Will Frank Lampard be at Chelsea next season?
News of a new contract for Lampard would have no doubt set hearts racing for Blues supporters thinking it was the one they all craved, until they realized it was with publisher Little Brown and not Chelsea, of course. And it's little wonder.
Stepping outside the realms of professional etiquette for a moment, for this writer, Chelsea's current No. 8 is the finest player to have donned the club's blue jersey. Yet, for that reason alone, he shouldn't qualify for an extended contract next season.
His goal tally—198 at the last count—is simply phenomenal, but it is the way in which Lampard has gone about amassing that total which makes him so special. He has carried the team onto greatness in his 12 years, scoring vital goals at vital moments.
One need only recall his two goals against Bolton Wanderers in 2005 that sealed a first league title in 50 years, while in times of much dire need his goals have secured important points.
Before Lampard at Chelsea came greats such as Kerry Dixon, Charlie Cooke and Gianfranco Zola. Peter Osgood topped them all, but Lampard has even surpassed the King of Stamford Bridge.
Let's be honest, though, when he moved across London from West Ham United for £11 million in 2001, who was predicting he would still be turning out for Chelsea over a decade later? Not many. In fact, the biggest concern for some fans was whether he could outshine the man whose shirt he took—Gustavo Poyet—let alone come close to breaking Bobby Tambling's goal-scoring record of 202.
Should Chelsea give Frank Lampard a new contract?
But here he is, Chelsea's finest player after 108 years of history. He is going to take some beating.
And herein lays the focal point of Chelsea's current predicament. Extend Lampard's current contract now and it will be for all the reasons we've discussed. Sentiment will rule the minds of Chelsea's power brokers, when in reality, it's football that should.
At 34, his best years are beyond him. Next season Lampard will be 35, and he is no Andrea Pirlo.
AC Milan found themselves in a similar position to Chelsea with their star midfielder in 2011, but rather than extend his stay at the San Siro, they allowed him to leave and join rivals Juventus for nothing. It was a mistake of epic proportions, with Pirlo—now 33—enjoying a renaissance with the Old Lady that has seen him lift a third Serie A title of his career.
Where Lampard's concerned, however, protracted contract talks and the end of an era is where the Pirlo comparison ends. While his Italian counterpart's game is based on controlling things from the middle with a more, shall we say, methodical approach, Lampard's is about intensity and power.
Were Lampard to remain at the Blues, he wouldn't be able to maintain that attribute the way Pirlo has. Much like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester United, he would need to reinvent himself. Indeed, in some aspects of his game he has in recent years, but for the player Lampard would become, Chelsea already has players for that position.
Despite the rumours doing the rounds, nobody outside of the club's board and Lampard knows the full extent of the situation. Would he take a reduction in pay for instance? We don't know, but money shouldn't even be the issue.
Keeping Lampard at Chelsea will mean the likes of Josh McEachran and others will be forced to wait another year for an opportunity to impress. His presence on the training field may be aspirational for such up and coming starlets, but Lampard's position in the squad will mean less game time for them also.
Given his form since December, Lampard has every right to consider himself a first-team regular. In the 18 games he has played in that time, he has scored nine goals—a record most strikers would be happy with, let alone a midfielder.
If anything, rather than play himself into a new deal, Lampard's potentially played himself out of the club. His stock remains as such that it's difficult to see him accepting a reduced role and why should he?
On the other hand, however, Chelsea are trying to build a team capable of challenging for honours for the next decade. It's unpleasant to consider, but Lampard will not be part of the next generation and the time for bringing through new players is now.
Sir Alex Ferguson has perfected the art of releasing players at the right time in their careers for the continued development of Manchester United, showing sentiment plays little part in his decisions. In 2003 for instance, he allowed David Beckham to leave Old Trafford, replacing him with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. It was an inspired move.
It will be a sad day when he leaves, but extend Lampard's contract now and Chelsea will be doing the opposite.