Nick Miller is an acclaimed football writer and deputy editor at Football365.com and has done copious amounts of work for Football365.com, lifesapitch.co.uk and SurrealFootball.com. Nick is a life-long Forest fan, who missed the maelstrom of success under Brian Clough, which we suspect he’s rather pleased about!
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Against Stoke, Frank Lampard scored his 194th goal for Chelsea, edging him ahead of Kerry Dixon in the ranks of the club’s all-time top-scorers, and just eight behind record-holder Bobby Tambling. With Chelsea he has won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League. While Jose Mourinho’s statements should be taken with a large handful of salt, the Real Madrid manager described him as the best player in the world at one point. Perhaps more pertinently to the current debate, Lampard has seven goals from eight league starts this season, and Chelsea have lost only one of those starts. It’s not hard to see why Chelsea fans are upset about his imminent departure.
Lampard, it’s fair to say, was a brilliant player, and is still is a very good one, but he will be leaving Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, for places unknown. That’s as far as the truth goes, but you wouldn’t think it reading the press. The word ‘inexplicable’ has surely never been used so frequently in relation to the treatment of one player, which in the view of many journalists seems to be something Amnesty International should be called in to investigate. Lampard is being treated hideously unfairly and he is the great put-upon wastrel, apparently, and Chelsea’s behaviour is akin to human rights abuse.
Long-time Lampard admirer Martin Samuel was particularly disgusted in The Daily Mail recently, huffing that ‘Manchester United know how to treat their great players,’ and that ‘for as long as he wished to play, there should have been a place for him on the staff.’
Newspaper reports usually feature appropriately emotional-looking photos of the man himself either thumping his chest or kissing the Chelsea badge. John Cross of The Daily Mirror even claimed that, in the year of the Olympics, Lampard should be on the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year. The next four or five months will be one long farewell tour for poor old Frankie, the great injustice of our time.
Except that, of course, it isn’t. Quite apart from his age and salary, one of the frequent criticisms of Chelsea has been that it was a club run by three or four powerful players, who were so influential that they saw off manager after manager, including some of the best of our age. It’s thus far from inexplicable that Abramovich should want to gradually cull these players. It’s Lampard and Ashley Cole this summer, and before long John Terry will be shown the door.
The question of his performance is obviously a huge factor too. The point that most of the blind Lampard-backers miss about his age is not how he is performing now, but rather in six months, a year, two years. When players reach their mid-thirties it is virtually impossible to project how their performance will drop as the years advance. Lampard might retain his skills or adapt for another few years, but equally he might be a shambling shadow of his former self by this time next year. The point is we, and more importantly Chelsea, don’t know. Is it worth gambling north of £7million on that?
Take one of Lampard’s key attributes – he has been better than most in his generation at arriving in the penalty area at just the right time to score a goal. That is part of his football intelligence, knowing where to be, but also has plenty to do with his physical attributes. He has to be fit and quick enough for his body to take advantage of the opportunity his mind has spotted. From this point onwards, those two points will drift further and further apart, and he’ll simply arrive in the area just after a younger defender clears the danger. And all of this is before we even get to the issue of how age makes a player more susceptible to injury.
People have short memories, too. It’s barely been mentioned that back in 2008, Lampard was involved in a Walcottian contract saga during which more than one newspaper transfer sage assured us that Lampard would be moving to Internazionale, or Real Madrid, or whichever other shiny European destination that would provide handy leverage for his agents during negotiations. If the player hadn’t been awarded what he wanted (a five-year deal worth around £150,000-a-week) back then, he would’ve cast Chelsea aside in much the same way as the club are doing to him now. Lampard did not stay at Chelsea for the good of his soul or to do them a favour.
The Lampard question is a symptom of our times. With twitter making damn sure that not only must everyone have An Opinion about everything, they can have a bloody good go at making sure as many people as possible know all about it. And in this world, there is little room for grey areas – one has to take a side and scoff at the very idea that someone could think anything else. Like most things in life, in football the truth lies at some point between two extremes.
As it is with Lampard. It is easy to see why Chelsea fans are upset, and why people think that Lampard still has a role to play in one of the better sides in the Premier League. And it’s also surely understandable that Chelsea, bent on becoming a self-sustaining club, would want rid of a player who, even if they only give him a one-year extension, will be pushing 36 by the end of it.
Patrick Collins, one of the few journalists not to join the Lampard troupe, summed it up rather neatly in The Mail on Sunday: ‘When Chelsea offered him his contract, they agreed to employ him until June of this year. So far as I know, they didn’t promise him a sinecure for life, as his more befuddled admirers appear to expect.’
Lampard has become a cause. Another stick with which to beat the admittedly often undignified Roman Abramovich. A black or white issue. But Lampard exists in the grey, and everyone should calm down and realise that.