Remember the giant Frank Lampard billboards in Time Square? That’s the only way New Yorkers will be able to see Lampard when the MLS season begins, because it’s finally official: Manchester City will be holding on to Lampard through the end of the Premier League season in May.
Manchester City can confirm that it has extended Frank Lampard’s contract up to the end of Manchester City’s season, enabling his continued participation in both domestic and European campaigns.
The news, while expected by this point, still comes as a hammer blow to New York City, which proudly unveiled Frank Lampard as its second Designated Player — and, ostensibly, the face of the club — back on July 29th. That moment now feels so long ago, the words spoken by Lampard so empty:
"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 that day. "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."
That wait now looks to continue, bitterly, for New York City fans. With this move, Lampard now becomes a pantomime villain for New York City fans; the Alex Rodriguez to David Villa’s Derek Jeter (an apt comparison in more ways than one, since the Yankees are part owners of NYC). If you thought the barracking David Beckham received for extending his Milan loan into late summer was intense, wait till you see the reception Lampard receives when he finally — if ever — shows up at Yankee Stadium. New York sports fans aren’t known for their cool detachment, with good reason.
By extending Lampard’s loan, City Football Group are sacrificing New York City’s inaugural season — along with the goodwill of their fans — on an altar of uncertain short-term gain. While Manchester City only trail league leader Chelsea by three points, at no point have Chelsea looked vulnerable. It will take a superlative effort for Manchester City to defend their crown; thus far, they haven’t looked capable of it on a sustained basis.
And the Champions League? They made the knockout rounds in the most arduous way possible; beating Barcelona will be a prodigious task, and beyond lie the other big beasts of Europe: Real Madrid and Bayern, Paris-St. Germain, and yes, Chelsea again. Manchester City may raise the European Cup, but it won’t be this year, with this team.
Put it another way: extending Frank Lampard’s loan is a desperate gamble; a startling admission of weakness. More than that: it is madness.
Even if Manchester City wins either trophy — or more astonishingly, wins both — what do New York City fans care of that? They’re not Manchester City fans; they’ve pledged no allegiance to City Football Group. Their affection is solely for New York City. For them, both Manchester City and CFG are fast becoming figures of outright contempt here in the city, in the most unnecessary way possible. If part of the point of owning clubs across the world was to engender goodwill for both Manchester City and the owners, that is no longer the case. New York City fans have no reason to think kindly of them now.
No signing can erase one fundamental, indelible fact: one club holds pride of place in the hearts of City Football Group, and one club only. It’s not New York City.
This is tragic, because New York City has every potential to be a world-class soccer team. But that’s all it is; potential. City Football Group must act in order to realize that potential. If they want it to be an actual club, with the potential to be a world-class club, then it needs to be a fully independent and separate entity with the ability to compete with Manchester City. That means doing things like returning Lampard to New York City, and signing other high-caliber players to play there.
There's no getting around that; you can't half-ass your way to world-class.
If they want it to be a subsidiary club, then they'll make New York City's interests subservient to Manchester City's -- which is what we're seeing now. That’s what extending Lampard’s loan means.
These aren't immutable forces of nature we're dealing with here; these are conscious choices that are being made right now by ownership. It's up to fans if they'll settle for that. They don't have to, unless they want to.