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Is Frank Lampard a New York City player, or not?

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The announcement today by Claudio Reyna and Jason Kreis is disheartening, to say the least.

Frank Lampard, after signing with New York City FC, July 29th, 2014
Frank Lampard, after signing with New York City FC, July 29th, 2014
New York City FC

This afternoon, New York City FC held an event in Times Square celebrating the release of the team’s home jersey. The store (the Modell’s on 42nd between 7th and 8th Avenue) was jam-packed with fans. Four players, as well as sporting director Claudio Reyna and head coach Jason Kreis, basked in the adulation of the crowd, and answered some of their questions.

That’s not what I want to write about, though. You can watch video of the event here, if you missed it. Before the event, the players, along with Reyna and Kreis, met with reporters. I wasn’t there, but the Times’ Andrew Das was. He asked Reyna and Kreis about the fast-festering situation with Frank Lampard, and this is what he reported via Twitter:

Reyna and Kreis say decision on Lampard's @NYCFC arrival will be made in mid-December. Will 'respect' decision if @MCFC keeps him.

With respect: this is embarrassing, and unacceptable. I was there, along with the rest of the New York City soccer press, along with British reporters, when New York City unveiled Frank Lampard at a press conference in Brooklyn as their second Designated Player. Lampard isn’t just any signing; he’s the centerpiece of the team.

He’s to New York City what Thierry Henry was to the Red Bulls, what Landon Donovan and David Beckham were to the Galaxy, and what Dempsey is to the Sounders. Frank Lampard absolutely has to be there when the team takes the field for the very first time on February 10th.

What really bothers me is the second part of Das’ tweet: "Will ‘respect’ decision if @MCFC keeps him."

With respect: keeping Lampard past his loan date is *not* Manchester City's decision to make. Frank Lampard is a New York City FC player. He signed with New York City, not Manchester City. The team unveiled and everything! Unless everything I understand about how loans work is wrong, he belongs to New York City, and it’s up to them, not Manchester City, if he stays there. That’s how the system works!

That’s assuming that New York City FC is its own club, merely happening to share an owner — the same way that the Galaxy and Dynamo share an owner in AEG, or Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids share an owner in Stan Kroenke. That’s what we’ve been told all along: that New York City is a club full of ambition, aiming to be a world-class soccer team, in the same way that Real  Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, and yes, Manchester City are.

It’s one thing if Lampard’s loan — which expires on December 31 — is extended through the end of January. Manchester City play Chelsea at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on January 31, so that would be an opportunity for Lampard to bid a "proper" farewell to his fans at Chelsea. I don’t think anyone would begrudge him that, least of all myself. Presumably, Lampard would then join his team when New York City travel to Manchester in Februrary, in time for him to wear the club’s shirt and play for the team he signed with when they play their first-ever game on February 10th.

It’s a whole other thing entirely if Lampard stays with Manchester City past January. For starters, one of the two games New York City will play in England is rumored to be a friendly against Manchester City. So, will Frank Lampard wear Manchester City’s shirt for that game? More seriously — and to the point — Lampard turns 37 next year. Even for a player as supremely fit as him, asking him to play in not just the Premier League, but the Champions’ League knockout stages and the FA Cup, is a tall order. Assuming he makes it past that healthy and in shape — and he’s already been injured once, so that’s no guarantee — you’re expecting him to join up with "his" team, presumably after the MLS season starts.

You’re then expecting Lampard to keep on playing seamlessly with a team he’s never trained with, in a league that’s seen other great players struggle to adapt in their first season. Assuming he’s with Manchester City through the end of the Premier League season (never mind the Champions’ League, because they’re not going to contend there), he wouldn’t suit up for New York City — again, the team he signed with, amidst great pomp and circumstance, lest we forget — until June, at the earliest. That’s two whole months after the start of the season. At that point, Frank Lampard would’ve been playing, nearly non-stop, for an entire calendar year.

That’s asking a lot of Frank Lampard, even if he’s impressively fit — as he’s currently demonstrating for Manchester City. Everyone deserves a break — including Frank Lampard.

Frank Lampard is a New York City player, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. He was supposed to be the showcase player for Major League Soccer’s showcase team, but nothing about this episode thus far feels like that. In fact, it feels very, very far from that. Matter of fact, it almost feels like New York City FC is a classier version of the late, partially lamented Chivas USA. In other words: a clever way for Sheikh Mansour to dodge and evade the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, as he pursues the European Cup.

Does that sound unfair? There’s a really simple way to render all of this — all 1,308 words of this — moot. Are you ready?

Have Frank Lampard suit up for New York City FC on February 10th; have him depart England, along with the rest of his team, on Feburary 16th.

That’s it. That’s all it would take.

I take no joy in writing any of this. Do I sound frustrated? Yes. That’s because I am.

The sad thing is that, if you’re an MLS fan, you’ve seen this exact episode before. The player in question then was David Beckham. In his quest to make it onto England’s World Cup team for the fourth time, Beckham went on loan to AC Milan in January of 2009. Beckham insisted that he would return to the LA Galaxy in time for the start of the MLS season. Then he changed his mind, and sought a permanent transfer to Milan, before finally extending his loan through mid-July.

When he joined the Galaxy in mid-season, Beckham was showered in abuse by LA fans. They showed their dislike and anger for his actions by holding up signs saying "Go home fraud", and "Part-time player". From the BBC report:

Boos were louder than cheers as the players were introduced prior to kick-off and every touch from the former England captain was jeered early on by sections of the 27,000 sell-out crowd. Several fans made their displeasure known with banners and as the players went off at the interval Beckham had to be escorted from the field by security as he walked over to an area of seats to confront jeering fans.

One supporter jumped down and had to be restrained before being taken away.

Do we seriously think that New York fans won’t react every bit as harshly to Lampard? Of course they will! So why even invite this in the first place? At least David Beckham had the excuse of trying to make a World Cup team. Frank Lampard’s retired from international play, so what’s his excuse? Winning another European Cup? Another Premier League title?

New York City — and Major League Soccer — deserve much, much better than this. We’ve come too far in twenty years to repeat the mistakes of the past.

When Claudio Reyna travels to Manchester this month, he ought to do the right thing. It’s time for Frank Lampard to go to New York, close the English chapter of his life, and begin the American chapter of his story.