By Andrew Leci
Frank Lampard’s current contract at Chelsea FC expires in June this year, and he will be leaving the club.
At face value, it’s not exactly a sensational story - not in the same stratosphere as, for example, “BPL star in motel tryst with transsexual pygmy”, or “Lionel Messi agrees to cloning of his left leg” (I made these up, by the way), and yet for some reason, it has the football fraternity in a fair old flap.
A contract will end; a player will leave; what’s the big deal?
Unfortunately (or otherwise) ‘face value’ in this context doesn’t even begin to tell the story, and it’s clear that Frank Lampard’s future has become an issue that has polarised opinion in the football world, and particularly among Chelsea’s legion of fans.
Here are the facts. Lampard has made 580 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 193 goals. He is behind only Ron Harris, Peter Bonetti and John Hollins in terms of games played, and behind only Bobby Tambling (striker) in the all-time goalscoring chart.
By June this year (when Frank will reach the ripe old age of 35) he will have spent nearly 12 years at a club he professes to love and whose fans love him back in equal measure.
As things stand however, the club has no intention of offering him a new contract, and many people in the football world consider this to be nothing short of scandalous.
But is it, really?
At 34, Lampard is in the twilight of a glittering career in club football that has seen him win absolutely everything there is to win – 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, a couple of League Cups and the UEFA Champions League. There are no boxes on his domestic football resume that have yet to be ticked.
Never blessed with natural pace, or even supreme technical ability, Lampard recognised from an early age that his career would have to be built around hard work, considerable graft and the right mental attitude – all attributes he has displayed quite masterfully over the years.
He is what all teams crave – a box-to-box goalscoring midfielder who leads by example both on and off the pitch. Notwithstanding a brief and largely glossed over flirtation with a ‘sex tape’ scandal in 2000 (hey, those of us who live in glass houses, etc.) he has been a model (sic) professional footballer and has established a Blues-print (sorry…) that others would do well to follow.
So why, many Chelsea fans demand to know, is he not being offered a new contract at the club?
Does he still have something to offer on the field? Clearly; yes. Could he continue to maintain an association with the club, possibly in a different capacity? Few can see why not, with the obvious exception of the club’s owner Roman Abramovich who has decided, it seems, that it’s time to call ‘time’ on Lampard’s Chelsea career.
Let’s be honest; Lampard isn’t the player he once was. He’s slower than he used to be, and doesn’t quite have the same energy levels, but then this should be no surprise for someone in his mid-30s.
Having said that, he seems to have accepted the fact that he’s not a first choice starter anymore, and is happy to play his part when called upon. By the way, Lampard has 6 league goals from only 7 BPL starts this season, and if he’s now being utilised as an ‘impact player’, I can think of quite a few managers up and down the league who’d bite your hand off for that quality of resource - Sir Alex Ferguson, to name but one, who has (perhaps somewhat mischievously) thrown his hat into the ring as a potential suitor.
What seems to be irking the Chelsea fans most though, is the lack of apparent loyalty being shown to a player they have come to consider as their own – a peer, almost, if there are Chelsea fans who earn £150,000 a week for playing a game.
He embodies the fighting spirit and commitment that they would like their club to be associated with, and clearly he is the man for the big occasion – who else could have captained the side for their Champions League triumph back in May 2012?
And yet, he is being discarded, with possibly another couple of playing years in front of him, and a CV most players can only dream about.
One questions whether Lampard is paying the price for the perceived lack of loyalty he demonstrated last year, and 5 years ago.
It’s been widely documented that he was one of the ringleaders who more or less forced Andre Villas-Boas out of the club last March, and let’s not forget that he was on the brink of leaving Chelsea for Inter Milan in 2008 – a potential threat ultimately thwarted by him being given the lucrative 5 year contract that expires this June.
It’s mere speculation, but Abramovich may be a grudge holder, and as the supreme autocrat, he may not be overly sentimental when considering the feelings of even a significant proportion of the Chelsea fans.
Typically, Lampard himself isn’t making a huge fuss of the current situation, and he knows that he has plenty of options when it comes to winding down his career. There have been rumours about a possible move to MLS, while the Qatar Stars League would probably snap him up in less time than it takes to fill up a car at a petrol station.
What about a move to Manchester United? Or even a return to his alma mater West Ham United?
These are all possibilities, but the probability is that we may soon be seeing the last of Frank in a Chelsea shirt.
It’s been ‘real’ Frank, but really; what is all the fuss about?
Catch Andrew Leci on The Verdict at 8pm on ESPN, and during the live match presentation of the Barclays Premier League