As we head towards the end of another season it’s only fitting the Lampard contract saga should rear its head again, after all, he’s strung it out so long, a season just wouldn’t be the same anymore without the speculation over whether or not he’ll be at Stamford Bridge the following year. The latest, we’re reliably informed by the press, who’ve heard it from a friend of a friend of the man who used to live down the road, is that he’ll sign a new three year contract, or even a one-year extension, depending on which rag you read really.
Following the recent death of his mother, it has been suggested that his loyalty to both his family and Chelsea have made him reconsider. Whilst I suspect the majority in the Chelsea ranks will be delighted to receive this news, there’ll be plenty who would’ve been only too happy to see him disappear from English football altogether, such is the extent of hatred towards him in this country.
But why is this so? How is it that any player who is prepared to step up to the plate – or the penalty spot to be more precise – in the midst of the most personal emotional turmoil, and not cock up royally, remain so reviled? Well, some would argue that he’s hardly the first person ever to get on with his job following the loss of a loved one. Of course that’s true, but then most of us don’t have to put on a brave face in front of the watching millions. Most of us don’t face the risk of a bad day at the office turning us into a villain overnight either – our minor errors at work aren’t read on the back pages by the masses for months on end. Whilst I know he’s not the only professional footballer to lose his nearest and dearest either, indeed earlier this year Wes Brown lost his father and still turned out for Utd three days later in the derby, Lampard didn’t just turn up and quietly get on with his game. By stepping up for that penalty – something he really didn’t have to do with the more than capable Ballack on the pitch – he was putting his already fragile reputation on the line. Naturally, some of the adulation that followed has only served to heighten resentment towards him, but what if he’d actually missed? Personally, I admired his bottle.
Let’s not forget, this is the very same man who has paid for daring to miss a penalty for his country, for the past two years. Having had an exceptional Euro 2004 and being voted England’s player of the year in both 2004 and 2005, a failure to replicate his Chelsea form at the 2006 World Cup for England has resulted in him being labelled public enemy number one. Add to that a penalty miss, which clearly must’ve been a much worse miss than either Carragher’s or Gerrard’s since they’re both still worthy of a knighthood, and the country had it’s scapegoat. And yet, in spite of playing to a background of the usual vile insults that greet his presence in an England shirt, it was Lampard who had the balls to step forward to take a penalty at 2-0 down against Croatia in November. Sadly that was to be the only smile of the evening for me, as the mouthpieces around me shuffled their feet uncomfortably and went a bit quiet when it dawned on them they’d just allowed themselves the indignity of being publicly happy about a Lampard goal – oh the shame of it! Not that it lasted long though because predictably, when he was announced Man Of The Match following the 3-2 defeat, this was greeted by the usual chorus of bile as they held him solely responsible for the way eleven men had played on the night. Of course it wouldn’t have been down to the captain failing to impose the same presence he does for his club would it? Course not, why would they need to focus on that particular slip of the halo when they can blame ‘Fat Frank’?
Forgetting his haters though, from a Chelsea point of view, should we be tempted to hide his passport come the summer or have we had the best return we’re likely to get for our initial £11m investment? It certainly took him a while to start earning it after signing for Ranieri in 2001, in fact, it wasn’t until Roman walked through the door that we started to see signs of what we’d actually paid for – make of that what you will. By the end of the 2003-04 season though, we’d seen he could provide us with a decent amount of goals from midfield and he’s continued to get into double figures in the league in every season since.
For me, in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, Frank produced probably the best football he’s ever likely to for us and was acknowledged both professionally (Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, 2004-2005; runner up to Ronaldinho in both the European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year 2005-06) and more personally, with Mourinho declaring him the “best player in the world”. But maybe these were acknowledgements he could have done without, because he hasn’t produced quite at the same level since. He may well have scored 21 goals in all competitions last season, but it didn’t really look like the same player doing it. And, at the end of a season where there just seemed to be something not quite right, he failed to sit down and agree a new contract despite having publicly stated he wanted to stay at the club “forever” –although forever wasn’t likely to happen without signing was it?
And this season, that uncertainty has pretty much continued, with less games played due to injury, less consistency in his performances and an as-yet unsigned contract extension. So have they really run out of ink at Stamford Bridge or is he just stalling for time – and maybe a better offer?