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.