Frank Lampard needs some of Jamie Carragher’s dignity
The higher you go, the harder you fall. This maxim is applicable to many things in life – look at Nick Clegg – but nowhere is it more publicly pertinent than in the goldfish bowl that is the modern-day Premier League. And it appears that no-one is cursing its resonance with greater conviction than Frank Lampard.
Following Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Manchester City on Monday, Lampard, who appeared as a second-half substitute and grabbed the winner from the penalty spot, offered a telling insight into his struggles with recent banishment to the Stamford Bridge bench. He said: “I want to play, simple as that. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been. I’ve been in a good run of form and now I’ve not been playing. I haven’t spoken [to Villas-Boas] so I don’t know [why], simple as that.”
For over a decade, Lampard has represented a bastion of professionalism, the epitome of hard-working, the personification of team player. It’s when considering these traits that the above comments make for surprising reading, revealing a sense of selfishness which under-pressure manager Villas-Boas could do without. The 33-year-old need only look north to Anfield to see how a dethroned club stalwart should conduct oneself when faced with the ever-nearing prospect of professional mortality.
Since returning from injury, Jamie Carragher, a man nailed on for a first-team place when fit for the past 11 seasons, has failed to displace one of Daniel Agger and Martin Škrtel at the heart of the Liverpool defence. Manager Kenny Dalglish has been correct to retain this partnership, with Liverpool conceding just three goals in six league games in Carragher’s absence. And how has Carragher, famously one of the biggest personalities in the Anfield dressing-room, reacted to this? By eschewing reference to his own personal contributions and pointing instead to the success of the team in his absence.
“I am not the future of Liverpool. Daniel Agger, Martin Škrtel and Sebastian Coates are,” he told the Telegraph.
“Over the last decade if I had missed a match I would have gone straight back into the team when available. This time I didn’t and I have to accept it, agree with it and understand it. I was out for a couple of weeks and the lads who came in did really well. I’ve always said mental strength is important in every player and this is another test of that.
“You want to be involved and you’re disappointed when you are not, but I am aware my situation is changing over the next few years.”
There comes a time in every footballer’s career when they no longer find themselves indispensable. Aside from realising that Father Time is starting to catch up with him, Carragher has rightfully posited the greater importance of the team over his personal omissions.
There are very few examples of players who can command an unquestioned right to a first-team berth at the age of 33 – most realise that the ageing process requires an acceptance of a changing role, in a positional sense, or in terms of vitality to the first-team. And Lampard is no exception.
Be it by accident or by design, Chelsea’s recent domestic and European resurgence has coincided with Lampard’s demotion to the dugout – he was limited to a mere 97 minutes playing time and one start over the course of four matches (against Wolves, Newcastle United, Valencia and Manchester City).
Villas-Boas, simultaneously tasked with revitalising an ageing squad and imbuing a greater sense of aesthetic beauty, has initiated the phasing out of Lampard as a means of taking him forward to his eventual goal. With Villas-Boas looking to step away from the Mourinho blueprint – the blueprint that has served Chelsea so well over the last seven years – the occasional sacrificing of Lampard appears to be a necessary evil.
Since joining Chelsea in the summer of 2001, Lampard has averaged an impressive 33 Premier League starts a season (even then, this figure is skewed by atypical injury lay-offs in 2010/11 and 2007/08), enjoying an almost unrivalled status at Stamford Bridge over the past decade, insurmountable at the apex of Chelsea’s midfield. Yet over 500 appearances and six managers later, it appears as though his crown is beginning to slip.
Frank Lampard is not ‘finished’. By the same token, Monday night’s successful penalty does not prove that ‘Frank is Back’ either. Alan Shearer could probably still thwack a penalty.
However, Lampard’s star is on the wane, and how he deals with this process presents his biggest challenge. What’s almost certain is that he, and his beloved club, could both benefit if he opts to choose a more selfless approach.
By Zarif Rasul. Follow him on twitter at www.twitter.com/zarifrasul