Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard looks set to end his 12-year stay at Stamford Bridge at the end of the season and begin a new chapter in what has been a glittering career so far, but with murmurs of interest from Manchester United, is it the sort of move that could benefit both parties?
The 34-year-old still seems a relatively key squad member in Rafa Benitez’s side and with a contribution of seven Premier League goals in 13 outings so far this term, while he may be in decline, he still clearly has his uses. A goalscoring midfielder is a difficult quality to perfect; Paul Scholes had to adjust to his age and gradually began to drop deeper and deeper, while Steven Gerrard looks to be doing the same thing at Liverpool, but Lampard has remained consistent in that regard, grabbing at least 10 league goals in the last nine consecutive seasons and he looks well on course to do the same this term.
If it were up to Benitez, you sense that both Lampard and Cole, for their experience more than anything, would be kept around, but we are not privy to contractual negotiations and their demands; whether they expect to be assured of a starting slot, the length of the deal and the monetary value of it are all private at the moment, so Chelsea, understandably, are copping plenty of flak for letting two ageing but still valuable players slowly but surely slip out of their grasp without a fight.
Lampard’s agent Steve Kutner stated last week: “Chelsea executives told Frank in Japan during the Club World Cup, then again reconfirmed with me after the Everton victory [both in December], that in no circumstances will he be offered a new contract to stay at the club after the end of this season.
“Nothing since has changed in any respect. Frank has had to accept that and just wants to carry on playing football for Chelsea so as to finish the season as successfully as possible for the club that he loves.”
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It seems a strange position for Chelsea’s hierarchy to take, for while the need for the club to move on from the old guard is an important job that needs carrying out, completely ditching players while they can still contribute rather than fading them out seems the wrong approach to take, particularly with the club in a clear state of transition. This has led to Lampard reportedly consigned to his baffling fate, with PSG and LA Galaxy the favourites for his signature, but a rumour doing the rounds last week linking him with a switch to Old Trafford, while on the face of it would seem out of character from both sides, is certainly worthy of discussion.
Former Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins and general fountain of niceness set the ball rolling over the matter last week, telling BBC Radio Manchester: “He’ll want to continue to win and play at a high level – and there’s no higher level than Old Trafford. You have the master of utilising the older player in Sir Alex Ferguson, so I think it would be a tremendous move for Frank and a good one for Manchester United as well.
“You only have to see the performances Giggs and Scholes have put in over the last few years – and they are four years older than Frank! He’ll win them over because of his footballing ability.”
First and foremost, this is not another Robin van Persie deal; the Dutchman left Arsenal in the summer to win silverware, which with the club currently seven points clear of rivals Manchester City in the league, it looks like he’ll do, thus vindicating the controversial switch. However, Lampard has been at Chelsea for 12 years and is seen as a major part of the club’s history now, winning three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and last season’s scarcely believable Champions League triumph. There is no reason for him to put his legacy on the line for what would be a relatively short-term switch to one of the club’s nearest title challengers. Can anyone honestly imagine him returning to Stamford Bridge in another club’s colours?
At the same time, though, Lampard still has something to contribute at the very highest level, which is why a switch to PSG looks the best bet for me, but it’s not like he would suddenly be out of his depth were he to move to United, but given their obvious need for a defensive midfielder, does the England international fit the bill?
United have a sustainable and clearly defined policy with older players of granting them one-year extensions, with 39-year-old Ryan Giggs and 38-year-old Scholes the recipients of this approach. Ferguson doesn’t see age as a barrier as much as other managers do, but would Lampard really settle for judging his career on a season-by-season basis? He will be 35 at the start of next season but he may still seek more long-term assurances over his future and role in the side. Both Scholes and Giggs are afforded a status in the squad due to their past achievements at the club and relationship with Ferguson, so it’s wrong to suggest Lampard will get the same treatment.
Moreover, the argument that because Scholes and Giggs are both ageing players entering the twilight of their respective careers that replacing an old squad player with a slightly less old one is somehow a logical explanation is complete and utter folly and that appears to be the only basis of this rumour, the sort of 2+2=5 journalism that helps churn out easy copy.
Could Lampard contribute to United? Yes, of course he could. Is he what they need? No. They need long-term replacements for both Scholes and Giggs, not another stop-gap measure. Ferguson’s legacy will be judged just as much by what comes after him as it is on his last few years in charge and a smooth handover is crucial, so replacing the duo is of paramount importance. It’s the sort of move that Harry Redknapp, with his short-term thinking, would feel comfortable doing but you suspect Ferguson has eyes on a more solid solution.
The United midfield is in dire need of someone who can win the ball back quickly, with Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick very good with it but lacking that bite in the tackle that every top side needs without it. They’ve missed it since Roy Keane and Owen Hargreaves, with Darren Fletcher’s return to injury only showing slow progress.
They need someone like Marouane Fellaini, Kevin Strootman or whatever the flavour of the month is on the continent – that every midfielder in Europe over the past five years has been labelled as the ‘perfect solution’ to the club’s midfield problems points to two things – a frustration with Ferguson from the fans that he keeps ignoring recruiting in that area and second that nobody really knows what the answer is. Nevertheless, what is clear is that while Lampard would be a useful squad option, he’s not the future of the team and it’s doubtful whether he would join United, putting his reputation at risk, then be content to play second fiddle.
Whenever you hear the Lampard to United rumour, part of you will think that it could just work, because who would say no to such a decorated, experienced and talented individual, but when you dig a little deeper, neither party would be content at the nature of the move or the length of the deal, while competition for places would be fierce. To answer the title of the article, is he worth a transfer punt? Definitely. Will it realistically happen? No.