Lampard has no sell-on value but his contribution to Chelsea is priceless
Published 31/12/2012 | 05:00
When Frank Lampard leaves Chelsea this summer, he will do so as the finest player in the club's history.
It is a compelling argument, and no doubt the Stamford Bridge faithful will have a view on the greatest to ever wear the Chelsea shirt, but for the full package I can't believe there has been anyone better.
When you look at the best there has ever been, you list all their attributes. More often that not, even outstanding players have one or two flaws.
There is no weakness in Lampard. He scores goals – his return is extraordinary for a midfielder – he can defend, he has character and temperament, he finds the net with either foot, can head the ball and, perhaps most importantly of all, he is a winner – the ultimate professional on and off the park.
Allied to all this, you look at his longevity, the medals he's won, his appearance record since he joined Chelsea, how few games he missed through injury, particularly at his peak.
I don't recall him ever missing a match with a slight niggle here and there. For any manager he's played for he must have been considered the dream professional.
It is not by chance that Rafa Benitez arrived at Goodison Park yesterday and trusted Lampard in the middle of the park ahead of younger, technically gifted options, and not for the first time the England midfielder delivered.
With John Terry and Didier Drogba, Lampard will always be considered the foundation of the side that enjoyed unprecedented success at Chelsea, and I'd put him ahead of those two by virtue of the fact he has everything a modern footballer needs.
About 14 years ago, I was involved in a BBC documentary during which I spoke to Harry Redknapp, then the West Ham manager.
I was at the training ground most of the day and, as I was leaving, I saw Lampard – then a youngster in his early 20s – still on the pitch.
It was about 3.15pm, long after the morning training session was over. He'd stayed behind after training to practise, always trying to make himself better in every facet of his game. Harry told me at the time that was a common occurrence.
That kind of professionalism has been rewarded. Lampard is a credit to himself and the modern player. He will leave a massive void when he's gone, which is why, inevitably, many are asking why Chelsea are letting him go?
Twenty years ago, it would have been a no-brainer. Lampard would probably have been offered and signed a new deal by now.
I recall when I was 35 at Liverpool, I was handed a two-year extension. When I signed it, I'd already played my last game for the club because I then got injured during the next pre-season and was eventually forced to retire.
The financial considerations were much different then. You didn't get contracts out of loyalty or sentiment, but there was certainly an element of 'doing the right thing' by a player who'd offered so many years service.
I suspect Lampard is also looking for a two-year deal on similar terms to whatever he is earning today, which he could still expect from clubs looking to attract a player of his calibre. There are markets out there who'll pay.
For Chelsea, no matter how good he is now, it would be a risk to simply agree to that because you just never know with players over 30.
As usual, Alex Ferguson has offered the example to others. He won't take the risk of allowing his senior players to go until he sees they're no longer capable of doing the job.
Until then, he continues to offer the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes a one-year extension. He's not doing this just because he likes them as people, he's doing it because he sees that they still have the quality.
The consideration for Chelsea with Lampard, and Ashley Cole, is are they certain those players have nothing left to give their club? I'm not sure they can be sure of that.
The teams that win titles are a blend of youth and experience, but the best players are always at their peak at 26, 27 and 28. Before then, you have so much to learn about the game.
In your late 20s and beyond, experience is invaluable. The reason players are usually more expensive then is because they're more likely to be the finished product.
The game must embrace, not disregard the fittest and classiest older players, even when they reach their 30s.
Lampard will probably leave Chelsea on a free transfer this summer. The businessmen in football will no doubt assess his career and wonder what his 'sell-on value' would have been had he ever been moved on earlier.
The football men will look at it another way and say his contribution to the club's history for a decade at Stamford Bridge has been nothing short of priceless.