Good luck replacing Frank Lampard
Bobby McMahon is the lead analyst for FOX Soccer Report, airing nightly at 10:00 p.m. ET on FOX Soccer Channel.
This season we have seen a number of Premier League clubs fall in love with older players. Paul Scholes' shock return to Old Trafford, Thierry Henry on loan at Emirates and Brad Friedel's move and subsequent excellent displays for Spurs all support the notion that when pressed, some managers will opt for "been there, done that" players rather than the often naive enthusiasm of youth.
Chelsea are running counter to that trend. The numerous managers that have followed in the footsteps of Jose Mourinho have pretty much relied on the same core group of players The Special One assembled during his time at Stamford Bridge. But it seems that the Chelsea brains trust has now bought into the notion that if you don't embrace change, decay is inevitable.
During the summer Andre Villas-Boas became the latest to enter the revolving door to the Chelsea manager's office. Clearly his mandate is to retool the team and to move older players on.
Nicolas Anelka has already headed east, while speculation continues about the future of Didier Drogba. Other players such as Ashley Cole, John Terry, and Florent Malouda are all on the other side of 30.
Frank Lampard also fits into the grouping, turning 34 this summer. This season, Lampard has seen his game time cut dramatically by injury (a calf problem has him doubtful for Sunday's match against Manchester United) but also, for the first time in many a season, he has not always been the manager's first choice.
With every appearance on the bench - and sometimes in the stands - the rumor mill has cranked up another notch. Manchester United was rumored to be ready to take Lampard to Old Trafford - more a product of a fertile imagination than a real possibility. The "Lampard to LA Galaxy" chat is more gossip currently getting some play.
But with all talk of the present and of what the future might hold, it’s easy to forget how good a player Frank Lampard has been for Chelsea. Simply put, Lampard has given Chelsea something that no other Premier League club has had over the last decade - a consistent scoring threat from midfield.
Lampard is a goal short of hitting double figures in the Premier League for the ninth consecutive season. Starting in 2003-04 with 10 goals, he has recorded 13, 16, 11, 10, 12, 22, and 10 in the preceding Premier League seasons.
Since the turn of the century, there have been other midfield players who have stepped up from time to time. In 2002-03 Robert Pires and Paul Scholes managed 14 goals each, with Pires matching that total in each of the next two seasons. Liverpool's Steven Gerrard was prolific in 2008-09 with 16 goals, and other Chelsea players like Gus Poyet (11 in 2000-01), Zola (14 in 2002-03) and Malouda (13 goals last season and 12 the season before) have also had outstanding seasons.
But no midfield player (and no striker for that matter) can come close to Lampard's consistency. And it is not only his goal scoring but the mileage he has covered over the years. Only twice since the 1997-98 season has he appeared in fewer than 30 Premier League games – in 2007-8 and 2010-11, he made 24 appearances each season.
His record in European play is also outstanding. His 23 Champions League goals place him in the top 20 all-time scorers in Europe's premier club competition.
But there are detractors, and they usually focus on three areas - the number of goals that come from penalties and deflections, his performances for England, and his scoring record against the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
On close inspection the criticisms are paltry when placed in the larger context. About a quarter of Lampard's goals may have come from the spot, but nonetheless, someone has to finish the job. What's more, when have you heard anyone diminishing Alan Shearer's goal tally? The percentage of Shearer's goals from penalty kicks isn't much less than Lampard's.
Deflections? If you don't buy a ticket you can't win the lottery, and it pretty much runs the same way for shooting and goals - deflections or not.
The numbers don't support the notion of an ineffective player at international level either. Twenty-three goals from 90 appearances puts Lampard just three goals behind Bryan Robson, who is commonly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, box-to-box midfielder ever produced by England.
A better case can perhaps be made in relation to his scoring record against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Seventy-nine appearances have brought 10 goals, which is way below his average. Nonetheless, a goal every eight games from midfield against your biggest rivals is not too shabby and stands favorably in comparison to other top class midfield players.
So as the sun begins to surely set on his career at Stamford Bridge, the chatter about who will be Chelsea's next Frank Lampard will only grow louder.
Good luck, Chelsea, because you will need it. Players like Frank Lampard are rarely if ever truly replaced.