Almost every football fan has a hero, someone to look up to, someone to imitate, someone to brag about, and someone to name their son after. Most such idols and legends have forged such an identity for themselves after years of hard work, many brilliant performances and immeasurable dedication to their team. When these legends do choose to hang up their boots however, most face a dilemma, what next?
Some of them choose to become pundits and experts, some coach, and some spend their time with “booze, birds and cars”, but how legends spend their post-retirement years is not what we’re concerning ourselves with here, it’s how they’re treated just before they retire.
The argument, especially in light of Frank Lampard’s recent contract situation, is that clubs ought to treat their legends as if they’re made of something else. Apparently these legends must be given adequate game time in order to allow them to strut their royal stuff for the adoring millions apart from new contracts at par with the top performing top earners of the club, in addition to praises being lavished upon them every two weeks in the media.
While the above may be an exaggeration, the point is that there are many calls to treat legends (see Frank Lampard) differently from others. Don’t get me wrong, as a Chelsea supporter I love Frank Lampard and respect everything he has done for the club, but I fail to see why he, or any other legend, merits special treatment, especially in the ultra-competitive environment that is the BPL. The oft cited example of how Scholes and Giggs are treated by Ferguson, leading to so much success doesn’t really hold good, because if anything, these legendary players are pushed harder than the rest of the squad in order to keep them hungry, and competitive.
“He treats all the players as equals. Even Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville get it”
-Nani about Sir Alex Ferguson in 2009.
Every club wants, craves and exists for success. Every club exists in order to win trophies, and if this is to be achieved, no player, no matter how legendary, can be bigger than the club. By the same logic, a club, and the ego of those who run it cannot be allowed to influence the decision making process, and the composition of the squad. By “those who run it”, I refer to the board room members, like the director of football, CEO and other such executive officials. As far as team tactics and squad composition go, there’s only one opinion that counts- the manager’s.
So, if a club decides to sell a player, or to not offer a contract extension/renewal, it should be because that serves the best interests of the club in terms of team composition and dressing room atmosphere, not because of the player’s age, regardless of his status among the fans and the press. Any post retirement benefits, like retiring a shirt, should be dealt with post retirement.
Dealing specifically with Lampard, I personally believe that this is a step in the right direction.
Yes, Frank Lampard is a fantastic player who has done well for us for a number of years, and what he provides in goals, and a presence on the pitch can never be replaced, but eventually, he has to go, so he might as well go now, before things turn sour or ugly.
In terms of his performance, his vision has certainly improved, and his passing has too, but in my opinion, he doesn’t seem to have the legs to control the midfield like he did, say 4-5 years ago. Apart from this, his speed, on and off the ball, have also reduced considerably. In a team that relies on getting the ball to the triumvirate of players who operate in the final third as quickly as possible, his role as a central midfielder becomes very important in terms of work rate and passing. He, along with his partner, is required to stop counter attacks, and break up the play as soon as possible. This, requires legs and stamina, which Lampard doesn’t seem to have, resulting in the defence not being protected enough. On the other hand, the ball needs to reach offensive players as soon as possible, and here, Lampard slows play down, often leading to the disintegration of attacks.
Apart from the on field worries, there are also the off field problems. His qualities as a leader and a motivator are undisputed, however, his speculated role in the departure of Andre Villas Boas from the club last year are a cause for worry. Many reports indicate that Lampard was a part of a coterie of senior players who forced AVB (who’s turning out to be a pretty good manager at Spurs) out of the club, and accusations of player power at Chelsea FC were rife. If these reports are indeed true, one must applaud the board for standing up to player power.
Even in the past, clubs have parted ways with their legends in order to gain success. Real Madrid let Raul and Guti go when it was perceived that their influence was too powerful, and even recently, Jose Mourinho dropped Casillas for what many believe are similar reasons (despite what Jose says). Even though the jury is still out on those decisions, the club’s mentality must be praised.
Manchester United, a very successful club, has never been afraid to cut their heroes loose. The club has continued to be a force, and the size of the trophy collection didn’t stop increasing even after the departures of Keane, Stam, Beckham, van Nistelrooy, C. Ronaldo and a number of others.
The moral of the story is to treat every player as an equal, regardless of their status among the fans, for at least as long as they’re still plying their trade at the club. Respect is obviously due to certain influential characters, but such respect can be reserved for testimonial matches and tributes, rather than undeserved contracts.