Loyalty Means Nothing – and Lamps Is The Worst Of The Lot

“I understand why Manchester United fans booed me,” Rio Ferdinand said after the last game of the 2004-2005 season. “I’ve heard I’m being greedy but some of the figures thrown about are ridiculous. I was accused of asking for £150,000 a week. I wouldn’t insult the club like that. I can assure everyone I will not be going to Chelsea and want to sign for United again.”

Still, this didn’t stop sections of United fans persisting to boo Ferdinand throughout the pre-season, up until him signing a contract just before the next season started.

It took years for most reds to finally forgive him, whilst many still don’t have much time for him. Playing for our club is an honour and if you can’t recognise that, you’re usually out the door.

What irked United fans more than anything though was that he’d missed 8 months of playing time due to his forgetfulness over a drugs test. How dare he stall on contract talks after being out of action for so long, in a season that saw us crumble away to finishing third and empty-handed.

Ferdinand’s situation wasn’t helped any by the fact the Glazer takeover had just gone through. We felt like the soul of our club had been ripped out and replaced with the ever-looming presence of commercialisation and money making ploys. Rio’s decision to push the club for more dosh couldn’t have come at a worse time for the fans, who were already sick to the back teeth of hearing about money in football.

Still, Rio has redeemed himself somewhat since then, showing great commitment to the club, as well as excellent form. If nothing comes of the incident which occurred following the Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge towards the end of last season, Ferdinand will rightly be named captain of England in a couple of months time, following a long stint of high praise from the media, who not so long ago were ripping him apart.

In April, Ferdinand put pen to paper on another contract extension which will likely see him to the end of his playing career.

“Manchester United is a fantastic club and I am delighted I have signed a new contract,” said Ferdinand after signing. “It is a great honour to be part of this trophy winning team and to share in the success, which I am sure, will continue for many seasons to come.”

Now, the topic of player loyalty is close to many football fans’ hearts at the moment, with United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexander Hleb, as well as Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry, all making frustrating comments in the press about their futures.

It seems as if all the above players are seeking moves away from the current clubs this summer and have used a wide range of tactics to ensure their transfers go through.

According to reports in Portugal, Ronaldo likened himself to “a slave”, following FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s insane comments last week. Hleb has tried a more gentle approach, not wanting to be a hated man, by claiming London is too busy for him (in contrast to the quiet life Barcelona has on offer?). Adebayor has apparently claimed he deserves the top wage Thierry Henry was on before he left, following one good season with the club. After dedicating his career so far to Villa, Barry wants to taste Champions League football, but in the process, again to avoid being a hate figure, has blamed Martin O’Neill for not making enough effort to keep him as the reason why he’ll be off this summer.

The player, above all, that I’ve really taken an issue with though is Frank Lampard, in his disgraceful handling of renewing his contract with the club he supposedly loves. For three years he has been telling the club he is going to sign a new contract, yet now, with time running out, he is stalling in a big way.

Every summer for the past few years, Lampard has been linked with a move to one of the top clubs in Europe, and every summer he was quick to insist he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Now it appears as though he was just biding his time.

“Don’t let there be any confusion – I am at Chelsea until 2009 and, in a few months, I’ll knock at Mr Abramovich’s door again,” Lampard said in November 2005. “I’ve got everything I need at Chelsea – it’s a big club with big targets and magnificent fans.”

Months later, Lampard again reiterated his desire to stay with the club past his current deal, claiming he was “very loyal” to Chelsea.

“When I began my career I wanted to get to the top and I left all my options open,” Lampard said in December 2005. “I didn’t want to think my career would go one particular way or another. But now I am a Chelsea player. I’m very loyal and concentrate 100 percent on the team I’m with.”

It was announced in May 2006 that Chelsea would be opening contract talks with the midfielder still having a further three years remaining on his contract. Following Chelsea’s title parade, Lampard insisted he had no intention of leaving the club. “No chance of that [him leaving],” Lampard said. “I am very happy and days like this makes me realise just how happy I am at the club.”

A few months later, Lampard cited his relationship with his teammates and the fans as the reason why he was going to stay on.

“I am very content,” Lampard said in August 2006. “I see myself staying at Chelsea. I have too much of a relationship with my teammates and the fans. I also have a high regard for what the club have done for me. I’ve got three years left on my present deal so I’m not going to batter the door down.”

Months later, with still no deal signed, Lampard reassured the fans that he wasn’t going to leave. He even had a dig at the clichés that come with being a modern-day footballer, insisting he wasn’t that type of player.

“I want to stay at Chelsea,” Lampard said in March 2007. “I have never wanted to leave the club and I don’t intend to. I have everything I want in life where I am right now. For the past six years my life has been my family and Chelsea Football Club. Some players can say that and it sounds clichéd or fake. I can say it because it is absolutely true. I am very proud I play for Chelsea and of what I have achieved as part of the team. I’m very happy at Chelsea, they’ve been the best days of my career.”

A year closer to Lampard’s contract needing renewal and still nothing has been signed. Days before the Champions League final, Lampard was insistent that he was happy and that he would be staying.

“I’m very happy at Chelsea, they’ve been the best days of my career,” he said. “That (new contract) will be sorted out in the summer, hopefully.”

Yet here we are, three years after Lampard claimed he’d be knocking on Roman Abramovich’s door asking for a new contract, and he still has come nowhere near agreeing a deal with the club.

