For months now, the subject of Frank Lampard’s contract negotiations (or lack thereof) has been the main talking point amongst Chelsea fans. In a turbulent season, there have been numerous hot-topics for the Stamford Bridge faithful to mull over; Rafael Benitez, Roman Abramovich and Fernando Torres being the main ones. All divide opinion, which is to be expected in the world of football. Fans are usually always divided to some degree when it comes to issues regarding their club, but the Frank Lampard contract negotiation issue seems to have broken that trend.
It’s no secret that every Chelsea fan wants the club to offer Frank an extension. We see 41,000 fans every other week at Stamford Bridge chanting “Sign him up”, but it goes beyond just Chelsea fans. Pundits, commentators, journalists, opposing fans, everyone seems to believe that Frank deserves a new deal. Everyone that is, except the one man that matters.
Now, at Chelsea, it’s unclear who exactly is in charge of contract negotiations. But one thing’s for sure; it isn’t Benitez. Countless times, the Chelsea boss has had to explain to the British press that his position is the same and that Frank is performing well and that the club is pleased with him etc. etc. But it’s clear that Benitez has no say over who stays and who goes. And it’s been the same for every Chelsea manager. In the summer, Chelsea signed Marko Marin and Eden Hazard before they appointed Roberto Di Matteo as permanent manager. The decisions come from upstairs, not from the gaffer, but from who exactly, is unclear. Nevertheless, should it matter? Surely the decision makers at Chelsea can see Frank’s importance to the club, the quality he brings to the side, and the fact that he along with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are, more-or-less, getting Chelsea out of trouble every week with their goals and individual brilliance.
It’s quite easy for us all to sit here and point and laugh in disbelief at how Chelsea are managing this. It’s clear that Frank has warranted a new contract, it’s clear that he wants to stay at the club, but rather than dismissing this issue as an idiotic Russian blunder, we need to try and understand exactly why this issue still rumbles on with 3 months of the season to go.
Regardless of who is making the decisions, we know that Abramovich must have some input. He does with acquisitions of certain players, Fernando Torres, Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack for example, and he was believed to be personally behind the sackings of certain managers; Mourinho, Scolari and Di Matteo, so given that we know Roman likes to dip his finger into the pudding now and then, he must have something to do with Frank not being offered a new deal yet.
Whispers around SW6 suggest that Abramovich wasn’t a fan of Di Matteo and was waiting for him to slip-up so that he could have an excuse to pull the trigger. We also know, or at least presume, that Roman has had a hand in the consistent selection of a certain Fernando Torres. Ancelotti started a stuttering Torres every game, Villas-Boas dropped Torres in favour of the monstrous Didier Drogba and Di Matteo was forced to chase the title with just one recognised striker in his entire squad. The conclusion is that Abramovich is stubborn. The faith shown in Torres by Chelsea is laughable given the lack of faith they show their managers and it’s because Abramovich is unwilling to admit he was wrong.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have adopted the ‘Over 30’s’ rule whereby no player over the age of the 30 shall be offered more than a one-year extension on their contract. With Chelsea’s hunger to turn to youth and eagerness to be rid of old players on big wages, the rule seems to be flawless. But as we’ve seen this season, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard beg to differ. It’s obvious that the two of them still have immense quality, and to an extent, still hold the same importance to Chelsea as they did in their hay-day. Yet Chelsea are keen to be rid of them? It seems ridiculous. Footballers are, year by year, getting fitter. We’re seeing players playing at the very top level into their mid-thirties. Being 30 years old is not what it was 10 years ago. Some players remain in their prime at that age, and given that both Lampard and Cole keep themselves immensely fit, their qualities are still very much on show. Cole is still regarded as one of the best, if not the best left back in the world, whilst Lampard is still topping Chelsea’s goal charts. Having a strict rule regarding something as inherently oscillating as quality in relation to age is very silly. And the fact that Chelsea seem unwilling to make an exception for Frank shows that same stubbornness which saw Di Matteo kicked out and that keeps Torres in the side every week.
It’s gob-smacking, not simply because Chelsea haven’t tied Frank down to another year or two yet, but because they haven’t been desperate to do so. He’s been in such fine form ever since the talk of his contract has intensified and has carried Chelsea almost single-handedly at times. He’s shown fantastic dedication to adapt to his new role as a deep-lying playmaker and shield to the back four, and he still comes up with goals and assists galore. His performances on the field are just one of many reasons why Chelsea would be barmy to let him walk out the door.
With the new influx of young talent, Chelsea are beginning to show signs of developing a problem that has plagued Arsenal since Viera’s departure – that is the lack of the presence of a real leader. John Terry has spent the majority of Benitez’ reign on the side-lines and while he and Frank have not been playing, Chelsea do seem to lack a stern voice, a leader on the field to help them hold their nerve. Subsequently, Chelsea have seen results slip away, conceding late on to Southampton, Reading and Newcastle all in the last month. Lampard is a real leader of men, and Chelsea would be foolish to consign him to the history books just yet for that reason alone.
Then, we have the fact that Chelsea have not yet found a replacement for Frank. There was logic in not offering Cole a new deal as it would pave the way for the highly rated Ryan Bertrand, but with Lampard that’s not the case. It isn’t entirely clear where Chelsea plan on going after Lampard fades away. There could be a big-money signing on the cards, they could deploy Oscar or the loaned out De Bruyne in a deeper role, or they could promote the promising Josh Mceachran to fill his boots. But one thing’s for sure, as of yet, it isn’t clear. So getting rid of Lampard, with no apparent after-plan would be utter madness.
He’s still proving to be one of Chelsea’s key players. He shows no signs of letting up, he’s one of few leaders left in Chelsea’s side, and above all else, Frank needs to be shown the respect he deserves and the respect he’s earned from the club over the years. He has been a fantastic servant to Chelsea, and all the club are doing by not giving him an extension is suggesting that they see players as nothing but commodities, that they don’t care about years of service and respect.
Whoever is behind denying Lampard an extension, they will soon realise that letting him go would be huge mistake on so many levels. Stubbornness can surely only take you so far, sooner or later, Roman Abramovich or whoever else has to see that it’s painstakingly obvious that Frank should be offered a new deal and if the Chelsea board think they’re disliked by their fans now, just wait and see the reaction of the fans after they let possibly Chelsea’s greatest ever player slip out the door with so much more left to give.
Sign him up Chelsea, or face the consequences.