Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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Having been relieved of his duties following a 13-year tenure at Stamford Bridge in May, it was confirmed, after weeks of speculation, that Frank Lampard would be joining newly-formed Major League Soccer outfit New York City FC on a two-year contract in July. The midfielder, who is Chelsea’s all-time top scorer with 211 goals in 649 matches, was heavily linked with a move to the States as his contract neared completion, yet the move still came as surprise to the majority of Blues’ fans. The overriding feeling among supporters was that, as with John Terry’s one-year contract extension last season, Lampard would be offered a one-year deal to keep him at the club.

That was, however, not to be, and the man widely regarded by journalists, experts and pundits to be one of best midfielders of his generation left the club he is synonymous with. There were even calls for Frank’s iconic number eight shirt number to be retired out of respect for a player who was an incredible servant to the West London side – a move which could not be any further away from happening now.

As aforementioned, the move shocked not only Chelsea fans but football fans around the world due to the links NYCFC has with other clubs and franchises. The club, which will play its home games at Yankee Stadium in South Bronx, had the expansion rights bought by New York Yankees baseball team and, more importantly, Premier League giants Manchester City. In short, that means any growth, new talent, profits and training programmes come to City for first refusal.

This is nothing new. There are plenty of clubs in the Premier League and elsewhere with close ties and affiliations with other teams – think Chelsea and Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem for one – but it certainly raised eyebrows within the football community. Those raised eyebrows were soon followed by “surely not” whispers that suggested Lampard would subsequently betray the Blues and, due to NYCFC’s association with City, make a move to Manchester and play the early season with a team who look set to be Chelsea’s main title rivals before heading back to MLS in January. So, what does the move mean for the three clubs involved?

Bizarrely, the 'controversy' surrounding the transfer makes the least difference to the team Lampard is now contracted to – New York City FC. Head coach Jason Kreis, the former boss of Real Salt Lake, knows he is getting an ageing yet more-than-capable Premiership legend, who will command the middle of the park in a league which is nowhere near as testing as that which he is used to.

For New York City, the move to Manchester City can also only be seen as a huge plus. Lampard will be training at some of the best facilities in the world, with some of the best players in the world, and playing in a division which is unquestionably one of the best in the world. These factors will help to keep the 36-year-old in peak physical condition in the build up to an MLS season in which he will take to the field alongside the likes of World Cup winner David Villa.

In terms of what Lampard will bring to a Manchester City side that boasts some of the Premier League’s best midfielders – Yaya Touré, Fernandinho and David Silva to name but a few – remains to be seen. However, he was still making an impact on the pitch for Chelsea last season, netting eight goals, and there is no reason why he can’t do the same for City until he leaves for America in January.

Vastly experienced and a consummate professional (on the pitch, at least), Lampard was undoubtedly going to be a plus for whichever outfit he opted to join. That is not something that changes because he has gone on loan to the Premier League Champions, but it does alter quite how much impact he can have due to the plethora of stars in City’s ranks. Where he will be deployed is also in question, with the ultra-fit, hard-working Yaya Touré and Fernandinho the two preferred holding midfielders last season. Lampard plays in a very different style to those two names, usually alongside a holding player who will cover as he attacks, and Manuel Pellegrini is unlikely to want to change tactics to accommodate a four-month loanee.

From a Chelsea point of view, the move could easily be seen, as I alluded to earlier in the piece, as a betrayal of his time spent at the Bridge. However, it is very easy to flip the story on its head and look into the way Lampard was treated as his contract expired. Rumours dictated that the only offer made in a bid to keep the Romford-born icon at the club was at an almost laughable wage level. A lack of guaranteed playing time would surely have impacted Lampard’s decision to leave, too, which can be understood by any professional.

There is no doubt that Lampard could have played another season at the highest level – proven by the fact City jumped at the chance to take him on loan – and Chelsea bosses have only themselves to blame if they can’t stand the sight of the club’s former vice-captain in a slightly different shade of blue. That said, there is not going to be a great deal of pleasure in seeing a player that so many have admired for so many years, helping out a team that look set to be rivalling for the crown. Those are all things that will have been considered during Lampard’s thought process and, I feel, should have made more of an emotional impact before he decided to make the temporary move.

To summarise, is Lampard making a mistake? No, I don’t think he is. I’ve always been a campaigner for 'leave for the football, not for the money' (kudos, Ashley Cole) and, although the latter will not be in short supply Stateside, the loan move to City also makes the most footballing sense.

 

       

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