Will Sir Alex get the thumbs up from Frank
After denying that Manchester United are chasing anyone in the January transfer window, Sir Alex Ferguson has reportedly expressed serious interest in Chelsea reject Frank Lampard with a view to signing him on a free at the end of the season.
Far be it from me to criticise a manager who has won it all several times over, or a player who has served his club loyally for more than a decade, but I fail to see what an ageing midfielder who is patently past his best can offer United, and quite how he would fit in to their existing system.
In his favour, he would cost nothing initially and, no doubt, Ferguson would probably offer him a rolling one-year contract as he has done with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, so there would be no long-term commitment involved.
He would also be useful on the training pitch, passing on the knowledge and experience he has gained from a long career at the top.
But what piece of the jigsaw would Fat Frank represent on the pitch?
He made his name as a goalscoring midfielder who, at times, eschewed his defensive duties and was able to drift into the box unmarked, knowing he had cover behind him if things broke down (for many years in the form of Michael Essien).
United already have adequate players who can do that (Wayne Rooney, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, etc.), but ironically lack a player like Essien.
They also have a glut of midfielders competing for places in the starting 11, who are patiently awaiting their opportunity to shine, including promising youngsters such as Nick Powell and Ryan Tunnicliffe.
At the last count, 12 of United’s first team squad are midfielders (if you include Wayne Rooney) so there is no lack of cover, even allowing for the potential retirement of Scholes and Giggs.
What signal is it going to send out to them if a 34-year-old—who has been given the elbow by a team three places and 14 points behind them in the league—is signed on and immediately shoots ahead of them in the pecking order?
Some might say that the youngsters are not ready, but maybe Sir Alex needs to be a little braver and give players like Powell a run in the side. The occasional appearance as a substitute is an inadequate way to assess a young player and gives him little chance of achieving match fitness.
“If they’re good enough they’re big enough” as the saying goes. If they’re not good enough, then maybe they should be somewhere else.
Sir Alex also has existing senior players who can fulfill the same role. Anderson immediately springs to mind, but also Wayne Rooney, who has been used as a player who breaks forward from a midfield position and is frequently given a free role—as Lampard does (or did) at Chelsea.
If the argument is that he would be a natural replacement for the surely shortly-to-retire again Scholes, you wonder if he has the vision of the fading ginger maestro and whether it would be “out of the frying pan and into the fire” with regards to his ability to last for 90 minutes.
Even though he would be on a one-year contract, you would imagine that his wage demands would be considerable—bearing in mind the potential for “filling his boots” in that respect in the USA or the Far East.
Can United really justify paying big bucks to someone who could well turn out to be a bit player?
Remember Michael Owen? At the time many people—including me, by the way—thought his signing was a shrewd move on Sir Alex’s part .
Unfortunately, apart from a couple of crucial goals, his contribution to the cause was limited to say the least, and it was somewhat of a relief to all concerned when his contract was terminated.
There have been players, of course, who have been bought to Old Trafford in the twilight of their careers and flourished.
Laurent Blanc and Teddy Sheringham are two who spring to mind; they were 36 and 31 respectively when they signed for United.
However, Sir Alex’s oft-stated preference is to sign younger players with potential. And there are plenty out there to choose from should they become available (Kevin Strootman and Christian Eriksen to name but two).
It is not as if United lack experience in the first team squad; 24 of the 32 are full internationals and, of the regular starting 11, only David de Gea lacks a full cap for his country.
My final point is that although I admire Lampard’s somewhat rare status as a one-club man, for me that clouds the issue of any loyalty he may have for a new club.
Would he find it difficult after all this time to place his allegiance elsewhere, particularly with a club who over the past decade have been one of Chelsea’s fiercest rivals?
David Beckham has publicly said on many occasions that he couldn’t envisage playing for any other EPL side than United for that reason, and has set his sights abroad since he left the Theatre of Dreams.
My feeling is that a foreign adventure would be the best course of action for Lampard and United, and I sincerely hope that all the cheap talk turns out to be exactly—and only—that.