Chelsea’s new permanent manager conducted his first press conference since signing his two-year contract earlier this week and he was keen to stress that the lynchpin of Chelsea’s golden era still had a future at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard is here to stay and that can only be a good thing.
“Frank is a very fit man,” said Di Matteo. “As long as he doesn’t get injured he can play for many years. He’s been very influential towards the end of the season. He made some key passes and he performed very well.
“At a certain age of course he will need a longer recovery time. I don’t see any problems with him going on. The club will make the decision with Frank but certainly he’ll be here next season.”
The days of the midfield maestro being ostracised by Andre Villas-Boas are consigned to history. Images of him marshalling his team mates during backs-to-the-wall performances in the Champions League against Bayern Munich and Barcelona as well as injecting the necessary urgency into eye-catching FA Cup wins over Tottenham and Liverpool are much fresher in the memory. Lampard has adapted well to the demands of a deeper role, a versatility that appears to have secured his immediate future at the club with an array of younger players taking up the mantle in more advanced positions.
The arrival of Eden Hazard and Marko Marin has certainly set the pulse racing especially with Juan Mata expected to be even more influential following an excellent debut season in England. Should Brazilian wonderkid Oscar also join the ranks, as has been touted by newspapers and websites throughout the land, then Di Matteo will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting his creative outlets come matchday especially with Kevin De Bruyne and Lucas Piazon providing further competition for places. But with this influx of youth, there is always the concern that naivety can undermine even the most precocious of talents. That is where Frank comes in. His wealth of experience at the top level will prove invaluable to the stability of performances and his Premier League savvy will ease the frustrations of the younger players when the ball is not bouncing their way.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Di Matteo’s assertions are the thoughts of Roman Abramovich. It can be safely assumed that the Russian was reluctant to appoint Di Matteo as manager with his affections fixed on Pep Guardiola but with the Italian now in place we can be equally confident in assuming that part of his remit is to oversee the phasing out of the older players while ushering in a new era. It would be interesting to know whether Abramovich is of the same opinion that Lampard ‘can play for many years’ when a vibrant new team is principally what he is seeking. Ultimately, however, it will be up to the player himself to determine his future with his lucrative contract due to expire at the end of next season. Should he turn in a sufficient amount of impressive performances – and looking at his career to date there is no reason to think that he won’t – then he may well persuade Abramovich to keep him on the playing staff.
The only reason that Lampard’s future is even up for debate is the fact that he has just turned 34 years old – a time when footballers usually begin drawing their metaphorical pension. But then Lampard is not your average 34-year-old. ‘Big Fat Frank’ - as his detractors used to call him – is anything but and his incredible fitness record at Chelsea is blighted only by an injury that kept him out of the first few months of the 2010-11 season. His 164 consecutive appearances between October 2001 and December 2005 is still a Premier League record for an outfield player and even more impressive when you consider that he is a dynamic central midfielder with supposed weight issues.
Lampard’s longevity at the sharp end of the Premier League and Champions League has even earned him grudging praise from rival fans and doubters in recent months. Indeed it was notable that the knock that ruled him out of England’s Euro 2012 squad was met almost universally with dismay as opposed to the gleeful partisanship that would have been expected in years gone by. In the past many have thought him to be no more than an above-average player who was the fortunate beneficiary of playing in a Chelsea squad containing some of the world’s elite. They do not think that anymore. Several years ago, I remember talking to the football editor of a website not a million miles away from here who was adamant that Lampard was overrated. With the midfielder consistently delivering in the years since that conversation, it would be interesting to see if his standpoint still holds.
In my opinion, Frank Lampard is the greatest player in the history of Chelsea Football Club. Gianfranco Zola and Arjen Robben may have possessed more technical ability; Kerry Dixon and Bobby Tambling might have scored more goals (though that may yet change); Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti have made more appearances. But I would argue that nobody has had a greater influence on the team during the club’s most successful period since its formation in 1905. Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and, of course, the Champions League sit alongside 186 goals and countless assists in 558 appearances for the European Champions.
If anyone deserves the faith of the owner, the management and the fans, it is Frank Lampard.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell