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Frank Lampard Q&A: New York City FC star relishing Steven Gerrard battle

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- For the past month, Frank Lampard has endured a special kind of torture. He's been eager to make an impact for New York City FC, especially after missing half the MLS season while playing for Manchester City.

A calf injury has limited him to just 107 minutes so far, however, and after Friday's training session, manager Jason Kreis called Lampard's situation "amazingly frustrating."

Adding to the sense of urgency is what's happening with Sunday's opponents, LA Galaxy, where Giovani Dos Santos and Lampard's former England teammate Steven Gerrard have made impressive starts since arriving in midseason.

But as Lampard settles into his chair at the team's hotel, there is almost a sense of relief about him. The injury is healing at last, and the hope is that the self-described history buff -- he's reading a book about Abraham Lincoln at present -- can begin to write some new and uplifting chapters to the club's inaugural season, starting on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).

(This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

ESPN FC: How healthy are you right now? Obviously you've had some problems with injuries.

Frank Lampard: I'm getting there. I've been really working really hard in training. I think I basically tried to rush the preseason. I arrived here and tried to be match fit in a couple of weeks. Looking back it was quite tiring and I shouldn't have pushed it so much, and I got a couple of muscle injuries. But I'm hopefully at the back end of those, and I feel very fit generally. So it's just a case of being match fit and I'm very close. I need to be and I want to be because it's a big game for us now. We need to win games starting from this weekend. I'm looking forward to taking part.

How frustrating has it been to have to sit out?

Very frustrating. I'm a terrible injured person anyway. I've always found it difficult to be away from the team. You don't feel like you're part of it. You train separately, you have treatments on your own, and more than anything you want to take part in match day, which you have to sit out. That's been hard. I've certainly enjoyed outside of the pitch. Moving over here, the city has been great to me. The only thing that's been missing is being able to play and hopefully help us win games.

So has the newness factor worn off a bit or does everything still feel fresh?

It's still there. I'm excited, I like it. I love being over here. I love living in New York, I love traveling to fabulous cities, but I'm not here just to travel around and be on holiday. I'm here to play, so I think the real excitement will come when I can play regularly and focus on the games week in and week out, and try and help. Then hopefully enjoy the life outside.

In terms of the soccer, what's been the single biggest adjustment for you coming to MLS?

That's hard to say. There are differences outside. There's a cultural difference in how we prepare for games maybe going into the week, how we travel. We're traveling over much bigger distances. We found that certainly for this game [in L.A.]. I was very aware of that. Nothing has completely shocked me. I try to go about my business the same as I always have, which is to train hard when I'm training, and then do the right things off the pitch to make sure that you're at your maximum. Being injured has put a change on that for me, but I'm looking forward to getting settled into that routine. I'm low maintenance. I don't think any of the changes I'm used to in the Premier League are going to affect me too badly. In fact, I'm enjoying traveling to different places, seeing different teams play and learning how competitive the MLS is as a league.

 

What's it like playing with David Villa and Andrea Pirlo?

It's been a pleasure. Obviously I knew David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, not as friends but through playing against them in Europe, and I have a huge amount of respect for them. They are great signings, they're great members of the squad for us. They have experience of playing. They have their own qualities and talents themselves. As much as that, they're the right people. They're great in the dressing room, they're great on the training field. With the squad we've got around us, we've got a team of younger players that want to learn. They can only learn from people like that, and I can learn from playing with Andrea Pirlo. It's been a real pleasure for me to be in a squad with players of that quality.

You will be going up against your old England teammate Steven Gerrard on Sunday. What's that going to be like for you?

It's good. I've played against Steven many a time, and had some great battles over the years. We get on very well. He was England captain, I was vice captain for quite a few years recently. We've got a good relationship. I'm really pleased for him. We're in the same league in the same country, but we're a long way apart, so we don't see much of each other. I'm pleased he's here. It's a great addition for the MLS because he's a top-class player. I'm sure it's a great thing for him in his life at this stage of his career. But when we step out to play we're going to want to win. That's not changed over the years and that's not going to change now.

As you look back, what's your assessment of playing alongside him with England?

With England, everybody has an opinion on it. We're very used to that over the years. We had such well-spoken of club careers for quite a long period of time. People expected us to play together and England would rule the world. When we didn't it was [because of ] that Lampard-Gerrard combination. I think we were quite level-headed about it in the end. We understood, and understand now that we didn't quite reach the level that we wanted to reach. It's as simple as that. But it wasn't just us two in the team. England for many a year, long before we were even in the team actually, haven't won a major competition. I look back -- and I'm sure Steven will too -- and feel proud of our individual careers for England. We had a lot of games and a lot of enjoyable times.

