London- Frank Lampard’s two-year love affair with New York City came to an end as Monday morning came with the news that the 38-year-old English midfielder will not return to the club after his $6m contract expires next month.
As NYC FC broke the news on their website – and Lampard posted a message on his Instagram account thanking the fans – the hashtag #ThankYouFrank was launched throughout the club’s social media pages as they paid tribute to his short albeit memorable time with the MLS franchise. Head coach Patrick Vieira, sporting director Claudio Reyna and members of the squad weighed in on the value of his legacy and what he meant to club while the Third Rail, the club’s supporter’s group, also showed their appreciation for his services on Twitter.
“Everybody talks about Frank’s goal-scoring record from midfield but I can tell you after a year of working with him, he brings so much more to a team than just goals,” Vieira told the club’s website. “What Frank has brought to the locker room is something just as – his experience, his elite mentality and his mentorship for the younger members of our squad have helped us greatly this year.”
In all honesty, Lampard’s departure leaves us perplexed because it’s hard what to make of his legacy with the club. Despite his reputable name and the incredible resume he brought with him, does Lampard’s “career” with New York leave a trail of injuries under the fifth most expensive contract in the league or are we saying goodbye to an NYC FC legend who helped the club drastically improve in its second ever season?
As a founding member and season ticket holder who lives 20 minutes from Yankee Stadium, I have witnessed his performances in every home match he has been a part of. I was in the stadium in May during the 7-0 destruction by the New York Red Bulls where fans cursed and yelled at him as he came on the 75th minute to replace Andrea Pirlo.
And I was also present when he scored his first career MLS hat trick against Colorado also making it the first in NYC FC’s history, an achievement not even David Villa has matched.
His total numbers were relatively impressive: Lampard netted 15 goals (12 of them scored this season) and three assists in 31 matches. During training, not many players worked harder than him and it’s fair to even say that Jack Harrison’s emergence this season is partly thanks to his guidance and mentorship. An August article by Jack Williams for Guardian US recalls how Lampard spent time with the young attacking midfielder away from the training ground when he was rehabilitating from a pelvic injury during preseason.
Judging by the conversation on social media, most fans are undoubtedly thankful for his services and feel lucky to have seen him play for the club. But perhaps Lampard’s journey with NYC FC begas a bigger question: Are aging designated players with high salaries worth the investment or would the money be better invested in cultivating young, home-grown talent?
Financially speaking, Manchester City-owned NYC FC don’t need to worry about over-indulging, but when you have have a club that fundamentally bases itself on Vieira’s philosophy of quick-possession, high-press soccer, should the strategy gear towards attaining younger players who can stay healthy? Bruce Arena is indeed asking himself this question as Los Angeles Galaxy prepare for life without Steven Gerrard.
The issue with Lampard’s complicated career with NYC FC, however, is that we don’t know what’s more important: his productivity or his physical limitations? No one doubts his obvious contributions when he is playing, but does it really make a difference if he’s there only half the time?
Frank Lampard is a player who will retire with an impressive reputation and he will go down in history as one of the greatest players of his generation, but as NYC FC look to the future, it’s in their best interest to rethink their strategy by building a squad who succeeds not just through reputable talent but with youthful determination that can fight through an MLS season.
As Woody Allen once said, 80% of success is showing up.