NEW YORK — As young school children played around him in the shadow of the New York City skyline, Frank Lampard looked at home wearing the colors of his new team.
New York City FC’s latest big-ticket signing received a warm welcome from New Yorkers on Thursday at Brooklyn’s Pier 5, but he also faced some uncomfortable questions about a nearly 13-year-old incident that has cast a shadow on Lampard’s move to Major League Soccer.
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Back in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that stunned the world and left New York in mourning, reports out of England claimed that Lampard was one of a handful of Chelsea players who were allegedly seen making fun of the terror act during a night out.
When asked about the reported incident on Thursday, Lampard admitted to having been out on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, but insisted he never did anything out of line.
“I was naive and a young boy at the time. And I have some regrets at the fact that I was out on a day. I shouldn’t have been,” Lampard said. “I wouldn’t be if it was today, put it that way.
“I categorically didn’t insult anyone, set out to insult anyone, behave badly in front of Americans or, in fact, anyone,” Lampard said. “I was very sensitive straightaway to the issue, and the tragedy.”
Lampard’s comments came not too far away from the site of Ground Zero, and the location of his introductory press conference seemed the perfect setting for him to address an issue both he and NYCFC will be hoping doesn’t turn into a distraction as the club moves toward its debut season in 2015.
“He has explained it, and he’s dealt with it,” NYCFC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna said of the Lampard 9/11 controversy. “We’re beyond comfortable with the person he is, and the man he is and the experiences he’s had. He’s a model professional. Anyone you ask can tell you the kind of person he is.”
Lampard added: “I’ve tried in the last 13 years at Chelsea to be a good man. Not just a good footballer, but a good man off the pitch. I’d like to think I’ve done that, and I want New Yorkers to hear that and see that. It’s up to me to show them and prove the footballer I am and person I am.”
When asked if he would visit the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan, Lampard stated it was something he planned to do.
“I think it’s very important to pay respect, and being in New York now I think it’s a huge memorial and a place I will certainly go to and pay respect,” he said.
Though one press conference and an interview session isn’t likely to put to rest questions about Lampard’s actions 13 years ago, the former Chelsea star made it clear that addressing the controversy and clearing his name with regard to it was a priority as he prepares to embark on the next chapter of his storied career.
“Again, the most important thing for me to say is that I categorically did not insult or set out to insult someone,” Lampard said. “Unfortunately it was very much misreported at the time in England and it’s actually a chance for me to finally say that.”