Lampard enjoying new lease of life with Manchester City
No sooner had Frank Lampard retired from international football in August than the inevitable comments began.
He and Steven Gerrard, who had called time on his England years a month earlier, could not even do that together.
The two most productive English midfielders of their generation have had careers in parallel, rather than in harmony.
Forever similar, forever different, Lampard and Gerrard both began on the bench this weekend, although there was no suggestion of controversy at the City loanee’s position there.
Manuel Pellegrini makes a point of saying the veteran cannot start three games in a week, though few are suggesting he should.
Gerrard was omitted for the first time in the English Premier League this season and Brendan Rodgers was confronted with a barrage of questions about his captain.
Both came on to play a part in victories, Lampard conspicuously and Gerrard more inconclusively, although anyone who believes Liverpool are better off without the 34-year-old midfielder should be forced to watch repeats of Saturday’s dreadful first half against Stoke City until they recant.
There are significant differences in status: Lampard became a cause celebre at Chelsea but without a similar history at City it is easier to sideline him, while Gerrard is Liverpool’s living legend.
Lampard’s absence can be explained by the presence of players such as Yaya Toure, Gerrard’s cannot.
Now Lampard is one star among many and that seems to suit him – he is playing with a smile.
Gerrard looks as though he is weighed down by a thousand burdens as his hometown club struggle.
The older man is relishing a chance he probably thought had gone forever because when he agreed to sign for New York City FC, the 2015 addition to Major League Soccer, it seemed to bring down the curtain on one of the great English club careers.
The move to City was unexpected and notable initially for Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that it was an attempt to bypass their punishment for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.
It took Lampard a month to make his debut and when he did he was removed after 45 minutes at the Emirates Stadium.
It looked as though a few months at City would become an undignified coda, with age reducing a ubiquitous player to anonymity.
Instead, injuries to Fernando and Samir Nasri afforded an opportunity, which Lampard took. Now his loan is likely to be extended, which may test relations in City’s footballing family.
Pellegrini has belatedly confirmed the obvious, that he wants to keep the 36-year-old playmaker and why wouldn’t he?
A view sometimes heard among City fans is that they already knew Lampard was good, they just did not realise he was still this good. A magnificent professional has proved he remains a class act, on and off the pitch.
Pellegrini professes he is unsurprised by anything that happens. Privately, though, even he may be taken aback by the way Lampard has illustrated his enduring capacity to exert an influence in major matches.
Last week, with the notable exception of the sensational Sergio Aguero, he was their best player against Bayern Munich and his intelligence was apparent in each of the passes he directed over the Germans’ defence to exploit the Argentine’s acceleration.
He scored at Southampton on Sunday, making it five City goals in just 417 minutes on the pitch, which is one every 83 minutes. That is the sort of return most centre-forwards would envy.
His crisp, clinical strike at St Mary’s also elevated Lampard’s tally to 174 Premier League goals, only one behind the total of arguably the division’s greatest player, Thierry Henry.
His statistics would be remarkable for a striker, from a midfielder they are astonishing.
Like Gerrard, Lampard was moved deeper as he got older.
Jose Mourinho turned him into the world’s foremost goalscoring midfielder a decade ago, but he only delivered eight in 40 games in a restricted brief last season, while his 106th and last England cap came as a holding midfielder.
The attack-minded Pellegrini has reversed the trend by giving others the defensive duties and allowing Lampard to use his quality in the final third.
His reading of the game remains uncannily good; the finisher supreme has illustrated he is not finished.
A man who used to start every game has become an expert impact substitute and he seems to be savouring his bit-part role, playing each match as if it is his last.
Lampard has nothing to prove and everything to enjoy.
Perhaps there is a lesson there for Gerrard and for Rodgers.
The Liverpool skipper has endured difficulties as a defensive midfielder, but, like Lampard, he remains a craftsman. He has creativity and crossing ability, a defence-splitting pass and a fierce shot.
As the City man shows – a rival is a role model – an ageing great can carry on as a goal threat.
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Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM