By Greg Stobart at Stamford Bridge
Roman Abramovich has shown this year that he is not a man who pays much attention to supporters’ feelings, but even the Chelsea owner must have felt an emotional tug as Frank Lampard’s name rang around Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
‘Sign him up’ came the chant from the stands as they implored the club to extend Lampard’s contract beyond the summer on the day he made his 500th Premier League start and overtook Bobby Tambling as the Blues’ all-time leading scorer in league matches.
Lampard is a bona fide Chelsea legend, a modern footballing legend.
Here, as Chelsea demolished Aston Villa with a sensational 8-0 victory, he scored a superb goal with a typically crisp half-volley from 30 yards before receiving a standing ovation when he was substituted.
It was a display that showed the calls for Lampard to stay are about more than sentiment.
From January 1, the 34-year-old will be free to talk to foreign clubs about a Bosman transfer in the summer, with moves to every corner of the globe being mooted for the England international.
He is wanted from Los Angeles to China, France to Loftus Road.
The decision on where his future lies will ultimately rest with the player, but what is certain is that Chelsea should be doing their utmost to extend Lampard’s stay beyond its trophy-laden 11-and-a-half years.
The suggestion so far has been that the Blues are willing to let Lampard walk away on a free transfer at the end of the season, disappear into the sunset with happy memories as a core player in the most successful era in the club’s history.
But the former West Ham man is still proving his value to the team, and Chelsea would be utter fools to not at least try to persuade him to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge.
The likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have proved at Manchester United the worth of keeping players in the squad well into their 30s, provided they still have something to offer.
Lampard does. And he is a leader in the dressing room, a consummate professional, an example to the youngsters and a symbol of continuity during what has often been a turbulent time in west London.
Abramovich is keen to build a ‘new’ Chelsea team made up of young, dynamic players - but Chelsea cannot afford to completely forget what has brought them so much success since the Russian oligarch bought the club in 2003.
And it has not just been Abramovich’s cheque book. A core of Lampard, John Terry, Petr Cech and Ashley Cole - not to mention the now-departed Didier Drogba - formed the core of a squad that won Premier League titles, domestic trophies and, eventually, the Champions League.
If Lampard and Cole leave this summer, Chelsea are running the risk of breaking up the squad too soon, losing the winning mentality and cutting edge that only comes with experience. It is a mistake Arsene Wenger made at Arsenal when he swiftly dismantled his title-winning ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04.
And Lampard’s thoughts on his situation? "I believe I have a lot in me to go. The club's position is it's position, I don't want to get too deep into that. I'm here to play football and show people what I can do and I'll continue to do that."
The ultimate professional, a Chelsea legend. Sign him up.
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