Frank Lampard and Chelsea: We have a few questions

FourFourTwo.com editor Gary Parkinson on the Frank Lampard contract saga...

Would Lampard (or his agent) accept a wage drop?

It is widely believed that Lampard's current deal, agreed in 2008, is worth £150kpw. That's still among the highest remunerations in world football, and represents a £7.8m annual commitment, before goal bonuses, win bonuses, trophy bonuses and any signing-on fee. With Lampard turning 35 in summer, he surely can't command that much compensation. The question is whether he (or his agent) will insist on continuing at that level, or would prefer to open negotiations with other interested parties.

There may be a warning from history here. In summer 2010, Lampard's old Chelsea and West Ham team-mate Joe Cole – then 28 – left Stamford Bridge after failing to cut a deal, amid rumours he was demanding a six-figure weekly wage. Despite being linked with Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham – all teams competing in the Champions League the following season – Cole ended up at Liverpool; his career stalled to the extent that this month he has willingly accepted a contract cancellation to rejoin the Hammers on much lower wages.

Do Chelsea need to make a stand?

Not long after the Roman Abramovich-funded transfer spending spree boosted Chelsea into the European elite – financially, if not initially on the field – the club announced a long-term intention to break even. The resultant guffaws were barely stifled, but in the era of Financial Fair Play – not an ivory-tower desire, but a UEFA directive which can exclude clubs from European competition – clubs need to bring their salary expenditure into line with their income.

As Chelsea remain unable to find a suitable new stadium to boost their revenue, they need to literally cut their losses. Player wages are an enormous part of their overheads, and the Blues cannot simply sign blank cheques: they, like any other club, need to balance how much they pay different players. 

For £150kpw, they could pay two or three wages: the very necessary Demba Ba is said to be on a 'mere' £75kpw. Looked at another way, it could well be that Chelsea have already allocated the 'Lampard' money for next season: they signed a lot of players last summer and are in the process of renewing contracts for several important first-teamers.

If Lampard leaves, who takes his place? A signing?

Probably not. Although you might not peg Chelsea as a model club, they have at least carried out one classic piece of long-term management strategy by signing replacements in advance. Two summers ago they got Juan Mata for £23.5m and a five-year deal which is set to be improved and extended; last summer, they added three more attacking midfielders in an unmistakable game of hunt-the-successor.

Marko Marin may not have overly impressed as yet, and despite his £25m pricetag Oscar is more one for the future than the immediate present, but Eden Hazard was a major investment for a 21-year-old – £78m in total, according to the Telegraph. That's a substantial investment in much younger players than Lampard.

Even if the England man was to adapt his game into a deeper position, there's a fair amount of competition there: roadrunner Ramires, dependable Mikel, redeployed Luiz, promising McEachran. None have Lampard's lustre, but neither do they demand his lucre.

If Chelsea were only to renew one contract – Lampard or Ashley Cole – who should they keep?

The England left-back is also out of contract and has apparently taken umbrage at only being offered a one-year extension, in line with Abramovich's apparent new policy for thirtysomethings. Cole has just turned 32, Lampard will be 35 in June. If finances dictate that only one player could be retained (and if Cole would accept the one-year deal), who is more likely to be important to Chelsea next season? It's not an easy answer, but a straw poll of Chelsea fans seems to indicate that while the heart says Frank, the head says Ashley.

Isn't this what Chelsea have needed for a while – rejuvenation?

For an age – probably since Jose Mourinho left, but possibly even before – there has been a strong suspicion that Chelsea's senior players hold too much power. Didier Drogba has gone, Lampard and Cole could be next, leaving Terry and Petr Cech as the only thirtysomething regulars left over from the Mourinho era. Given the club's huge investment in the next generation – Hazard, Mata, Oscar and Ramires, plus the five-year extension given to Mikel last summer, and that's just the midfielders – could it be that the next manager might at least be spared widespread dressing-room dissent, if not interference from above?

Can Chelsea learn anything from Manchester United?

Most clubs can, whether or not they care to admit it. Amusing as it might be to say "Yes: Give a manager long enough", Alex Ferguson's longevity means he has overseen the ageing of several club legends. Some have been cast aside (Mark Hughes, coincidentally to Chelsea); several have been absorbed into the club (Brian McClair) or farmed off to friendly pastures (Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce); and one or two are still on the playing staff.

Like Chelsea, United have a policy of only giving one-year contracts to thirtysomethings. In the case of Ryan Giggs, now 39, that's a lot of contracts. Paul Scholes (38) and Rio Ferdinand (34) are also running out of contract: that's three Old Trafford legends with more than 2,000 United appearances between them who are now free to talk to other clubs.

Yet compared to the Lampard saga there has been barely a peep about their futures. True, Giggs and Scholes are one-club 'lifers' but Ferdinand is similar to Lampard: ageing but competent and perfectly capable of commanding a large contract elsewhere. So why no noise? One answer is media management. Ferguson has never been one to bow to a press agenda, and once he has tersely dismissed a press-conference question over contract speculation the subject tends to die – especially when United rarely make their own noise on the topic.

By contrast, Chelsea appears a very leaky boat. Some of that is media mischief-making – Lampard's agent Steve Kutner denies the widely-circulated quotes about a lack of contract talks – but the club's image stands in stark contrast to United's respected hierarchy. That's hardly surprising when Chelsea continue to sack managers with startling rapidity, creating an atmosphere in which the players are more important than the notional 'boss'. Such a situation hardly ever occurs at Old Trafford, and when it does, the players usually don't last long: ask Messrs Keane and Beckham.

The United fans tend not to hold the passing of legends against their manager, who has had time to prove his own worth. Success brings a lot of forgiveness, and if Chelsea win the Premier League or Champions League next season without Lampard, the celebrations will hardly be muted by his absence.

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