Manchester United, PSG, Juve or LA Galaxy: Where Next For Frank Lampard?
United’s weakness in central midfield is well-known. An unappreciated reality is that Lampard has grown more cerebral as he has got older, using the ball with increasing sensibility and adroitness. Never having relied on pace, Lampard’s real skill as an attacking midfielder was that he could run up and down the pitch all day. With that no longer the case, he has adapted his game to great effect and could certainly do a job for Manchester United.
Furthermore, Sir Alex Ferguson is known to value dressing room experience highly. If Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes finally call it a day, United will be left short in that department. Signing Lampard on a Bosman would fill the void left by the veterans with no real expense incurred. If Lampard going to Old Trafford seems ridiculous, just imagine how implausible it once seemed to imagine Michael Owen or Robin Van Persie walking out in the red of United.
With Chelsea baulking at Lampard’s current wage demands, the likelihood of United meeting them is low. Ferguson is likely to offer a similar package to the one he gave Michael Owen – a rolling deal with a minimal basic wage and high incentives – and hope that the challenge of continued Premier League and European football is enough to entice Lampard.
While United will continue to struggle in the Champions League unless they add a dominating presence to their midfield, Lampard is not really the type of player they need. At Old Trafford he would either play in a deep, dictating midfield role or as a substitute ghosting into the box. These roles are better filled by Michael Carrick and Shinji Kagawa.
A move to the French capital would appeal for numerous reasons. Any contract with PSG is all but certain to be more lucrative than the deal on offer at Chelsea. He would be re-united with Carlo Ancelotti, a manager under whom he enjoyed his most productive seasons. With Ashley Cole likely to make the same journey, the move would gain footballing credibility.
Most importantly – at least in sporting terms – is that going to a league in which football played at a slower pace would suit his new style and prolong his career. For most players, the chance to play with Zlatan Ibrahimović would be a temptation in itself. In terms of using his experience, moving to Paris would allow Lampard to aid in the development of the hugely talented Javier Pastore and Marco Verratti.
Lampard is a proud man and would prefer to see out his career at a level he considers the highest. That would mean staying in the Premier League. While Paris Saint-Germain are a coming force and could foreseeably be dominating European football in five or six years, Lampard does not have that much time left in the game.
Additionally, PSG are well-stocked in the midfield department, with Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Clément Chantôme complimenting the aforementioned Pastore and Verratti. Lampard would be an expensive and inessential signing and, with Financial Fair Play on the horizon, a very unlikely one.
“They would be mad to let him leave Chelsea, he's still one of the best in the world,” said Andrea Pirlo yesterday, “If he wants to play in Italy I would welcome him to Juventus with open arms. Lampard could have another four years at the top in Italy.”
Indeed he would. As with Ligue 1, Serie A’s slower pace would allow him to play the game at his own pace. Juventus would be the perfect Italian club for him, too: their physical, all-action style matches Lampard’s. What's more, Antonio Conte’s revival of Pirlo’s career suggests that he could pull off a similar trick with Lampard, who would jump at the chance to play four more years in his trademark goalscoring role.
Despite Pirlo’s admiration of the Englishman, Lampard and Juventus would be an awkward fit off the pitch. While Lampard is famous for his work ethic, he is simply too big a personality to include in the same side as Serie A heavyweights like Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Mirko Vučinić. Bianconeri manager Antonio Conte is likely to plump for younger, lesser lights.
Away from football, with clubs from Paris, Los Angeles and Melbourne having confirmed their interest, Lampard would be loath to move to the cold industrial wilderness that is Turin. Apologies to any Torinese readers, but your city is not all that.
Los Angeles Galaxy
With David Beckham gone and Landon Donovan rumoured to be planning a last hurrah away from the Home Depot Center, the Galaxy have a free space in their squad for a Designated Player. The standard and pace of the game would suit Lampard and a move to LA would be hugely profitable.
The challenge of maintaining the momentum built by Beckham’s American career is appealing to both club and player. With Major League Soccer looking to turn away from attention-grabbing celebrity-worship and put down proper soccer roots, Lampard – a model professional respected by seasoned viewers – would be a welcome arrival.
From the player’s point of view, the problem with football in Major League Soccer is the lack of respect it gets in Europe. As Beckham found, playing regularly in America is not as respected as sitting on the bench in the Premier League. With Lampard desperate to play in World Cup 2014, he would have to be forcibly retired from international duty by Roy Hodgson before he considers moving to the United States.
For the Galaxy and MLS, Lampard’s name may not have enough gravitas. While they would definitely rather sign a player who prioritises football over enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle, Beckham’s replacement still has to be a bona fide headline-grabber. They are therefore more likely to pursue Kaka' or Wesley Sneijder.
Still the most likely eventuality is that of Lampard signing a new deal and ending his career at Stamford Bridge. While he probably does not have quite as much to offer the Blues as most media outlets – read: friends of Lampard’s – suggest, the run to Champions League glory proved that he can do a job for them as a deep-lying midfielder, in both attacking and defensive capacities.
The fans are desperate for him to stay and if he is willing to accept a substantial pay cut – and to stop getting managers sacked whenever he feels like it – Lampard will remain a Blue for years to come.
Roman Abramovich is understandably desperate to remove big egos from the first team and create an environment in which a manager can impose his personality. Players like Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry have made it their mission to have as much input as possible and have seen off a succession of bosses by instigating training ground mutiny whenever they see fit. Chelsea would be better off without such a toxic influence.
The money on offer elsewhere could turn his head, too. The current thinking is that Lampard would accept less than half of his current weekly wage to stay with Chelsea, but with colossal sums likely to be thrown his way between now and June, he could not be blamed for walking away from a club that resents his presence and making more money in the process.