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Sundown at Blues, can Lamps still burn bright?
In what has become the tale of thousands of voices backing one man and his reputation while slamming another and his resolve, Chelsea Football Club finds itself in a peculiar position, one it is not too familiar with. With media reports this week confirming that the club's legendary midfielder Frank Lampard will finally end his 12-year romance with the Blues after being denied a new deal, fan angst is bound to reach new highs as the club's Russian owner Roman Abramovich - despite all the millions he has pumped into the club - prepares to kick-start a new era next season.
While the Blues have grudgingly embraced interim manager Rafa Benitez as the latest catalyst - at least for now - in this forced evolutionary process, the departure of one of the pillars of Chelsea's famed old guard is bound to further polarize a club that has struggled to secure its identity in the English Premier League since the Russian billionaire took over the reins in 2003.
Three-time Chelsea player of the year, Lampard, along with the now departed Didier Drogba, skipper John Terry and goalkeeper Petr Cech have lined up behind one another on the field to form the backbone of the club and attempts in the recent past to lower the average age of the side has done very little good in terms of results for the club and its fans. With Fernando Torres seemingly destined to become another failed project in the forward line, Drogba's absence is felt now more than ever.
Surely, Chelsea fans fear Lampard's exit will have a similar effect. With the team lying in fifth place midway through the league, does Abramovich need Lampard's experience more now than ever? Benitez, for one, doesn't seem to think so. "Everyone knows the legends have been here and what they have achieved but you have to see new players coming in, " he was quoted as saying in the media recently. "It's part of life. You have to think about the future and move forward, bring in new players and try, at the same time, to bring the best out of those you have. You have to use their experience, too, " he had said.
Some theories suggest that Lampard, who earns around £150, 000 per week, could just be the first of a number of top Chelsea stars who will be eased out as the club prepares to try and abide by UEFA's financial fairplay rules - which translates to clubs aiming to achieve self sustainability. Chelsea's recent transfer market activity too suggests the club is slowly becoming reluctant to buy expensive players. Perhaps, the plan to overhaul the squad to create more hunger among players is being implemented through drastic steps. Perhaps, as an older player, Lampard has run his course with the club and its efforts to create an ideology, a system. Lampard is surely not the central figure in the new scheme of things.
Whatever the intentions, the treatment of Lampard - one of the last links the club has to the pre-Abramovich era - smacks of ingratitude on the part of the owner. A box-to-box midfielder who has not shied away from arriving late in the box to slam home a few goals, 192 to be precise, Lampard has been a central figure in the first team, setting a new record for the most consecutive number of league appearances - 164. His efforts saw him become a key figure in the back-toback league titles Chelsea won in 2004-05 and 2005-06. His grace and dignity on the field following scoring against Liverpool an emotional week after the death of his mother made fans reach out to him. His professionalism despite being unfairly denied a goal for England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, saw him win over some of his biggest critics.
Blessed with the ability to read the game like few others, Lampard blends the work rate exhibited by Paul Scholes with the creative flair of Eric Cantona and that's perhaps why Manchester United manager feels the 34-year-old still has it in him to deliver at the highest level. Much like Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Scholes have before him, Lampard could easily thrive at a club like United. But will the Londoner succumb to Ferguson's charms and the lure of playing in English top-flight football for another few seasons? Or will the man known for his love for Chelsea treat the club with the respect he deserves to be treated with? Will he end his career in pre-retirement mode a la David Beckham in a final salute to the Blues? The questions, unfortunately, will remain unanswered for now at least.
But with the intention of seeing out his contract, Lampard, a Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup winner, would look to win the hearts of his friends, rivals and fans. But just like the goals he scores, arriving late in the box, many will feel after he is gone that Chelsea waited too long to honour their favourite son.
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