New York City FC made Frank Lampard their second designated player Thursday, signing the England and Chelsea veteran to a two-year deal that will pay Lampard almost eight million dollars per year.
On the face of it, this is a shaky move. Lampard is 36, and he’s getting paid a lot of money. And Lampard has a lot of baggage with New York City. As a young, stupid, and drunken 23 year old, he, along with a handful of Chelsea teammates, abused grieving Americans stranded due to the attacks of September 11.
Lampard has some explaining to do.
That’s first and foremost. Then, we can get to the soccer.
Frank Lampard – leading scorer in Chelsea history, most goals for a midfielder in Premier League history, eleven major trophies, England captain in a World Cup – could have retired. Or he could have carried on playing and transitioning into a coaching role at Chelsea under one of his biggest fans, Jose Mourinho.
Instead, Lampard is coming to MLS. NYCFC should be thrilled. He’s exactly the kind of player you want to model a franchise after.
Contrary to the tired and sanctimonious cries of “retirement league!” upon Lampard’s signing, this deal shows the exact opposite – that Lampard is not ready to retire. He took a pay cut in excess of five million dollars to come to the States.
Hailed in England as one of the most intelligent footballers and best professionals the Premier League has ever seen, Lampard has traded a bit-part role at a monster club for a role at Yankee Stadium that will see him start every day, and presumably captain NYCFC in their maiden season.
Lampard’s work ethic, dedication, and commitment have never been questioned. Roy Hodgson took him to the World Cup almost solely for his positive influence and leadership qualities.
That’s key, because there are two kinds of highly paid forgien designated players in MLS. Those who care, and those who don’t.
Those who care are great. The ones who don’t leave sour tastes in everyone’s mouths and rarely last a year.
There’s no danger Lampard will be nothing but class on the field and off it. Of course, Lampard’s influence as a barnstorming, goal-scoring attacking player has waned as his age has advanced, but his overall influence remains huge.
As Lampard has gotten older, he’s dropped further and further back into a defensive midfield role – he even reinvented himself into a hard-running defensive midfielder at times under Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 – using that supreme intelligence and terrific passing ability to pull the strings.
Lampard’s vision for the game is why a partnership with Xavi, which now looks far away from happening – was a dream for soccer purists.
Where Lampard will be deployed for NYCFC will be interesting. He could play a sort of Pirlo role at the back of the famous Jason Kreis diamond, in a similar position to where Kreis deployed Kyle Beckerman in Salt Lake, which could save Lampard’s legs as he adjusts to the rigors of the MLS schedule.
But Lampard was never better than he was as an attacking player, and putting him behind David Villa and another quality striker could wreck havoc.
Lampard is pure class. That tells in any league, at any age, and at every level of the game.
Lampard probably won’t be in New York City past the 2016 season. He’s not necessarily a long-term investment.
But it’s good for New York City that Lampard is on board now, as the franchise gets up and running. There is a question over NYCFC’s identity – the worry is that a club owned and operated at the top levels by Manchester City and the New York Yankees will be all glitz will little substance to back it up.
The hiring of Jason Kreis and Claudio Reyna to lead the soccer operations of the team repealed that niggling doubt somewhat, but rumors that Kreis hadn’t even met David Villa until after his signing threw again into question who is really in charge at the club.
Lampard’s signing is in large part about culture. At his age, Lampard isn’t a player to build the club around, but he is a player who can and should establish what the club stands for.
Interestingly, as Lampard’s end with Chelsea, and presumably England, has brought a sort of wistful cascade of praise and approval for Lampard.
Comments have included that Lampard was easily the most stomachable part of Chelsea during the Roman Abramovich era, and the club may have had many more supporters if he, instead of John Terry, had been captain.
Lampard leaves his home country with nothing but well wishes and heartfelt praise – a rarity for a footballer in that country.
It will be interesting to see what NYCFC does with their last designated player signing. If that signing doesn’t come before this summer transfer window ends, it could mean that Xavi is still in play in January.
If the Catalan is totally out of the picture, there are a wide range of players the club could look at.
NYCFC is on its way. By just showing up and doing what he does, Lampard is a model professional. If he takes the lead and plays up to his ability, New York City will have the pillar of their new soccer club.
Meanwhile, former USMNT and current Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Brad Friede, expects more players to make the move to the MLS in the future: