PREMIER LEAGUE great Frank Lampard has cited an unlikely catalyst for his rise to footballing stardom - a Pudsey teacher.
Chris Bouckley, headteacher of Fulneck Junior School, helped Lampard take the formative steps to a stellar career while he was working at an Essex secondary school, where Lampard was a pupil.
The former Chelsea, Manchester City and England legend has now professed his gratitude for some words of wisdom and invaluable guidance from Mr Bouckley in a national newspaper - and not forgotten his key role in his development.
LA Galaxy bound midfielder Lampard, 36, who scored for City in his final top-flight appearance of a decorated career in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Southampton, said: “He helped me through a difficult time when I was deciding whether or not to leave school after my GCSEs and take up a football career.
“What made him the best teacher was the personal touch, the encouragement along the way.
“When I talk about my teachers, I struggle to remember too many names, but because of Mr Bouckley’s personal involvement over a period of time, he sticks with me.”
Lampard, who scored the 259th goal of his club career in his 882nd match at the weekend, added: “As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised Mr Bouckley is also a very nice bloke: he’s followed my career, and when I lost my mother he wrote a very compassionate letter.
“I never forget things like that.”
Revealing his surprise yet delight at being credited by Lampard as a guiding light in his career, Bouckley said: “This article came as a total surprise to me, but I’m absolutely thrilled by it.
“One of the most important roles of a teacher is to inspire their pupils to fulfil their dreams and aspirations.
“With Frank it was easy. His talent on the football pitch shone from a very early age and it was obvious that, with a few words of encouragement, he would make a superb career out of the sport.”
Lampard is ready to hit the ground running in New York after ending his Manchester City career in style.
The former England and Chelsea midfielder got on the scoresheet as City beat Southampton and wrapped up their Barclays Premier League campaign with a sixth successive win.
It was Lampard’s 259th goal in 882 club matches and the perfect send-off as he now joins fledgling Major League Soccer outfit New York City.
“It was emotional but I am very proud,” said 36-year-old Lampard, whose contribution to English football was acknowledged with a presentation after the game.
“There were loads of emotions - a tiny bit of sadness to finish but much more of a good feel.
“The game went well, I scored a goal and what the club did for me at the end and the way the fans reacted - I couldn’t have asked for much more.
“I can go away saying it was an absolute pleasure. I still feel fit and I feel like I can play for a couple more years. Maybe I could have done that in the Premier League, my choice is to play in America.
“That is my new challenge now. I feel fit and ready to go for it. I don’t want to go and make up the numbers. I want to go there and carry on and do something good.”
Lampard, who was released by Chelsea last summer, joined City as a training stop-gap before planning to move to New York for the start of the 2015 MLS season.
But the move proved unexpectedly fruitful and - amid much confusion over the exact terms - City reached agreement with their sister US club to retain him until the end of their 2014-15 campaign.
Lampard admits there was frustration after that extension was agreed as manager Manuel Pellegrini then stopped playing him regularly. It proved a critical period of the season as City fell behind Chelsea in the title race.
Lampard said: “The only difficult period for me was when we went into the new year level-pegging with Chelsea at the top. I felt I was really contributing to the team but then I had a few months where I hardly started any of the games and that was difficult.
“It was a frustrating couple of months but I kept a level head about it because I was just very happy to be here.”