Recently, an article in a broadsheet newspaper somewhat foolishly ‘addressed’ why Chelsea fans should happily accept Frank Lampard’s pending departure from Stamford Bridge – with the argument centring that a new contract would not make financial sense for Chelsea. The writer, rather confidently, suggested that the England midfielder would not be capable of delivering performances when aged 37 (coinciding with the end of a potential two-year contract), in the same calibre to those consistently witnessed in a blue shirt over the last decade.
Whilst Lampard appears resigned to be leaving the Londoners, plenty of destinations have been mooted; from Qatar, to replacing David Beckham at LA Galaxy and almost everywhere else in-between. The most remarkable story though, which appears to be gathering pace, associates him with Manchester United. As the saying goes, there’s no smoke without fire. At the end of the current campaign, Lampard will become a free agent and Sir Alex Ferguson has possibly looked across the continent, at his Italian cousins, and decided that following Juventus’ lead may not be a bad idea at all.
The Frank Lampard & Chelsea situation is uncannily similar to that of Andrea Pirlo & Milan. Upon the conclusion of the 2010/11 season, Milan raised eyebrows by declining to offer Pirlo a new contract. The dynamic midfielder was shown the exit door after ten glittering seasons at the San Siro – highlighted by two Serie A titles and two Champions League winner medals, plus the 2006 World Cup. Juventus, still finding their feet back in Serie A, (after being exiled from Italy’s top tier due to their role in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal) signed him on a free transfer. The Rossoneri were of the opinion that Pirlo had little left in the tank but representatives of La Vecchia Signora believed otherwise. The latter’s judgement proved astute as they were crowned Serie A champions less than 12 months later. In an astonishing season where Juve were undefeated in the league, they ironically beat Milan to the title on the penultimate gameday of the season (Milan lost to local rivals Inter, whilst Juve beat Calgiari).
Pirlo largely pulled the strings, finishing the season with the highest number of assists in Serie A plus he orchestrated Italy’s impressive march to the final of the European Championships. Unsurprisingly, given his achievements, he was considered by many to be the signing of the season. In light of this perhaps Roman Abramovich should pay Milan owner, Silvio Berlusconi, a visit at his Lake Como mansion to ask for his thoughts on the matter…
Pirlo and Lampard belong in a similar group. In addition to Lampard’s excellent goal scoring record, he is also a playmaker, and his contribution to Chelsea over the years is akin to Xavi Hernandez at Barcelona; Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid; Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and Paul Scholes at United. These ‘quarterbacks’ are critical to their respective clubs’ successes. The Pirlos, Alonsos et al of this world are a rare commodity since they seldom lose possession (a key aspect on today’s game) and possess bird of prey-esque vision – making them their team’s attacking focal point.
With Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes turning 40 and 39 respectively this year, United need to plan for the immediate future. Although Lampard is no spring chicken (he turns 35 in June), he is an excellent professional and still has plenty to offer. This season alone, he has found the back of the net six times in just 12 league games. Ex-Chelsea coach Ray Wilkins fuelled the transfer speculation saying, “He’ll want to continue to win and play at a high level – and there’s no higher level than Old Trafford,” adding that Ferguson was the “master of utilising the older player”.
Using Pirlo’s impact at Juventus as a successful case study, plus the recently pricey acquisition of Robin Van Persie, Ferguson will be well aware that the rewards of signing Lampard outweigh the risk.