On Wednesday, Chelsea won the Europa League Final, beating Benfica in the Amsterdam Arena for a second European crown in two years. In itself, that feat is outstanding, and the final was thrilling, but when you consider that Chelsea had to go through Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharesti, Rubin Kazan, and FC Basel to reach the final, the sizzle of the achievement lessens considerably.
Still, it was the second consecutive May that Frank Lampard has captained his side in a major European Final, and lifted the trophy after the full-time whistle. Yet two huge victories for Lampard came earlier in the week. After all, Lampard has played well in the competition, but he doesn’t want to be playing in the Europa League for the Interim One – who may have wanted this victory more for his CV than the club he represents. He wants to be playing next year in the Champions League for the Special One.
It was reported Tuesday night that Lampard has secured a new deal for next season that even he doubted he would get until the very last moment. Lampard’s season has centered around his expiring contract, and his quest to become Chelsea’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Done and done.
For many Chelsea fans, the year has been about Lampard’s chase for history. The midfielder is a club favorite, and his status has only grown at Stamford Bridge in the last year. Part of the reason Roberto Di Matteo was so popular at Chelsea was because he was a link to the club’s past – and fewer and fewer of those are around the club these days.
Lampard is that link, a pulse for Mourinho’s beloved old guard, a longtime servant of the club.
Not only has Lampard been a truly outstanding performer for Chelsea, he’s also been the rock of the club, a man whose work has always shone with drive and poise. After a few dust-ups with the tabloids early in his career, Lampard has proven himself to be a very solid professional and person, a leader in the squad, and a man who gives Chelsea a good name in spite of everything and everyone the club has muddying its reputation.
It doesn’t seem like Roman Abramovich understands this. He’s a man who loves the “wow” play, the tiki-taka of Barcelona. It’s no surprise, then, that he wouldn’t love Lampard, who has made a career off impeccable timing, gumption and sturdiness.
This year was the second consecutive year in which Abramovich has tried to faze Lampard out of the team. The unfortunate task fell to Andre Villas-Boas in 2011, who failed miserably. Di Matteo’s biggest asset when he took over as manager was a revitalized Lampard.
Rafa Benitez has gone about the fazing out of Chelsea’s old guard more quietly, not humorlessly shilling a “project” like Villas-Boas did, in part because he has no time for projects in his interim spell at Stamford Bridge. But make no mistake, Benitez has tried to minimalize Chelsea’s veteran players. It has worked with John Terry, who is no more than a squad player these days, but it hasn’t worked with Lampard.
Chelsea’s #8 just won’t be kept down. When he has played, Lampard has been a top performer. He doesn’t have the pace or physical ability he once did, but his range of passing, positioning, and of course goal-scoring abilities are just as strong as ever.
So this year’s focus was Lampard, as time appeared to be draining in his Chelsea career. He was the one link to the shining past, a living legend who was being run out as callously as Di Matteo – the manager who saved his Chelsea career
Fans rallied around Lampard, and Lampard rallied for the occasion. He has never disappointed in big games for his club. Super Frank broke the record last weekend at Aston Villa in traditional Lampard style.
He scored his first goal on a bending run on the edge of the area that ended in a wicked shot sizzling by Brad Guzan. It was a great goal, punctuated by the kind of skill you forget Lampard has until he’s off celebrating another goal.
Lampard’s second, the winner of the game, the scoring title and a place in the Champions League was classic – a bursting run into the box, timed to perfection, finished greedily. It didn’t smack of skill so much as desire. It was arguably the best moment of Chelsea’s season.
It’s all coming full-circle for Lampard this season at Chelsea. At his preferred destination outside Stamford Bridge, LA Galaxy, Tim Leiweke – the man who brought Beckham and Keane in and was in the process of signing Lampard – left AEG, LA’s owner. With his contact gone, it was always unlikely Lampard would end up stateside.
Jose Mourinho’s return has also played into Lampard’s hands. The Special One will be returning covered in glory before he manages a game – as eager as Mourinho is to be where people love him, Chelsea fans are eager to have a manager who loves them, and the club.
Both parties are united in their love of Lampard. He was at his peak under Mourinho, and will be a valuable voice in the dressing room for the new coach. Mourinho certainly wants Lampard to stay at Chelsea.
Lampard also wants to extend his England career into World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Lampard has never tasted real success with England in a major tournament, he missed out on Euro 2012, and will want to erase the burning pain of his no-goal against Germany in South Africa. After all, Lampard has never scored in the World Cup.
But public opinion and a manager’s opinion have never stopped Abramovich from doing what he wants before. Make no mistake – Lampard wouldn’t be getting a one-year extension unless he played as well as he did this year.
Lampard has 15 league goals to lead the team, and fewer of those have come on penalties than in years past. This isn’t Man. United, where long-term loyalty and performance earn older players like Giggs and Scholes contracts. This is Chelsea, were short-term, instant-gratification performance wins contracts.
Lampard played himself onto the team for next season.
There’s no way Lampard should have had to play his way into a new contract for Chelsea after all he’s done for the club and all he still has left to offer, but that’s the reality of the situation.
Lampard got the record. 203 goals. Amazing. That, along with all of the titles he’s won for Chelsea cement his place in Stamford Bridge lore. They have also cemented him a new contract.