silly mistakes.

Along with John Terry and three other Chelsea teammates, Lampard was fined by the club in 2001 as he went on a drunken binge in front of grieving American tourists at a Heathrow Airport hotel in London, just one day after the Sept. 11 attacks. Lampard and his teammates did not make reference to the attacks but allegedly were drunk and disorderly around those in the hotel bar. Those allegations — and the fact that Lampard’s protracted move to New York City FC saw Manchester City take him on loan for longer than expected; he was meant to arrive in January 2015 but is now turning up six months later as sister-club Manchester City wanted him for its Premier League and Champions League run-in – have led to some NYCFC fans speaking out against him. “Lamps” will have his work cut out to win over the fans in his first few weeks in MLS, but his supreme talent can’t be denied, and his boots will likely do the talking.

Gerrard is no angel either. In 2008 he was involved in a bar brawl in Liverpool where he was said to have thrown the first punch. Gerrard was charged with assault after admitting to the punch in self-defense but the charges were eventually dropped and he was found not guilty. On a recent trip to Liverpool you hear whispers about his family being targeted by gangs and Everton fans in and around the city of around 500,000 people. Ultimately, his decision to head to California may be about getting out of the local pressure-cooker atmosphere as much as anything else.

When you look back at their careers up to this date, plenty of similarities are dissipated by subtle differences. What you can’t deny is that both players heading to MLS in the twilight of their careers will benefit soccer domestically in the U.S. for the next two years.

Can you like ‘Lamps’ and ‘Stevie G’?

Setting up all of those differences on and off the pitch between Lampard and Gerrard, it is very difficult to be a huge fan of both. If you are a Chelsea fan you love Lampard. If you are a Liverpool fan, you love Gerrard. That’s a given.

But for fans of not only the English national team, but of clubs up and down the country who had no affiliation either for or against Chelsea and Liverpool, the decision about picking your favorite player between the two was more complex. Of course, you didn’t have to favor one over the other. The amount of times I’ve heard “At the end of the day, they are both great players, right?” muttered by a middle-aged man resembling a neutral referee in a pub argument are numerous, but picking Gerrard over Lampard or vice-versa says a lot about you both as a soccer fan and a person.

Gerrard epitomizes the rags-to-riches story. The local lad done good. The hometown hero who led his side to glory and brushed off interested suitors time and time again. His thick Scouse accent could be heard bellowing out orders at Anfield every other Saturday for 17 seasons. He was the hero of the working-classes. But because of the huge amount of attention he received in his home city, it was inevitable Gerrard would sooner rather than later look to get out of the fishbowl. He had chances to join Lampard at Chelsea, which he so nearly did in 2005, following Liverpool’s miraculous UEFA Champions League win — a victory he inspired. Jose Mourinho, who narrowly missed out on Gerrard during his first stint as Chelsea manager, also offered Gerrard the chance to sign for him at Inter Milan and at Real Madrid but each time, Gerrard declined “The Special One.” Playground whispers suggested gangs in Liverpool had threatened Gerrard and his family if he left in 2005, but he is a man of the people whose emotional Anfield farewell at the end of the 2014-15 Premier League season was unlike anything England’s top flight has seen in modern times.

Lampard represents middle-class England. But, like Gerrard, he also represents the longevity of a career when sheer athletic ability is not your foremost talent. Lampard has mastered the art of late runs into the box and timing his arrival to perfection. Sure, he was fortunate to arrive at Chelsea just before Russian oligarch owner Roman Abramovich took over in in 2004, but he was ever-present through Chelsea’s most successful period in club history as big-name signings came and went and none of them could replace Lampard’s importance.

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Lampard’s place as a legend at Chelsea is clear after three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and trophies in the Europa and UEFA Champions Leagues. Banners proclaiming “Super Frankie Lampard” adorn the stands at the Bridge and will do so for many years, as he had a world-class team around him to seal titles. Lampard captained Chelsea to UCL success in 2012 and the Englishman will always be revered despite being allowed Mourinho allowed him to leave in 2014 due to wage demands, with only a one-year deal on the table. Lampard then moved to Manchester City on loan before linking up with NYCFC. And, of course, in his first game against Chelsea he scored a late equalizer for City as he both applauded and apologized to Chelsea’s fans after the game. Despite that, his legendary status on Kings Road will always be intact.

“With Frank and his contribution, there is nothing I can say. However, not now because he’s too young, but maybe in a few years, he’ll have a statue where Peter Osgood is, on the side of the stadium,” Chelsea boss Mourinho said. “He’s one of the biggest players for this club.”

