“Sign him up”. It’s chanted at practically every game now that Chelsea play in. No, it isn’t about the ‘Interim One’, Frank Lampard is nearing the end of his contract and it will mark the end of a twelve year marriage that has seen him become one of the greatest footballers at Chelsea Football Club. Unbelievably to the majority of the fans, the board have not appeared to consider offering Lampard a new contract and even refuted comments that suggested otherwise.
It seems bewildering that a player who has managed to score 12 goals in 21 games this season, reached double figures in the league for the last 10 seasons is walking the plank. Lampard is now 3 goals shy of the all-time scoring record at Chelsea and whether you want to argue that the tally is deceiving because of penalties and deflections, you can not question the scale of the achievement from a midfielder. This is not a sentimental contract renewal for the player to enjoy an early retirement on the bench, this is a renewal to keep one of the more productive players in the squad at the club to help contribute to the future success (That part is inevitable… Have you seen Mata, Hazard and Oscar play?).
Had you asked me this question last season, I would have told you that it was probably for the best to see Lampard go. He struggled to adopt a new role in the squad, a deeper position in midfield. His discipline and positioning was found wanting on several occasions, whilst he didn’t seem to have the understanding on how to impact the game further away from goal. Nevertheless, this part of his game has improved. Yes, there are have still been games in which he’s been completely bypassed in midfield but on occasions that has been partly down to neglectful team selection on behalf of managers (not just Benitez) to play him and Ramires in midfield together, which against stronger opposition is a recipe for disaster. Lampard recently acknowledged that he’d grown accustomed to the role and thanked Roberto Di Matteo in helping him grasp his role more effectively. He has utilised his passing range to greater effect and now knows when an opportune moment arises he has license to get forward and arrive in the box, quite only like Lampard knows how to do.
Let us not forget that this is a squad, very thin on depth. At the club currently there are four players who would naturally accommodate that central midfield role, with one of them, Oriol Romeu injured for the majority of this season. Letting Lampard go would be absurd, think back to the release of Ballack and Deco with only Ramires replacing them and stranger yet, the sale of Meireles and the loaning of Essien to Real Madrid. Yet, when has common sense ever entered the board’s rationale for decision making.
Sometimes keeping hold of a player, goes merely beyond reasons on the pitch. Lampard is one of the most experienced players in the side and his influence on helping integrate players could prove to be vital. There are very places for sentimentality in the modern game but Lampard has shown great loyalty and service to the club, he embodies Chelsea Football Club. Imparting that tradition on the new generation of players whilst may be seen as trivial to some, is just as much part of football as what we see on the pitch for 90minutes. The best example of this in England would be Manchester United, who undoubtedly retain their aging stars because they can help on the field but it is also due to their services off the field and their impact on the younger players at the club.
What makes Lampard’s potential exit harder to swallow is that he’s one of those dying breed at the club, a player the fans they feel are connected to. He’s actually got a song about him that is not to the tune of Sloop John B and a banner proudly hangs around Stamford Bridge recognising “Super Frankie Lampard”, the super prefix has never been more fitting for a player.
*WARNING – next part is where I talk about why Frank Lampard should no longer be a Chelsea player, well at least not probably on terms he would be willing to accept.*
Whilst it invariably, in most people’s eyes, including my own seems the wrong decision, the board are not without reason. At 34, Lampard is undoubtedly not the player of old that led Chelsea to back to back title winning campaigns and made them the dominant force in Europe they’re now (even if it’s in the Europa League this season). This is not to say I think that is cause for him to be released, it is however justification for a pretty substantial wage drop. His last contract offer, reflected his ability at that current stage in time, a new offer would have to revise that particular decline. Perhaps even more crucially, the board try to maintain a policy of one year extensions with players over 30, this may not have been a problem a couple of seasons back but Lampard has been hit with niggling injuries and a two year contract would be bad business. Again, something not too unfamiliar for the board. (Yes, I’m looking at £50million). What this all culminates in is a contract offer that is more than likely going to be rejected by the player, who could make a fortune abroad. I’m sure the board know this and don’t want to be in a position where the player rejects the club but Lampard deserves the respect to be given that option for all he has contributed to this club.
Perhaps the biggest factor in why the club are not keen on renewing his contract remains that he represents one of the more disruptive influences in the ‘Old Guard’. At least in relation to the sacking of former manager Andre Villas-Boas. It was rumoured that the actions of the players involved, primarily Didier Drogba and Lampard had angered owner Roman Abramovich, not particularly the wisest move any employ can make at the club, regardless of stature. Lampard’s departure would effectively see the era of player power at the club dismantled. A series of managers have been known to have lost the dressing room, the influence of Chelsea players goes beyond that of a normal club and it has over the past been detrimental to the club, yet Abramovich persevered with what he believed were his greatest assets (the players) and implemented a revolving door policy for the managerial position. The sacking of Villas-Boas appeared to strike at the heart of this relationship between owner and players as it was meant to mark the end of hire&fire mentality.
In the end if this is to be Lampard’s last season, he will leave the club like the aforementioned Drogba, a legend. The only wish that all Chelsea fans have is that he reaches Bobby Tambling’s record for most goals. Oh, I leave you with a parting gift that he captained the side on that one night in Munich.