Losing out on the title to Manchester United over the past two years, as well as the Champions League final last season, coupled with Jose Mourinho’s departure and Lampard’s eagerness to be one of the world’s highest-paid players, has seen the player’s “loyalty” dwindle.

In contrast to players like Paul Scholes, who have no agent, yet willingly commit their future to the club, Lampard is willing to leave the club he’s professed to love for the past few years in order to get a larger salary elsewhere.

Whilst the rumours have come in thick and fast linking Lampard to a move which will see him reunite with former boss Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, the player has chosen to keep surprisingly quiet on the matter. It seems the fans that he claimed meant so much to him before now don’t deserve to be kept informed about where he intends to play next season.

“Inter? Let’s wait and see,” he said at the end of June. “For the moment I am here on holiday with my family, my future at Chelsea? I don’t know anything yet.”

Frank Lampard’s agent, Steve Kutner, has claimed that Lampard is holding out for a five-year contract at Chelsea, which the club are unprepared to offer.

“What Chelsea fans have to understand, is the club has refused to offer him the five-year deal he wants, and he has always said that if he could not finish his playing career at Chelsea he would like to try his luck abroad,”
he said.

For a 30-year-old at one of the top clubs in Europe to make such a request seems pretty outlandish. If you are to take this request seriously, you’d have to assume Lampard rates his importance to Chelsea far higher than he should. If you were to be more cynical, you could say Lampard is asking for something he knows he won’t get, therefore hoping the blame for his leaving will be placed on Chelsea’s shoulders, not his own.

Whilst they are just reports in the paper, the club is apparently offering Lampard a 4-year-deal worth £140,000 a week, however his ego might be too fragile to contemplate earning £40,000 less a month than pal John Terry.

Like the want away players at other Premiership clubs, Lampard is happy to play the blame game too, not wanting his desire to leave Chelsea to reflect badly on himself.

“Frank has had seven wonderful years at the club and does not want to sour relations with Chelsea fans,” continued his agent. “But he fears if he is forced to remain at the club he is going to be given a hard time by some supporters because of the breakdown in talks.”

United and Arsenal fans may grumble about their less than committed players this summer, but there is a striking difference between their situation and that of Chelsea fans.

As a red, I never expected Ronaldo to see out his career with our club. Whilst he claimed he was “delighted” to have signed an extension last April, that would see him at the club until he was 28, nobody truly expected him to see it out. At best, we hoped we’d hang on to him for a few more years, but we all knew he wasn’t going to stay with us forever, as he has made it clear throughout his time at United that he one day wanted to play in Spain. It is my opinion that he owes us at least another season, after he has enjoyed just one season, out of the five he has spent developing at United, as the best player in the world. However, I can’t claim to be surprised that he is talking of a move away from the club now.

In contrast, Lampard led Chelsea fans to believe he was one of them, a true blue, who has gone from the average player he was at West Ham to, at one stage, the 2nd best player in the World (according to FIFA). For years, he has led them on, telling them he will sign a contract, claiming he loves the club, that he loves them, and couldn’t ever envisage leaving them.

Last summer, before this commitment issue really started to spiral out of control, people were beginning to notice that Lampard was happy to talk the talk, but wasn’t able to walk the walk (or, sign the contract). There was an article in The Daily Mail which caught my eye.

There was a moment the other evening when it seemed that Frank Lampard had forgotten his script. The ball was in the back of the Reading net and the Chelsea player was reeling away in celebration. Then he stopped and remembered what celebrity footballers do on such occasions. He grabbed his shirt and kissed the club badge.

Badge-kissing demeans both the kisser and those who are, by patronising implication, kissed. In short, it gives insincerity a bad name. Some will tell you that this tasteless flamboyance is explained by Lampard’s reluctance to sign a new contract.

It is reported that Chelsea are currently paying him around £115,000, that they have offered him £130,000,and that he believes he is worth £135,000. These, remember, are his weekly wages, and should not be confused with lottery winnings.

He has repeatedly insisted that his failure to sign has absolutely nothing to do with money, yet there are those who continue to doubt him. So he strives to demonstrate his loyalty by giving the badge a great, slurping smacker at every opportunity. And the more he does it, the less convincing he seems.

Chelsea have already turned down two bids from Inter Milan for Lampard, but it surely is now more a question of when, rather than if, the midfielder will leave the Premiership. I, for one, am intrigued to see how an English player will cope abroad, following limited numbers of our nationals making the move to other European leagues. However, if I was a Chelsea fan, I’d be pig sick.

They have stood by him through thick and thin. As the fickle England fans have berated him time and again, even resorting to booing him on occasion, the Chelsea fans, who often are supporters of their country to the core, have defended him. When questions first started to rise over whether he was as committed as he’d like to make out, they confidently stood behind him, positive he’d sign a new contract.

Whilst part of me enjoys seeing the disappointment of Chelsea fans, as well as the decrease in popularity for possibly my most despised player in the league, I am too much of a football fan to delight in this situation entirely. We have slowly become accustomed to foreign players using our clubs as stepping stones to greater heights and though this is still not pleasant, it is understandable. Didier Drogba will probably leave Chelsea this summer, but that is accepted, as he came to Chelsea for the money and success, and he will leave for exactly the same reasons. It is a different story for players like Lampard though, who was born on just the other side of town from the club he has just spent the past 7 years playing for.

Sadly, with the direction in which football is headed, we’ll see far more stories like Frank Lampard’s, and no matter who you support, you cannot take any delight in depressing predictions like that.

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