As he takes his first touch, Frank Lampard looks up and observes his surroundings with only one thing on his mind, the goal. Lampard winds up and strikes a venomous shot past the goalkeeper, and runs to the corner flag with his hands pointed to the sky, in remembrance of his late mother. The crowd erupts whether it is the travelling Chelsea faithful or the fans at Stamford Bridge and they join together in singing ‘Super Frank’.
This has been a familiar narrative for most Chelsea fans over the last decade, and it’s arguably one of the reason’s why Lampard will go down as a Chelsea legend. Since joining the West London club in 2001, Lampard has netted 197 goals for the club (167 in the Premier League) and has won four Premier League titles, four FA Cup trophies, two League cups and a Champions League crown last season. Lampard has scored at least 10 goals a season since 2003, in five of those seasons he’s scored 20 and in 2005 Lampard was runner-up for the Ballon D’Or.
Lampard’s stats are phenomenal for a central midfielder, and it’ll be hard to replicate in the future. With talks of Lampard not being offered a new contract, his goal-scoring form has given many football fans the belief that he’s worthy of one.
But should goals reward Lampard with a new contract?
As a footballer, age is your worst enemy, because your career is on average no longer than 15 years. Also, no one can deny that age has played a vital role in Lampard’s decline over the past few seasons. The box-to-box midfielder that we grew to love has dropped deeper in the midfield, which also can be down to Chelsea’s changing formation. In what used to be a team playing in a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 has now adopted a 4-2-3-1, in which the two holding midfielders have to be tactically disciplined.
For those who have had the chance to watch Chelsea this season, it’s clear that their weakness is in the midfield. One could say it’s a dose of their own medicine for selling Raul Meireles and loaning out Michael Essien to Real Madrid. That left Chelsea to call on Lampard, John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Oriol Romeu. Romeu has been sidelined for the season; Mikel is away at the AFCON, and that leaves Lampard and Ramires as their only midfielders. The problem with this midfield is that in a 4-2-3-1, the midfielder’s job is to shield the back four, so the three behind the striker can create. They both like to join the attack though; Ramires with his rampaging runs from deep and Lampard looking to get into the box.
This midfield has been overrun several times this season and it’s forced Rafa Benitez to employ David Luiz in that position. Luiz is a good distributor of the ball, but tactically he tends to wander out of position, which makes him a liability. Lampard has played midfield with all of these men this season, and despite scoring 10 Premier League goals, he’s been more of a liability than an answer.
Chelsea’s best midfield has consisted of Mikel and Ramires. Mikel is able to shield the back four and Ramires penetrates the midfield with his runs from midfield. Chelsea desperately needs a midfielder that can control the tempo of the game. This season they’ve conceded leads late because they haven’t been able to dictate a game or close them out. Due to their lack of depth in that area, we’ve seen more of Lampard, and his flaws have been exposed.
Like any domestic league across the world, your position in the table is based on your performance over the entire season and it’s only fair that we judge players likewise. Lampard was once known for getting to advanced positions and occasionally creating plays. As of late, due to his loss of pace, he’s been chasing shadows and his distribution is mediocre. He’s being judged on the goals he scores opposed to his performances and last week we witnessed this again.
Although he scored this screamer to level the game at one, his overall performance was dismal, and Yohan Cabaye dominated the midfield.
Lampard might still be able to get his occasional goal, but other than leadership, what else does he provide while on the field?
This is one of many situations in which statistics aren’t reliable when assessing a player’s performance at a club.
Lampard has been the most consistent goal-scoring midfielder in the Premier League over the last decade, but there’s a time in your career where you have to accept your role in the club. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Jamie Carragher are perfect examples of players that Lampard could learn from, if he intends on staying at Chelsea. They don’t get first team minutes, but still play roles in their clubs’ season.
The question is, can Lampard accept being a squad player?
He couldn’t under Andre Villas-Boas, and many believe Lampard, along with the old guard revolting, led to Villas-Boas’ demise. Lampard is no longer a top player, and shouldn’t be near the first team.
Would Lampard start for any elite club in the world?
‘The old guard’ as many call them, is slowly coming to an end at Chelsea. Ashley Cole received a new contract because he’s still an elite left back, Petr Cech should still be the main goalie unless Thibaut Courtois is given a chance. Also, John Terry’s recovery from the injury he sustained against Liverpool will determine whether he’s still their best centre back. These players don’t have much time left at the club and some might pursue their careers elsewhere in the summer.
The Chelsea transition should have occurred after winning the double in 2010, but was stalled, and even though they claimed a Champions League title, their league form has dipped. The transition is still in effect and won’t be complete until the ‘old guard’ accept their new roles at the club or move on.
Lampard still has a role at Chelsea, but it’s changed, and only if he can accept that, should he rightfully see out his career in West London. His experience can shape the future of this club and he can play a part in Chelsea’s aim for consistency when playing inferior sides.
Chelsea is bigger than Frank Lampard.
A club that demands success can’t rely on what he has to offer on a consistent basis.
There is life after Super Frank, and the faster the Chelsea board and fans can accept that, the better off they will be.