Back in July, I wrote a column praising New York City FC’s signing of Frank Lampard.
Except now, more than five months later, it’s unclear if NYCFC ever really signed Lampard in the first place.
What we have here is a con for the ages. NYCFC unveiled a player that, in reality, signed with a different club. Then they plastered him on billboards, sold his presence to 11,000 and counting – though maybe not for long – season ticket holders, and told a fairytale about how committed their new player was to his new club.
It all fell apart this week, triggered by the inevitable happening – Lampard’s deal with Manchester City being extended at the 11th hour by the reigning Premier League champions.
That Lampard is staying at the Etihad for the rest of the season is as incredibly frustrating as it was foreseeable.
Was City ever really going to part with one of their key players in the middle of their season if they didn’t absolutely have to?
And was Lampard, in his last hurrah at the highest level of the game, expected to walk away from his team ahead of the knockout stages of the Champions League and the culmination of the Premier League title race?
No, absolutely not.
In a perfect world, Lampard would have stayed with Manchester City until the end of February, joining up with NYCFC for the start of the MLS season in March.
It’s hard to muster much anger at Lampard himself. He has done much better at City than even he could have expected, and has rediscovered the magic that has made him one of the best players in Premier League history.
Sure, NYCFC can take a sliver of solace in the knowledge that they have in fact signed a player who is still on top of his game – but Lampard at City was always something of a no-win for the MLS club.
Either Lampard would have been a bit-part player who didn’t make a real impact and NYCFC would have been lambasted for signing a washed up former star in search of a last paycheck, or Lampard would play so well that City would want to keep him for the rest of the season.
NYCFC’s handling of their other DP signing, David Villa, made more sense. Villa was shipped out to Australia for a few months to stay in shape before going through a full preseason in MLS.
Then again, NYCFC actually signed Villa, so they had a little more control.
As it turns out, Lampard signed with Manchester City. It’s the British club, not the American one, which owns Lampard’s contract.
Originally, there was a break clause in Lampard’s contract that would have terminated it on December 31st, but vacate the break clause, as City did today after negotiations with the Premier League and NYCFC, and the contract extends until the end of the season.
All Lampard ever signed with New York City was a pre-contract agreement.
So get this: While everyone assumed that Lampard was on a loan with Manchester City, Manchester City would, in fact, have to loan Lampard to NYCFC in order for Lampard to play in NYCFC’s first two months of the season.
Sounds an awful lot like fraud.
MLS comes out here with egg on its face. As of right now, NYCFC has no stadium and no real progress towards a stadium, and is looking an awful lot like Manchester City’s farm-team.
But the league was so eager to jump into bed with City and the Yankees’ money that they blew past the numerous red flags that had sprung up all around them – not to mention the obvious historic precedent for a sister club situation failing miserably in MLS.
As for NYCFC’s on-field chances in 2015, they took a hit too. Obviously, Lampard is still a top player, and he’s a top player who’ll be missing for his club for a crucial stretch of the season.
NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis said of midseason acquisitions back in July, “For me, players that enter in the middle of the season are typical fails. The chances for those players to really contribute meaningfully in the second half of a season in MLS are very, very small.”
It’s not just that Lampard will have no time to acclimate to his teammates before starting in competitive games in MLS; he’ll also be exhausted after a full European season. And with Lampard being 36 years old, that’s a key point.
Lampard isn’t blameless in the situation. He said all the right things when he was introduced with NYCFC, then turned tail and skipped out on his commitments with his new club for a year.
Lampard will most likely get booed when he makes his debut at Yankee Stadium in June. This is New York City, after all. They’re not going to stand for second-class status.
There is a way back for Lampard – David Beckham was jeered in LA after MLS refused to let him skip out on the league to join AC Milan, but Beckham won the city over by leading the Galaxy to two consecutive MLS championships.
But there’s a reason why the Galaxy are the class of the league. They stood up to their star. NYCFC, so far, are a farce.
Never mind that NYCFC’s fans were buying season tickets to watch a player that actually wasn’t on their team, and never mind that MLS looks like a joke on the world stage with NYCFC’s inferiority to their sister club Manchester City now well established.
The most astonishing thing we can say about the Lampard situation is this: Finally, in its posthumous life, somebody made Chivas USA look good.
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