The arrival of Andre Villas-Boas and a host of new signings this year have ushered in a new era at Stamford Bridge, an era in which it is unclear how heavily Frank Lampard will feature. In the exciting clash at Old Trafford he was ruthlessly subbed – with much justification - it was clear that Frank was well off the pace in one of Chelsea’s biggest games of the season. Things didn’t much improve against Fulham in the Carling Cup – he came off the bench to miss the first penalty in the shootout that the Blues went on to win. This was particularly distressing to see, as he has been such a reliable asset from the spot on so many occasions. Then in Chelsea’s comfortable 4 – 1 home win against Swansea, he was not required to feature at all – there were even whispers that he stormed out in anger following the exclusion.
Yes, it has been a rough couple of weeks for Frank Lampard and at the age of 33 it has raised eyebrows among football pundits. But I think Frank’s services to Chelsea are far from over. He has been a fantastic servant of the club and can continue to be so – but a key change has to be made. What has to happen is that he must be utilised correctly. What has to first be completely accepted is that Lampard is no longer a week in week out first team player. If he is played sparingly and happy to be used as such then there is every possibility that he can extend his career in a similar way to the great Ryan Giggs. Granted the two play a very different game but Sir Alex Ferguson has for several years now called upon Giggs on choice occasions and let’s face it – his approach has paid off. Anyone who saw Giggs’ fantastic display and exquisite goal against Leeds last week will agree that he is still a real positive to Manchester United.
I can definitely see Frank Lampard adopting a similar role at Chelsea. Twenty minutes from the final whistle in a knockout stage of the Champions League – Chelsea need a goal to progress. Who do you bring on? Who has based a career on popping up in the right place at the right time so well? Lampard could make the perfect impact player.
What has to first be completely accepted is that Lampard is no longer a week in week out first team player.
If he is willing to serve Chelsea in such a way then something Lampard should take into consideration is the prospect of international retirement. He is not regularly making the starting 11 for England any more and it certainly didn’t do Paul Scholes any harm – in fact it could be argued that this decision helped to bring Scholes a further Champions League medal in 2008. Again, the two play a different style of game. Scholes thrived on his vision to pick out the perfect pass (never did learn how to tackle though) and Lampard has always excelled in joining the attack and scoring goals. Trying to do this for 90 minutes a minimum of once a week is going to be a tall order without the yard of pace that he has so clearly lost. Despite the difference from the way Scholes used to play, the same principle of playing sparingly can apply to Lampard. Bring him off the bench, even start him if it seems right and we will still get a lot from Frank – just perhaps not the 15 goals plus per season that he has so reliably clocked up over the years.
AVB’s treatment of Lampard should be seen as a positive thing for Chelsea fans. Picking your team on form and not reputation is a bold and rare quality in football – an attitude more often seen in the selection of rugby squads. Can anyone else understand why Wayne Rooney started every game at last year’s World Cup? Don’t get me wrong the man is now on the form of his career but had Capello chosen on form not reputation then Rooney would not have got any closer to that pitch than the bench. Needless to say I am a personal fan of the philosophy that Villas-Boas has brought – it should be the right players for the right occasion – you cannot compete in all four competitions if you stick to a rigid first 11.
But going back to Lampard. AVB has made it clear that he is willing to drop him. The all-important flipside of this coin is whether or not Frank is happy to accept this new cameo role. If he can take enjoyment from it and not resent it, then Chelsea could still hold a dangerous weapon in the shape of Frank Lampard. Given Villas-Boas’ approach to team changes it will be very interesting and telling to see how Lampard features in the tough trip to Valencia in the Champions League.
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