Many would argue that Gerrard failed to match Lampard’s success because he didn’t have the same caliber of players around him. Gerrard was more of a one-man band, while Lampard was a key cog in a trophy-winning machine for nearly a decade. The arguments are incessant.

How do you compare Lampard, the greatest goal-scoring midfielder in Premier League history against Gerrard, the most complete player? Is it even possible? Many have, and will continue to, agree to disagree.

As both players decided to leave the Premier League at the same time, they were awarded with a special “Merit Award” by the PFA for their service to soccer in England over the years. Once again, at a glitzy banquet in central London before they headed to the U.S., their paths had crossed and their greatness had been saluted. But the same debate remained.

Gerrard holding up a Galaxy jersey (Getty Images)

Goal-scorer vs. inspirer

In terms of their playing style, although Gerrard and Lampard were both supreme goal-scoring midfielders, they are very different players. Lampard has scored 288 goals in 988 games in his club and national team career. Gerrard has 207 in 822 games. Lampard is two years older than Gerrard, hence he has more appearances, but he has also been more durable and that has allowed him to maintain his style of play. Lampard’s characteristic waddle into the final third has become legendary, as have his pinpoint free kicks, penalty kicks and corners. Gerrard, too, is a set-piece specialist, but he was also well-known for being the complete box-to-box midfielder who never shirked his defensive responsibilities, while still maintaing a zest for forward-surging runs.

That changed in the last few years of his Liverpool career as Gerrard retreated and became a deep-lying playmaker, channeling his inner Andrea Pirlo to pick the ball off of the center backs and launch attacks with raking 50-yard passes. Gerrard was able to dictate the tempo of the game, but many argued that he had lost the dynamism in the final third that made him a Liverpool legend. Lampard, due to his own relentless work ethic and intelligence, kept his same style. If you look back at videos of Lampard playing for Chelsea in 2002 and in 2013, plus his spell with Man City in 2014-15, you won’t see much difference. His head is always swiveling, looking around before he gets the ball, and then switching play or linking midfield and attack before ghosting towards the box. He will do that in MLS with Pirlo sitting in and David Villa linking up with Lampard in attack for NYCFC. Whether or not Gerrard will return to being the marauding menace who won the UCL in 2005 when he arrives stateside remains to be seen. There’s every chance he remains in a deep-lying role in order to supply Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes with chance after chance for L.A.

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The same things that made them great players individually saw them clash when they played for England together for almost 15 years. Countries wait for decades for a midfielder of either Gerrard’s or Lampard’s caliber to come along. England got very lucky as they were both in their prime at the same time. Then again, the English national team never truly saw the best from either player while they represented the Three Lions. Gerrard made 114 appearances for England, captaining them at two World Cups (2010, 2014), while Lampard made 106 appearances. Challengers came and went, but no matter how hard Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson tried, they just couldn’t jell Gerrard and Lampard to form what, on paper at least, promised to be one of the greatest central midfield partnerships in recent history.

Gerrard was adamant he and Lampard could make it work after the disappointment of the 2010 World Cup.

“Capello, along with me and Frank, have proved all the critics wrong,” Gerrard said. “In the right system we can play together. Maybe not as two center midfielders, but we can certainly play well in the right team together.”

Both players made their England debuts within a few months of each other at the turn of the millennium and there was something rather poetic about the way they both decided to retire from international duty on June 24, 2014, following yet another disappointing World Cup exit where Gerrard served as captain and Lampard was vice-captain.

That disappointing vibe hung around throughout their international careers as both missed a penalty kick in England’s gut-wrenching defeat to Portugal in the World Cup quarterfinals in 2006, then Lampard’s goal that wasn’t given against Germany in the Round of 16 clash in 2010 saw them suffer heartbreak again. They could never get England further in the World Cup than the last eight.

The old adage of having similar central midfielders dovetail and complement each other just didn’t ring true with these two. The duo should have taken turns working in and sitting in. But that simplistic notion of what is essential to a profitable partnership never materialized. Neither was willing to shackle his offensive output for the betterment of the team, which meant that they were often caught out of position when they played together centrally. And if you throw Paul Scholes into the mix, yet another world-class central midfielder, England had an embarrassment of riches for well over a decade. Ultimately one of the three would get shunted out wide to play on the left or right, and such was the dominance of Gerrard and Lampard that it was often Scholes. That led to his early retirement from England as Gerrard and Lampard were still seen as the go-to men in the engine room.

