Frank Lampard, the highly decorated and lauded former Chelsea and England midfielder, was recently announced as the second major signing for forthcoming MLS expansion club, New York City FC. The money was obviously an attractive offer, just as it was with NYCFC’s first signing, Spanish striker David Villa, but the trouble is that the club won’t officially be part of Major League Soccer until next season. But the owners of NYCFC also happen to conveniently own Manchester City–so naturally they’ve decided to loan him to the Premier League club until January 2015. While it’s difficult to speculate if this was City football group’s intention all along, it has raised suspicions from fans, pundits, and even Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Wenger’s initial comments about Lampard’s loan move come on the tails of City’s UEFA-imposed sanctions over a breach of Financial Fair Play rules. The Frenchman appeared to only be speculating, but his comments (as usual) are much more calculated than he would have them appear. “They will register for the clubs where they will put them and they can go out on loan. Is it a way to get around the fair play? I don’t know.” In a possible attempt at unsettling Manchester City before the upcoming Community Shield match between the clubs, Wenger again took a calculated swipe at Lampard and City, suggesting that the distance between Chelsea and City was much shorter if you didn’t go to New York first. Again, it’s hard to speculate on City’s intentions in signing Lampard, and NYCFC officials have vehemently opposed the notion that they are simply a feeder club for Manchester City. It should also be noted that City’s FFP sanction includes a requirement of five homegrown players in its Champions League squad.
But does the Lampard situation actually violate the rules imposed by UEFA or the English FA? Manchester City and its parent group do not believe so. Wenger’s issue seems to be with the relatively new Financial Fair Play rule regarding a club’s wage increase per year. As of the upcoming season, Premier League clubs with wage budgets exceeding £56m for the season are only allowed to increase their wage budget by £8m. Wenger’s speculation seems to center on an assumption that Manchester City is allowing NYCFC to pay Lampard’s wages during his loan spell. Manchester City officials insist that the club is paying the player’s salary, and staying well within their allotted wage limit.
What this means is that Wenger’s suspicion is warranted, but ultimately false. Even though Manchester City and New York City FC are technically run independent of each other, the river of cash flowing into each has the same source. So yes, even if Manchester City does pay Lampard’s wages during his six-month loan, there are a number of loopholes that can be exploited without ever actually breaking any rules. So while Wenger is ultimately wrong in his accusations towards Manchester City, his comments succeeded in shifting attention away from the upcoming Community Shield match and provide a potential scapegoat should his side lose.