As part of New York City FC's borough tour, the club introduced its fourth player, Frank Lampard, in Brooklyn Bridge Park Thursday morning. Located along the East River, the park has a direct view of lower Manhattan.
If Lampard sat in the same spot 13 years ago, he would have seen the two World Trade Center buildings towering over the New York skyline. The two skyscrapers collapsed during the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Shortly after the tragedy, Lampard, who is British, garnered a poor reputation among Americans for his insensitivity regarding the events.
As the New York Post retold on Wednesday, Lampard was among four Chelsea players who verbally abused American tourists on Sept. 12, 2001. Lampard was 23 at the time and in his first season at the London-based club when he drunkenly stumbled upon the Americans at a Heathrow Airport hotel. Air traffic to the U.S. was heavily slashed in the days after 9/11.
Lampard and his teammates reportedly mocked the Americans, stripped, swore and vomited in their company.
Lampard took his medicine Thursday. He could not have expected to join a club in the city he once reportedly insulted and go unscathed. Lampard acknowledged he was drunk that night in London, but he questioned the reported details. After saying sorry, he tried to clear the air.
"What I did want to say is that I categorically didn't insult anyone, set out to insult anyone, behave badly in front of Americans or, in fact, anyone," he said. "I was very sensitive to the issue and the tragedy.
"I was naïve and a young boy at the time and I have regrets that I was out and about. I shouldn't be and I wouldn't be if it was today. That's why it was a good experience."
Lampard is now 36, and for the past 13 years, he thrived with Chelsea. He was eventually named captain and he is the club's all-time leading goal-scorer. He also played in three World Cups for England. In the UK and Europe, Lampard is highly regarded as a person.
"I've tried in the last 13 years at Chelsea to just be a good man, not just a good footballer, but a good man off the pitch," he said.
Much of the conversation involving NYCFC's front office involved the character of Lampard. The club expects the 36-year-old to be a leader on and off the field at Yankee Stadium. He is expected to perform on the pitch, help attract new players, boost the club's image in New York City and engage with aspiring young soccer players in the community.
"He has explained it. It happened and he's dealt with it. We certainly knew about it and we talked about it," NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna said. "We're very comfortable with the person he is and the man he is and experiences he's had since. He's a model professional the way he plays the game and the type of person he is."
Added head coach Jason Kreis: "If you spend five minutes with Mr. Lampard here, you learn very quickly he's a terrific character and the exact type of player in person that we want to have in New York City."
Although media coverage in New York is intense, soccer still has to fight for attention in an area with multiple NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB teams. In that sense, Lampard might have less of a media circus on his hands than he did with Chelsea and the English National Team, and he took a shot at the UK media Thursday.
"Again, the most important thing for me to say is that I did not categorically insult or mean to insult anyone," he said. "Unfortunately, it was very much misreported at the time in England, and it's actually a chance for me to finally say that."
When asked about visiting the 9/11 memorial, Lampard did not hesitate: "Of course. I think it's very important to pay respect and being in New York right now, I think that's a huge memorial and certainly a place I'd love to go."
"Once people know what he's about, I expect everyone will see he's a great person," Reyna said.
For Lampard, the most important message he can make is to perform on the field. NYCFC's inaugural 2015 season will kickoff in March. Until then, Lampard will help build the image for the franchise in New York City. While he will be an important ambassador for building the club's brand, he knows that can only go so far. If any New Yorkers still have distaste for Lampard, he hopes he can earn it back on the field.
"Hopefully my football can do that talking."
It is called soccer here. But that can fly for now. The point is made.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.