Lampard is the perfect attacking midfielder but when the Three Lions tried to play the two in tandem, it just didn’t happen. Did the two players not get along because they play for rival clubs? Why can’t they play together? These questions, and plenty more, circled the minds of England fans as one of world soccer’s greatest phenomenon became: “How on earth does the Gerrard-Lampard combo not crush opponents into the ground?”

It became a national obsession as manager after manager scratched their heads while Gerrard and Lampard lauded around majestically with their clubs but looked like salesmen trying to flog sneakers to a cheetah when playing for England. Utterly clueless.

Mourinho, Lampard’s boss at Chelsea and a huge admirer of Gerrard, disagreed.

“What problem? There is no problem here at all,” Mourinho snapped after the duo struggled to spark England at the 2010 World Cup. “You are talking about two of the top-five central-midfield players in the world. There isn’t a manager in club or international football that wouldn’t dream of these two. Because England have maybe not done as well as fans would have hoped, people need to find a scapegoat. And unfortunately, and for no reason, people have often questioned Frank and Steve playing alongside each other.”

Divisions arose between pundits, managers and fans as you were either in the pro-Gerrard or pro-Lampard camp. That’s how it was. I lived through it in England during the height of their powers at Euro 2004, the World Cups of 2006 and 2010. The argument went on for years, but, simply put, you can’t really compare them. They were, and are, completely different types of players even though their main role was driving forward from midfield to score goals and inspire their teams. Individually they were brilliant. Together, they were not. Hence the dividing opinions surrounding them and why everyone is so eager to see who has the biggest impact in MLS as their careers intertwine once again, one more time before the end.

Taking their rivalry to the other side of the pond

Is this the final chapter for Gerrard or Lampard or is this the start of a brand-new rivalry that will diverge into an NY-LA battle?

We hope the latter is true. We hope that injuries will be kind to them both. We hope their rivalry will be just as good as it was during the UEFA Champions League semifinal battles of 2005 and ’07.

If it isn’t, we’ve had a good run. But with the longevity and class Gerrard and Lampard have shown throughout their legendary careers, you wouldn’t bet against them leading Los Angeles and New York to glory over the two years they are contracted to their respective clubs.

However, the debate over who is better, who you prefer, continues to rumble. It will continue for many years after they’ve hung up their boots once and for all. Former Premier League defender Jamie Carragher, who played with both on the national team and was Gerrard’s long-term teammate at Anfield, believes Gerrard is the better player.

“They have been world-class players,” Carragher said. “Maybe they haven’t hit the heights for their country in a tournament, but in terms of what they achieved in Champions League, we are talking about players who have won it, got to finals, semifinals. But I’d put Stevie on top, for his big game influences in the finals in Istanbul, FA Cup Final in Cardiff. Lampard, the same, he has scored the winner in an FA Cup Final, he has scored in a Champions League Final. He scored the goals which won Chelsea its first Premier League title.”

The general consensus is that Gerrard was the better player for lifting Liverpool to European glory and bringing them so close to winning the Premier League title time and time again without much help from his teammates. The truth, however, is that there is no right answer. Both Lampard and Gerrard are greats of the Premier League and their class will ooze in MLS cities across North America in the coming years.

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So, what do they think about each other? After accepting their joint Merit Award after the conclusion of their final seasons in the PL, here’s what they had to say about one another as they prepare to take their rivalry to the USA.

“Of course, we played together for England for a long time, and I’m a huge admirer of Frank and his game and the success he has had at Chelsea,” Gerrard said. “He is an unbelievable player, a world-class player and I couldn’t ask for anyone better to share it with. I’m really pleased. Every time you get an individual award and an award for the job you do, you’re really happy. I’m a young boy from a council estate who has worked ever so hard to get to where I am today.”

Lampard shared the sentiment.

“I’m pleased — it is a great honor,” he added. “I have been fortunate enough to have a long time playing in the Premier League – along with Steven, it is a great honor to be alongside a player who himself has done so much for the game. For the two of us to get it, it is a nice send-off and a nice ending for me. I have got a huge amount of respect for Steven – we had a few ding-dongs up and down the years, we seemed to play each other five or six times a season when the Champions League was involved. He deserved the accolades he gets for his career and being a statesmen of Liverpool — he will be remembered for what he has done in the game. I’m proud to stand alongside him, he is a good friend and we had fun playing together for England.”

And it will be fun for everyone to see them play together in MLS. No debates. No arguments.