Did you watch Man City vs. Chelsea? If so, what did you think of it and of how his old clubs look this season?

I watched it. I think I was at our training ground at the time. Interesting game. I think that was the one game -- I've watched quite a few since I've been here -- that had the passion that made me sort of reminisce a little bit about playing in those kinds of games. It was good to watch, but I'm very happy where I am. I'm happy to be playing here. I'll always keep in touch and watch a few of the games from there.

I said at the beginning of the season that they would be the two main challengers and I don't change from that. Arsenal and Manchester United with challenge as well. For me, Chelsea -- who are still adding to their squad -- and City have got the strongest squads. I've been in both camps and I sort of know that firsthand. Even though Chelsea have had a poor start, it's only two games in, and they're certainly going to be fighting right up there. I'll take that one of those are going to win the league.

In what ways is the pace of the game different in MLS? Obviously the standard is different but what are some more subtle differences?

Football is football. For me there's not a huge difference here. I think the MLS is becoming more respected year-on-year over in England. I know that because players would speak about it, the opportunities to come over here and play. We watch it a lot from England now. But I knew there wasn't going to be much difference for me. Maybe in the Premier League you're probably talking about the top quality league in world football. The MLS is a growing league but is growing very fast. The energy, the commitment, the technical setup of the teams over here is great. There's not a huge difference for me. If you were to come here and think the MLS is slower and not as good as the Premier League, you'll become unstuck pretty quick because the teams here have got great quality and they're improving all the time. For me, I've approached it exactly as if I was playing in the Premier League. I will always try to approach it very professionally because if you drop your standard here then you'll get shown up.

Is your assessment the same for the tactical level, because one criticism from foreign players is that MLS is behind from that point of view.

I don't really feel that. I think if you were to say that too loud people would wonder whether it was you that was the problem. I think tactically the teams are very advanced. I know from working with Jason that he's very up-to-date with his ideas, very forward-thinking. We're not talking about managers here who have no clue how to set up a team, who are behind in their times. They're not. I think it's up to the players and if you start complaining that the tactics or technical ability is wrong then I think you have to look closer to home.

Do you still get the same buzz from playing now as you did back in England?

I do, I do. Football has been my life from a very young age. The minute I didn't appreciate it, and didn't get that buzz, I wouldn't do it. I think certainly by having a change of country, a change of league, a change of circumstance for me has increased that buzz. I was very ready to leave the Premier League. I had my time there. My buzz now is preparing for matchday, training with the team for the week, and getting excited about matchday. I've got that to a really big extent, and also the crowds and the support here -- we play at Yankee Stadium -- the atmosphere has been fantastic, really fantastic. I've found that pretty much everywhere we've gone. But I certainly get that huge buzz.

Reading the game has always been one of your strengths. Can that be learned or is it something that comes naturally?

I think I was fortunate because my father, [Frank Sr.] was a player. He played for 20 years for West Ham and he gave me a schooling of football from a very young age.

A schooling or a scolding?

Both. [Laughs.] Plenty of scoldings, trust me. But I was being told at 5, 6 years of age about tactics, where the other boys on the playground were probably running around for fun. So I had my dad telling me specifics, "You need to do this." Not just the fun parts of the game but the important parts as you get older and have to take on board; discipline, how you train, how you work. I probably had a bit of a head start from my dad for that, and that helped me. I think it's a balance. Some of it is natural, but some of it I've tried to take in, not just my dad but my coaches. I think if you do that and you're open to things, it will help your understanding of the game.

How do you think you guys are poised in terms of making the playoffs. You're outside the playoff places now but how do you think things are shaping up?

It's certainly within our capabilities. I believe in the squad, I believe in the talent we have there. Hopefully one big win, hopefully this weekend, or in the coming weeks can set us off and get on a consistent run. The points difference isn't that much. We're fortunate we still have an opportunity and we're very determined to give it a go. And as I say, if we can get into the playoffs with some momentum, we can do what we want.

Have you caught Poku Fever yet?

Yeah, I have. I'm really pleased for him. When I first met the team in preseason, I saw [Kwadwo] Poku training and I thought he had some raw talent. You could see he had ability and speed, and I think he's brought a bit of raw energy to the team, scoring goals. He's a really nice lad, wants to do well, trains hard, and he's been important for us because he's been helping us win games and get points and I hope he continues to improve because he'll be a big player for us.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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