London – With both ankles heavily strapped in gauze and white tape, Frank Lampard made a late run for the East Stand reception a few minutes before kick-off on Sunday.
He was clutching match tickets for friends, arriving just in time for them to take their seats to watch his 500th start in the Barclays Premier League. He marked the occasion with another trademark finish, arriving unannounced – as is the norm – on the edge of Villa’s penalty area.
It was Chelsea’s fourth goal, prompting the captain’s immediate substitution to save those aching limbs ahead of the Boxing Day trip to Norwich City.
By then, he had played a part in Fernando Torres’s superb headed opener and provided the corner that led to Branislav Ivanovic putting Chelsea 3-0 ahead before the break.
At 34, the joints need some encouragement with a pre-match rubdown, before Chelsea physio Eva Carneiro arrives to bandage his battered ankles.
He was wrapped up in a Chelsea benchwarmer before the hour mark, unwinding all that tape and earning a pat on the back from Rafa Benitez.
A chant of ‘Sign him up’ bounced around the stands when he was replaced by Ramires, and it is impossible to disagree with Chelsea’s supporters. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the new breed at Stamford Bridge as they rattled in the goals against Aston Villa, Chelsea adding four more after Ramires replaced him.
Lampard had stood level, on 129 goals, with Bobby Tambling as the club’s leading top-flight scorer before he beat Brad Guzan from long range 13 minutes into the second half.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done in my Chelsea career and I will just continue working game by game because I believe I still have a lot left in me,” said Lampard. “When the fans sing my name, it means everything because they are the club – and I love them.” Back in 2010, after Chelsea had won the title under Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian told Lampard he could prolong his playing career at the club “until you are 38 or 39”.
They had mapped him in pre-season, bringing the techniques used at the famous MilanLab – the ones that kept Paolo Maldini going like an old shire horse until he retired at 41 – to Chelsea.
Since Lampard made his £11.5million move from West Ham in 2001, he has been one of the most distinguished and disciplined players in the Premier League. Even at his statesmanlike age, options are still emerging for him.
With every touch in his refined position just in front of Chelsea’s back four, Lampard has Victor Moses, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Torres in his field of vision.
Off the pitch, he is being seduced by his former coach Claudio Ranieri, now at Monaco, and by LA Galaxy after David Beckham left at the end of the MLS season.
Although Monaco, now in French Ligue 2, cannot match his £130,000-a-week salary, they can offer him a huge tax free income.
It is appetising, as is the offer to replace Beckham as one of the marquee signings in MLS.
Although LA Galaxy’s season does not get under way until March, Lampard will wait until his contract ends before moving to another club.
His young children live in London and he has always made it clear they are his priority, but it is understood a move abroad is no longer out of the question.
As he ticked over in Chelsea’s midfield alongside David Luiz on Sunday, it has become clear that the countdown is on.
It is incredible to think Chelsea have allowed this situation to develop after Lampard’s 11 amazing years at Stamford Bridge.
Just days after they lifted the European Cup in May, chief executive Ron Gourlay publicly claimed that Lampard’s contract would be extended “by September”. At the time, it appeared to be nothing more than an administrative issue, a matter for Gourlay’s in-tray as Chelsea became accustomed to their new status as champions of Europe.
Instead, it is still pending, put off until the owner Roman Abramovich decides one way or the other.
“The club’s position is the club’s position,” added Lampard. Undoubtedly, Chelsea are leaving it a bit late. – Daily Mail