Neil Humphreys: Win a trophy, then talk big, Lampard
FA Cup would give Chelsea boss something to shout about
Frank Lampard has enjoyed a remarkable season. He overachieved with Chelsea, finished fourth in the English Premier League, reached the FA Cup final and turned into Loki.
He became the God of Mischief in that scene in the Avengers, where Loki demands respect from the omnipotent Hulk. Naturally, Hulk smashed Loki, for a laugh, because he could.
This scene played out at Anfield last week, with Lampard playing an outraged Loki to Juergen Klopp's incredulous Hulk.
Naturally, Liverpool smashed Chelsea, for a laugh, because they could.
Lampard's grandstanding, telling the Reds' bench not to give it the "big 'un" after winning one title in 30 years was not without merit.
As a player, he won three EPL titles, a Champions League crown and four FA Cups.
And as a manager, he has guided a bunch of rising stars and veterans to the FA Cup final.
Lampard has morphed from club legend to settled Chelsea manager quickly, overcoming the loss of Eden Hazard and a transfer ban to defy early, gloomy predictions.
And like kindred spirit Loki, Lampard is determined to recapture lost power. He ruled as a player. He intends to do the same as a manager.
Obviously, Liverpool stand in his way in the EPL, but the biggest stumbling block remains the empty trophy cabinet.
Lampard doesn't need to win the FA Cup, but his unswerving self-belief will demand it.
For two decades, he pushed his career well beyond the limits of his natural ability. He will seek to do the same at Wembley to justify his big talk at Anfield, to support his conviction that Chelsea belong among the big boys again.
Lampard's outburst over Liverpool's exuberant celebrations was surprising only to those who do not recall his tumultuous days as a West Ham apprentice.
Hammers supporters nicknamed him "Fat Frank". He was booed just for warming up. In an infamous interview, the rookie sat beside his then-manager Harry Redknapp as the fans accused Redknapp of nepotism.
Redknapp, according to an angry audience, was picking the midfielder only because he was the manager's nephew.
SENSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Lampard said nothing. But he later admitted that the unwarranted criticism drove him to excel, to reach his absolute physical and productive peak, to earn a move elsewhere.
And the most committed midfielder of his generation - or the most committed midfielder with less natural talent than both Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes - celebrated every subsequent goal against West Ham with the same fist-pumping sense of righteousness that triggered his row at Anfield.
Lampard has always had a deep sense of right and wrong.
Liverpool's coaches were wrong. So he confronted them and refused to back down in his post-match comments.
And West Ham's myopic supporters were wrong. So Lampard transformed himself into a midfield colossus to prove that he was right.
Now, as the FA Cup final draws closer, he'll absorb Klopp's recent comments. He'll channel them. Utilise them.
Klopp pointed out that Lampard was still young and had much to learn, delivering his rebuke in a slightly patronising, Yoda-ish tone.
Lampard has literally heard all of this before, from West Ham fans claiming that family ties fast-tracked his playing career to pundits insisting that his legendary EPL status fast-tracked his coaching career.
The 42-year-old built a career on defying expectations and this overachieving season was no exception.
Tammy Abraham was given a shot at the first team and reciprocated with 15 league goals. The restless veteran and the rising superstar, Willian and Christian Pulisic, conjured 18 goals and 11 assists between them.
And like Redknapp all those years ago, Lampard backed a raw Englishman in attacking midfield. Mason Mount, 21, ended up with seven goals and five assists in the EPL.
Of course, defensive stability continues to elude the Blues. Endless rotations haven't settled the centre-back positions and Lampard is lumbered with an 80 million-euro (S$129.4m) goalkeeper who has forgotten how to make saves.
Kepa Arrizabalaga should get a bench view of Wembley this weekend.
But the all-London final against Arsenal is essentially a free hit for anyone associated with Chelsea, except Lampard.
Champions League football is in the bag, the transfer toy shop is open for Roman Abramovich's amusement and his popular coach has ticked all the KPI boxes.
But Lampard will see the FA Cup and hear Klopp's criticism. Winning one would not necessarily negate the other. But it'll be a start.
As the Chelsea manager said, he's got to win something to be considered a "big 'un".