A fierce Eden Hazard drive stung the hands of Jussi Jaaskelainan. However, the danger was not over yet. The rebounded ball landed on the feet of Victor Moses, who’s attempted cross rebounded to the Belgium yet again. Hazard had the opportunity to take another shot. Only this time, he chipped it over the West Ham defence to the awaiting Frank Lampard. With a fierce leap, he met the ball head on, sending it into the net. Finally, Lampard had broken the 200th goal barrier.
There were so many things about that goal that seemed all too familiar. From the trademarked late run into the penalty box to the neat finish that many strikers (Ba and Torres included) wish they could pull off. With that goal, Lampard reminded Chelsea fans of the amazing 12 year journey they had taken with him. Coming in from West Ham as a rookie, who would have thought that Lampard could achieve so much at Chelsea Football club? Not many would have expected Lampard to see off Bobby Tambling’s 202 goal bench mark at the end of his career. But now, he is 3 goals away from doing it.
In the hearts of many, their thoughts were unanimous. They wanted Lampard to stay and retire at the club where he made his name. Hearing the cries of the countless fans begging Roman Abramovich to give Lampard another contract is heart-warming for any Chelsea fan (me included). I know how hard it is to let go of a legend we love. However, as a pragmatist, there is only one question we can ask. Is there value in keeping Lampard for another year?
In all honesty, football is a business. Clubs are like companies offering a service of entertainment to millions of fans worldwide. We fans pick up the tab for a good 90 minutes of it. Players in a way are like products. Only in this case, each product is different and undergoes constant change as they age. Some change may be for the better and others for the worst. Everyone has an expiry date. When you look at Frank Lampard, you see a freshly minted product acquired from the shelves at West Ham who became a priceless collectible. He was different, a special footballer blessed with both superb technical skills and an intelligent footballing brain.
Through constant hard work and commitment, Lampard became so much more. He developed a great vision and passing range and became the ideal creator. With his intelligent runs and finishing ability, he was the ideal goal scorer. However, all that was in the past. For anyone to make a decision on whether to award Lampard a one year extension, one can only look at a few key criteria; Strengths, Weaknesses and Risk for the future.
Undoubtedly, Frank Lampard is one of the team’s most senior players. He is also a respected vice-captain and a capable captain when called upon. His influence in the dressing room and on the pitch is crucial. Many often point out that experience is needed to win titles. Just look at rivals Manchester United. Their use of players such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes exemplify that.
Should Lampard leave, Chelsea will lose a crucial component of the dressing room. The last time a bunch of experienced players left, Chelsea went from doubles winners to 4th placed challengers. Carlo Ancelotti (the coach then) got fired. Furthermore, Frank Lampard is a model professional. His ability to stay out of controversy in recent years and attitude in training is top notch. He sets an example for many of the younger players to follow. As a player, Lampard offers dynamism. Having been able to make a seamless transition from attacking midfield to defensive midfield where he currently plays. He also offers numbers to a relatively small squad challenging on many fronts.
Chelsea plays predominantly in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the duo midfield pivot a crucial part of the system. That pivot is where Lampard plays. The only other midfielders playing in his position are Mikel and Ramires (Romeu is injured). There is currently a shortage of capable players in the holding midfield position. Hence, should Lampard leave and no suitable replacements are brought in, the club will struggle to match the quality of the other teams.
Moreover, Lampard leads the club in shirt sales. The club stands to lose a significant portion of their shirt revenue should he leave. Lampard’s name has also been synonymous with the Chelsea brand worldwide. While new names like Hazard and Mata are ready to exert greater marketing influence, retaining Lampard is crucial if the club seeks to continue appealing to the greater market of fans that have been tied to the club through him. Lampard’s marketing power together with John Terry is also the strongest in appealing to English fans, where he is a fan favourite and cult hero.
One major question that should be considered is whether the club can find a replacement for Lampard. Furthermore, it is important for that replacement to match what Lampard currently does for the club. With a lack of players of the same mould in the market right now, it is highly unlikely that the club can find a suitable replacement anytime soon.
However, is it really necessary for the club to invest in a player like Lampard? Currently, Lampard loses his edge in a competitive Chelsea midfield. The current surplus of attacking talent like Hazard Mata and Oscar also decreases his importance to the side as an attacking midfielder; a role he played to aplomb for years. Instead, what the club really needs are players with the ability to screen the defence and propel attacking moves from the back. While Lampard has shown that he can play in defensive midfield, his effectiveness has been called to question in recent months.
Compared to Mikel, Lampard is defensively weaker. Compared to Ramires, Lamaprd’s work rate and industry is understandably lower due to his age. While Lampard surpasses both Ramires and Mikel in passing range and scoring, that is hardly the priority when you have 3 gifted attacking midfielders and a striker to do that work for you.
At the age of 34, Lampard is in the zenith of his career. If he is offered another contract that should exceed a hundred thousand pounds a week, it would mean a huge financial risk for Chelsea if he gets injured. While Lampard has escaped serious injuries in his career, signs of a recurrent thigh injury are worrying. This season, Lampard picked up a thigh injury and was absent for the euro 2012. Chances that he might suffer a relapse of the same injury should be accounted for. However, risk also runs both ways. Chelsea Fans have been vociferous with their demands for Lampard to stay. In this case, a Lampard departure could lead to sour relations with fans.
Fans are the bread and butter of the club. While it is highly unlikely that fans will boycott the club if Frank leaves, giving fans what they want might do a lot to mitigate other deep lying resentments against the club.
One such resentment would definitely be the never ending managerial merry go round that goes on in the club. Giving Lampard a new deal might placate fans who are increasing frustrated at how the club is being run.
Frank Lampard has given Chelsea 12 amazing years of service. He has created cherished memories and became the idol of many fans. However, looking forward, it is time for the club to let go. While Frank’s contributions in shirt sales and goal scoring feats are undoubtedly crucial, keeping a 34 year old veteran at the club with a huge wage bill is a risk not many will take. Furthermore, the presence of other midfield talents around the world may prove to be more attractive and less expensive acquisitions.
While fans may rue the decision, it is for the best. Lampard’s involvement in the team has stifled the careers of many throughout the years. With his influence waning, it is time for him to step aside and let others take on the mantle for themselves. (I am looking at you Josh Mceachran)