And then there was one. Of the three English stalwarts who have provided the backbone of the Chelsea team for so long, only John Terry remains. If, that is, the reports about Frank Lampard signing for New York City, Manchester City’s franchise club in the US, are to be believed.
One can hardly blame him for taking Sheikh Mansour’s money and heading across the Atlantic for the MLS. Reports suggest that Chelsea were only prepared to offer him a new contract at a vastly reduced salary, and it’s unlikely that any other of the English clubs who might be interested in signing him would be willing to pay the same rates as the Abu Dhabi billionaire.
While it is difficult to imagine Stamford Bridge without the midfielder who has lit the place up for the last 13 years, the move may be the best for everyone involved. Lampard is 35 now and not the player he once was. In his prime, he made Chelsea tick, controlling the tempo and the direction of the game with his runs and his passing. He may never have been the most elegant of players, but it was rare to see him make a wrong move or a misplaced pass. Last season, however, he was more of a bit-part utility player – good to have on hand but not absolutely essential for Chelsea to perform.
Chelsea now revolve around the skills of Eden Hazard, the industry of Willian, and the indestructibility of Matic. Lampard fits in round the edges – and £150,000 a week is a lot to pay that sort of player, especially one whose trademark ability to make unseen runs into the penalty area also appears to be on the wane.
He’s not even the first-choice penalty taker any more (that role seems to have fallen to Hazard), nor the go-to guy with free-kicks just outside the area. Rather than see his status within the squad fall still further, it is surely better to let him leave while he still remains an icon.
For Chelsea, it is probably for the best too. It takes a high earner off the salary bill, easing the pressure of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, and means a younger player can be brought into the squad – assuming that Mourinho remains adamant about keeping the number of first-team players to a maximum of 24.
As for New York City, they get a proven winner with a few years top-class football left in him, a world-renowned name player with which to enhance their brand and attract more fans. Everyone, it seems, is a winner.
It’ll still be a wrench to see him leave, however. What Chelsea fan could forget the exhilaration of his goal against Bolton which secured our first league title for 50 years? Or the sight of him and Ballack bossing the midfield so effectively against Barcelona that the Catalans could hardly cross the halfway line? Or the unadulterated joy which greeted his goal against Aston Villa, the record-breaking 203rd which made him the club’s all-time highest goalscorer? Or – above all – the crowning glory on May 19th 2012, when as acting captain he lifted the European Cup on that glorious night in Moscow?
Frank Lampard may well have played his final game for Chelsea. He may be a shadow of the player he was in his prime. But he is, was, and always will be a legend.