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Lampard “commits” to playing for New York City

The English midfielder attempts to clear the air around his playing situation and fails

Think of the kids, Frank!
Think of the kids, