Should Chelsea fans get so worked up by his treatment?
Frank Lampard’s contract situation was briefly overshadowed last week by the closing stages of the January transfer window but with Beckham and Balotelli settled at their new homes the Chelsea man’s future is sure to return to prominence. As Lampard became the first player (not midfielder, just player) to score ten goals in ten consecutive Premier League seasons at the weekend, one would think his stock would be as high as its ever been, but it appears he still hasn’t done enough to convince the Chelsea hierarchy to offer him a contract extension.
Chelsea’s last league title came in the 2009/2010 season as Carlo Ancelotti guided a team full of experienced and highly talented players, generally nearing the ends of their careers to a domestic double. While this side was able to dominate, with some incredible performances along the way, due to the age of the squad it was clear that some significant regeneration would soon be required.
Many members of the 09/10 side had been around since the Mourinho days, earning themselves the ‘old guard’ moniker. Andre Villas-Boas was the first man to be tasked with this drastic regeneration and we all know how that went. But even with Villas-Boas’ failings, between Roberto Di Matteo and himself, the majority of Chelsea’s ‘old guard’ have gone, or at least been forced to the absolute periphery of the club, Florent Malouda for example, has been training with the reserves this season, while Paolo Ferreira somehow finds himself on the Chelsea bench more often than not.
The likes of Ballack and Carvalho went, Essien and Drogba followed in the summer of 2012. Salomon Kalou, despite his relative youth, also had been around for many years and his departure added to the sense of revolution at Stamford Bridge.
This left a very select few who remain at the heart of the first team, Terry, Lampard, Cole, Cech and Obi Mikel. Mikel has been at Chelsea an incredibly long time and despite only being twenty-five, must be considered part of the ‘old guard’ in a mental sense if not physical. This raises the question as to how much Chelsea’s move away from the old guard is about a fresh start mentally, as much as physically.
It has long been said that the likes of Terry and Lampard wield an unhealthy amount of influence over the dressing room. Some have suggested if the captain and his vice lost faith in a manager, it wouldn’t be long before the rest of the squad were equally disillusioned. However it is incredibly dangerous to rip away all this experience from a team in such a short space of time. Talent is not the only requirement for success in the Premier League.
A month ago it appeared Chelsea were ready to let both Cole and Lampard depart. Since then they have apparently backtracked and offered Cole an extension, so why Cole and not Lampard? It is hard to believe the issue is wages, Chelsea are not lacking financial clout, while Lampard is intelligent enough to he may have to take a wage-cut at this stage of his career.
Despite the fact he will turn thirty-five in June, Lampard continues to excel, tied on ten goals with Juan Mata as Chelsea’s leading scorer in the Premier League this season. It should be remembered that he has managed this impressive return from a different role to that he has played in the past. He is no longer an attacking midfielder; he has generally played as one of the two holding men in a 4-2-3-1 system behind the Mata-Hazard-Oscar triumvirate.
Think how often Mikel Arteta scores for Arsenal, or Michael Carrick scores for Manchester United. Arteta has four goals in twenty league appearances (three from the penalty spot). Carrick hasn’t scored in twenty league appearances. Lampard has his ten from only seventeen league appearances of which only twelve have been starts.
The point is that in his new role, Lampard’s contribution should not be judged on goals or assists, that is no longer his job but merely a bonus. He has greater defensive responsibilities than in the past. His capabilities were displayed during Chelsea’s victorious Champions League run last season, only Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech could claim to have exerted similar influence on Chelsea’s path to glory as Lampard.
While Iniesta, Xavi, and Messi were left frustrated, Lampard played two key passes (wonderful passes) which led to two of Chelsea’s three goals over the two legs against Barcelona. It is testament to how special a player Lampard is that even when charged with a primarily defensive role, he possessed the ability and mental fortitude to supply match-winning moments of brilliance from very limited opportunities.
You would be hard pushed to find football fans anywhere across the country who can understand Chelsea’s reluctance to offer Lampard a new deal. He has shown more than enough over the first half of this season to prove he remains a fine asset.
However, we should not feel sorry for Frank Lampard. He has been handsomely, and fairly (in relative terms) rewarded for his performances for Chelsea over the previous decade and if he isn’t offered a new deal by Chelsea he will not be on the dole for long. Chelsea fan’s worries should be focussed on the fact that someone in a position of power, believes Lampard isn’t worthy of a contract extension.
Lampard is irreplaceable – his consistency over the previous decade is unrivalled. One manager we know who is well practised in the art of extracting brilliance from his senior pros is Sir Alex Ferguson. There is little doubt that if Chelsea don’t act, Manchester United will be one of numerous clubs knocking at Lampard’s door.
Chelsea were undoubtedly in great need of regeneration, and this has been successfully, albeit expensively achieved. The average age of the Chelsea squad has gradually been lowered and the current group of players have the potential to develop into a side that can challenge for both domestic and European honours. However, the key to any football side is balance, whether that be tactically or in terms of experience.
Without the inspirational Didier Drogba and John Terry’s reliability waning, if Lampard leaves you wonder who Chelsea’s younger players will look to for reassurance when the going gets tough as it so often has done in recent times.
The younger players need time to develop into leaders themselves before a player of Lampard’s rarity is cast away.
Under Roman Abramovich’s control Chelsea have gained a reputation for making somewhat surprising decisions, allowing Lampard to leave now will sit comfortably alongside the appointment of Rafael Benitez and the £50 million signing of Fernando Torres on the list of baffling judgements that have rained down from the Chelsea board room.