Predictably, when a club chooses to part with a player that has made 571 appearances knocking away a further 192 goals in the process, it’s never going to be particularly easy for fans to detach themselves from emotion when weighing up the pros and cons of such a decision. As the curtain looks set to close on Frank Lampard’s glorious Chelsea career, few would have expected the current outpouring of dismay to be any different.
With the England midfielder set to celebrate his 35th birthday this June, the Chelsea hierarchy continues to take something of a dim view towards hazy nostalgia and longing affection.
Following on from the ruthless decision to cull Roberto Di Matteo in mid-November, the decision has been made from Roman Abramovich and co. to effectively end Lampard’s 11-and-a-half years with the club. An announcement from his agent Steve Kutner this week, confirmed that Lampard would not be offered a new contract.
Yet for some of the neutrals free of the emotional attachment that comes with both the player and the club, the sheer furor that’s adjoined Chelsea’s decision to dispose of the club legend has led to more than the odd scratching of heads. Most would agree that there feels something ever so unsavoury about the way this contract dispute has been played out in public, but nothing lasts forever; Lampard’s time at the club is no different.
At some point, the fledgling young talents such as Lucas Piazon and the rest of the Chelsea youth set-up that they’ve invested so much time and money in, must be given the space to prosper and develop. Indeed, you hardly need to adhere to the logic that pragmatists such as Rafa Benitez employ to realise that success isn’t built upon sentiment.
Although the strange thing about the Lampard situation, is that by stripping away the emotion and the sentiment surrounding his contractual situation, the decision to part ways with him at the end of the season still seems as disjointed as it does when you factor in the grief from supporters.
Throughout the whole debacle surrounding Frank Lampard’s future, it’s often felt as if there’s been little in the way of middle ground. For those – mostly at board level, it seems – the evolution of the club has little room for an ageing midfielder on a hefty salary. Yet for the legions of those championing his stay at the club, nothing short of a permanent presence in the starting XI will do.
Yet Lampard still could have played a hugely important role in the development of this Chelsea side and he didn’t have to start 38 games a season to prove it either. And you don’t have to look further than the methods of one of the men tipped to controversially sign the 34-year-old for living evidence that age is only a number.
While the longetivity that Sir Alex Ferguson comes to represent within English football isn’t something that Chelsea have ever felt particularly keen on replicating, the Scot has been rebuilding sides for a hell of a lot longer than Roman Abramovich has owned a football club and it’s difficult to envisage him parting with Lampard had he given over a decade of service to Manchester United, rather than Chelsea. The fact he’s rumoured to be interested in the ex-West Ham man’s signature perhaps tells you everything you need to know.
Ryan Giggs may well be in his 23rd season of his United career, but he’s made only four less appearances than Lampard has in all competitions this season. Yet when Giggs celebrated his 34th birthday, Ferguson saw no reason to let him go. In fact, since the start of the 2007-08 season that saw Giggs turn 34 – the same age that Lampard has been deemed to old to be worthy a new contract – he’s gone on to play 209 times for the Red Devils, scoring 25 goals and picking up three Premier League titles and a Champions League in the process.
This isn’t to say that Lampard would necessarily enjoy the run of fitness that Giggs has in his elder years, but from a purely footballing perspective, this notion that Lampard must make way in order for Chelsea to develop as a club seems fatally flawed at best.
Over time, Lampard’s powers are of course going to dwindle and with that will naturally come a decreasing amount of game time. But the most imperative thing is that he’s still able to play competitive football at the top level at the age he’s currently at now. The fact he’s on course to hit double figures for league goals for potentially the tenth consecutive season is astounding, but it’s the fact he’s able to do it this season, that is the most important aspect.
It seems somewhat fitting that Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo joined the ever-growing list of those astounded at Chelsea’s willingness to part with Lampard. Barely a year separates the pair in age and very little separates the influence they continue to bestow for their respective clubs.
In the summer of 2011, AC Milan refused to offer Pirlo the contract he quite rightly desired. Twelve months later and he was a Serie A champion with Juventus. As Chelsea fans witnessed first-hand earlier on this season, Pirlo’s age means little with the class he still has to offer. Although a slightly different player, Frank Lampard’s scenario is no different.
While letting Frank Lampard go wouldn’t necessarily be a catastrophe, it would be an extremely foolish bit of business considering how easy it would be to prevent it. Contracts shouldn’t be handed out on the basis of emotion. But they shouldn’t be withdrawn via a haste to develop the squad, either. Chelsea’s loss will ultimately be someone else’s gain.