Twenty years ago this summer England’s Under 21 team endured a miserable European Championships tournament in Slovakia and came home without reaching the knockout stage.
I covered that tournament and Frank Lampard was in the team. I bumped in to him at charity event soon after and joked that he had ruined my summer.
‘I think I played okay,’ replied Lampard without blinking.
It was a brief exchange but it stuck with me. Lampard, 21 at the time, clearly took my clumsy joke as a slight and wasn’t going to let it pass.
I was reminded of it last week when digesting his exchange of words with Jurgen Klopp after Chelsea lost at Liverpool.
Once again Lampard was ready to stand his ground, this time against a time-served winner of trophies.
Lampard didn’t see Klopp’s seniority in years, experience and success as an obstacle. He wasn’t prepared to be intimidated or cowed by that. He felt he had been wronged and was prepared to say so.
The details of the argument are not important. Such exchanges happen all the time during matches.
What is interesting is that Lampard got involved and then chose to stay involved when the two men held their Friday press conferences before this weekend’s games.
That says a lot about the Chelsea manager. It speaks of confidence in his own position, of belief in what he is doing and a competitive streak that blazes in all top athletes. If I was a Chelsea supporter I would be delighted.
Klopp is popular in the media. His team plays exciting football and he is entertaining in front of the cameras. He is an enormous force for good in our game.
But he is no angel. The German gets away with stuff on the touchline that others may not simply because he is so likeable. This time Lampard simply chose to call him out on it and that is entirely his prerogative.
Lampard may only be 38 and a newbie to Premier League management but he is in charge of one of the country’s biggest clubs. That alone gives him a voice.
His management this season has been impressive. There has been a simplicity and a steadfastness about it that contrasts sharply with some of the rather chaotic reigns that came before him. Most of his decisions have made sense while much of what he has said publicly has had a footing in logic.
At the end of a disappointing January transfer window for Chelsea, Lampard made it clear he needed new players. We are not yet in to August and he already has two and another – the German Kai Havertz – is on the way.
When considering his forthrightness it is hard not to consider the possible influence of Jose Mourinho.
In his own early days, Mourinho’s self-confidence was clear. We all remember him running down the touchline after Porto knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League in 2004 but the press conference preceding that game was even more extraordinary.
Sir Alex Ferguson had refused to shake his hand after Porto’s first leg victory as he believed Mourinho’s players had been play acting.
Asked about this prior to the second leg, Mourinho – largely unknown at the time – said: ‘I understand why he is emotional.
‘You would be sad if your team gets as clearly dominated by opponents who have been built on 10 per cent of the budget.’
Mourinho was 41 at the time, three years older than Lampard is now. The current Chelsea coach is his own man and will doubtless find a style of management that suits him over time.
But if he does possess some of the assuredness that gave Mourinho’s career such fuel back in the day, it will do him no harm.
Sheffield United will feel disappointed they didn’t manage to gain a Europa League spot but they shouldn’t.
It is a sapping, draining competition that impacts on Premier League form.
Playing in it in front of no fans already feels like an enormous waste of time.
Jordan Henderson has won the Football Writers Player of the Year award and I can see why. On and off the field, the Liverpool captain has matured in to the complete package.
In terms of the football alone, my pick is Virgil van Dijk.
This a bold claim but I think the Dutch central defender is the best Liverpool have had since Alan Hansen.
And this is even bolder but with apologies to people like John Terry, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, I think Van Dijk is the best centre half the Premier League has ever seen.
As we reach the end of the Premier League season that has lasted 50 weeks, it is worth considering what we have learned.
Certainly, we have been reminded of football’s importance. It is, to many, the ‘most important of the unimportant things’ as Jurgen Klopp so nicely put it.
We have also been reminded that it can be a force for good. The work of the Premier League captains during lockdown was impressive while their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement will linger in the memory.
Also, though, we have had our eyes opened to the deep holes in football’s structure, it’s over reliance on money from TV and the dreadful disparity between top and bottom.
Covid-19 has fired football a warning shot and only time will tell if we have really been paying attention. Somehow, I doubt it.