Sun sets on Lampard's Chelsea career
Published 14/12/2012 | 05:00
Here in the Land of the Rising Sun, it felt sadly and inexorably like the sun was setting on the Chelsea career of one of the club's most distinguished, esteemed and selfless servants.
His voice touched with melancholy, Frank Lampard noted the board's failure to discuss a new contract with him, signalling his departure, ending an era, hurting both player and countless admirers. "Maybe things don't last forever,'' Lampard sighed.
Lampard loves Chelsea and does not want to leave.
From the club's perspective, he is 34, a high-earner in the age of financial fair play, not guaranteed a starting place and they have alternatives for the midfield base of their 4-2-3-1 system in John Obi Mikel, Ramires, Oriol Romeu – when fit – and now David Luiz.
The exuberant Brazilian's strong performance in the 3-1 defeat of Monterrey, demonstrated that it is a role that may suit him best, so limiting Lampard's chances further.
He knew that the questions were coming, that he had to acknowledge an impasse with Roman Abramovich's people that was not of his making.
Yet the midfielder stopped to talk after the game, after his 27-minute cameo in which the fans sang his name, waved flags saying "Lamps, We want you to stay" and the players' respect ensured that Petr Cech gave him the armband when he replaced Luiz.
The announcer at the Yokohama International Stadium greeted Lampard's arrival as if auditioning for the Super Bowl: here was "Frrrrrrrank Laaaaampard", cueing a bout of hysteria.
Japanese fascination with Lampard is well established; even though he was injured for the 2002 World Cup, he remains a global star, a photogenic draw for some, a footballing force for others who admired how he helped decide the 2012 Champions League final.
And this is why Chelsea's treatment of Lampard fails to make sense. He pulls crowds and sells shirts.
If a professional is only as good as his last final, Lampard soaked his blue shirt with two hours of sweat, eclipsing Bayern Munich's mighty Bastian Schweinsteiger and then burying his penalty, and a few demons. Only seven months ago. There's life in those legs of Lampard.
"I feel I have two or three years in me – at least – at the top level,'' he said, musing on his duel over a deal with his employers.
"The ball is in Chelsea's court. At the minute nothing has been said. Nothing has been planned. Talks about a one or two-year extension don't exist. Maybe things don't last forever.
"Although I want it to last forever, you have to be big enough to know what it is. I want to be involved. That's my character.
"Whatever happens, I've had a great time at Chelsea. I feel like I've had a good year particularly from where we were in February to playing what I like to think was a big part in winning the Champions League and FA Cup. Not just myself.
"Obviously Didier Drogba played the biggest part. We were the players who were out a little bit under Andre Villas-Boas and came back in and made a difference. I am determined to play a few more years."
Fair enough. He is still five years Ryan Giggs' junior and the Manchester United man's possibly heading for a 13th title medal.
Lampard is also a leader on and off the pitch, a stellar ambassador for a club hardly brimming with them. Chelsea have bemoaned the absence of the injured John Terry here, so precluding any John and Yokohama headlines, but the support for Lampard was sustained.
"They were loud,'' he smiled. "Chelsea fans have always been amazing for me and the team. It's a small contingent, about 1,100, but they put their hands in their pocket and that's fantastic.''
He noted that Chelsea's hard core, including editors of their major fanzines, were present, backing him, also chanting the name of the sacked Roberto di Matteo and still denigrating Rafa Benitez, their interim first-team coach whose Liverpool affiliations still rankle with the faithful of the Matthew Harding Upper and Lower plus the Shed.
"What is Chelsea?'' reflected Lampard. "Chelsea is the fans. You have to respect how they feel, you have to respect Roberto, and at the same respect that Rafa is going to try to do the best job he can at Chelsea."
Sport essentially boils down to duels, even to one-on-ones within the same dressing-room. It is Luiz versus Lampard, Brazil versus England, Ipanema versus Ilford. Abramovich's mood heads in that direction.
Lampard acknowledged Luiz's rise: "He did well. It's not easy playing in a different position. I wouldn't fancy playing centre-back too much. It's different fitness levels in midfield to defending. The same as if you play on the wing. If I play on the wing I'm knackered after five minutes!''
Yet Lampard would play there if asked. He would play anywhere for Chelsea. He is that type of professional. But the club are moving on, moving stalwarts out.
Lampard's days look numbered and Chelsea could count that cost. They will miss a son who has always risen to the occasion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)