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Manuel Pellegrini: I need Lampard for the rest of the season

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Manchester City’s manager stakes his claim to New York City DP; loan rumored to be extended through early February.

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Pellegrini: I need Lampard to stay till the end
Pellegrini: I need Lampard to stay till the end
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

UPDATE: Pellegrini's remarks, it turns out, weren't in an interview given to the Telegraph; they were part of his pre-game remarks to the press. I say this because the Telegraph article truncates out another quote by Pellegrini, which the BBC used in full:

"If he can finish the year here, better - but I think that the MLS is a very important league also and I think that Frank Lampard will be very happy in the United States."

I've had people comment that that addition either disproves the story or changes its context. Respectfully, it does not. All it is is the kind of clichéd, meaningless chatter that people in sports use. It's literally the same thing as when a player refers to a bottom-of-the-table team as a "worthy" opponent, or when a coach says something like "we need to execute better."

It means nothing, and changes nothing. If anything, it's the kind of pre-emptive damage control statement that someone says when they feel they might've said something offensive. Pellegrini can think that MLS is "very important" (whatever that means, but okay) and that Lampard would be ecstatic to be Stateside (again, whatever, but okay), and still want Lampard to stay with Manchester City.

The one doesn't cancel the other. The shorthand for this is bafflegab: pretentious verbiage that is meant to give one impression without making an actual commitment.

If you think Pellegrini's sentiments about MLS's importance or Lampard's joy in living abroad carry any meaning or weight, then there are bridge-based investment opportunities you should consider.

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The saga that is Frank Lampard’s loan to Manchester City took its most perilous turn today, as Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted for the first time that he wants MF Frank Lampard to stay through the end of the Premier League season.

In an interview with the Telegraph’s Mark Ogden, the Spanish manager made his case publicly for why Manchester City — and not New York City, who own his rights — should retain the veteran midfielder’s services.

"Before December finishes we will have a decision, Frank is a very important player for us and I hope we will not have any problems for him to stay. But I cannot say just from one side what will happen with him," said Pellegrini in the interview. "It’s difficult for me to say an opinion about what Frank has decided is best for him in the future. Maybe playing so many years with Chelsea, he has decided the best way to continue was out of England. But he is a very important player for us and we need him in this moment."

"I hope we can have a decision as soon as possible because it’s important for us and the players," Pellegrini continued. "If he can finish the year [read: season] here, that would be better." (emphasis added)

New York City sporting director Claudio Reyna is in Manchester right now, in talks with Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano and Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain to decide whether or not Lampard will rejoin New York City in time for the club’s season kickoff. In his piece, the Telegraph’s Ogden also noted that "It is understood that Lampard will extend his stay at City until early February." If so, that means that Lampard would miss the beginning of New York City’s preseason training, which is scheduled to begin on January 24th.

The original impetus for extending Lampard’s loan through February was that Manchester City star midfielder Yaya Touré was leaving the club in order to play for Cote D'Ivoire in the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins January 17. If the Ivorians manage to make it to the ACON final, he would be gone through February 8. New York City is scheduled to play its first-ever game on February 10th in Manchester City’s training stadium — a friendly against a currently-unannounced opponent.

However, Lampard’s play since arriving in Manchester greatly complicated matters. The 36-year-old, who’s the highest-scoring midfielder in Premier League history, has scored five goals in 13 appearances for Manchester City. Beyond his scoring prowess, Lampard has out-played younger players in Manchester City’s midfield rotation; both Fernando and Fernandinho have been ineffective, while Samir Nasri is erratic, at best. Even Touré has been unable to replicate his scintillating form from last year.

On Wednesday, Manchester City qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, beating AS Roma 2-0. They will discover whom they play in the round of 16 on Monday. It is only the second time that Manchester City has made it to the knockout round, but owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan is eager to win the European Cup, seeing it as proof that Manchester City is a truly elite club. His spending in pursuit of both league and European honors saw Manchester City fall afoul of UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations. This resulted in the club’s European squad being restricted to 21 players; Lampard qualifies for Champions League play because he’s considered a "homegrown" player. He did not play in Wednesday’s game.

Lampard won the league three times, the European Cup once, and the Europa League once. His competitive experience has been invaluable to Manchester City. With the club trailing league leaders Chelsea by only three points, Pellegrini is desperate to hold on to Lampard at any cost — even at the expense of derailing New York City’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer. New York City signed Lampard amid great fanfare last July. In his remarks during his unveiling, Lampard waxed rhapsodically about starting a new chapter.

"I am really excited about joining New York City FC and helping to play a real part in building something special in one of the sporting capitals of the world," said Lampard in July. "The passion of the nation’s fans at the World Cup was second to none and I am looking forward to meeting New Yorkers and tapping into their love of the game. It is a privilege to be able to help make history here in New York City - I just can’t wait to get started and be part of it."

"It is going to be an exhilarating opportunity for us all to create this fantastic new MLS club, in  a league that is growing quickly in popularity and ability," continued Lampard. "Hopefully my experience can help us have an impact in my first season. I love a challenge and being competitive and I know everyone at New York City FC does too. I am sure we will make the city and our fans proud."

The contrast between then and now is striking. Since arriving in Manchester, Lampard has been less effusive, repeatedly deferring questions about when he would return to New York City. In the process, it’s become less and less clear whether Lampard would be around when New York City kick off their season in March.

His absence from the opening day lineup would be catastrophic to New York City FC from a public image perspective. The club have been consistently fighting off criticism that they are a pale imitation of Manchester City; indeed, the CEO of the New York Cosmos, the resurrected second-division franchise playing in the reborn NASL, referred to New York City as "Man City New York" when discussing his team’s future plans. New York City has featured Lampard prominently in their advertising and merchandise, and they have used his presence in the lineup as enticement to sell season tickets to New Yorkers who became fans of his during his days at Chelsea.

Lampard’s presence in Manchester City’s lineup as New York City begins play would seem to remove all doubt that are a feeder club for Manchester City; not so much a "sister club", as the team likes saying, but rather a "daughter club", subject to the whims and necessities of the parent club. Whatever criticism the club received for unveiling a home jersey that closely resembled Manchester City’s would be massively dwarfed by the criticism they would receive should Lampard not be wearing New York City blue on First Kick.

Put another way: New York City recently announced they had sold 11,000 season tickets. New Yorkers don’t buy 11,000 season tickets for a minor league club; they buy them for teams they consider "major league", something teams like the Cosmos and the Red Bulls discovered as they try to pry open the tough New York sports market. The whole point of awarding the 20th MLS franchise to New York City was that it would serve as a flagship club for the league; in other words, the league’s version of the Yankees, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Lakers, or Patriots.

Both the Cosmos and Red Bulls approached that thorny dilemma in similar fashion: the Cosmos by pursuing and finally signing Spanish legend Raúl, the Red Bulls by signing the illustrious Thierry Henry and opening a world-class stadium in Red Bull Arena. New York City seemed to understand this from the start, signing Spain’s all-time leading scorer David Villa as their first-ever player, then adding Lampard in bright summer sunshine.

Now, as the gloom of winter descends, we wonder if New York City will be left to enjoin Lampard to rejoin them. In a week that saw New York City widely lauded for their drafting prowess, such praise is of little comfort should Reyna return from England lacking Lampard.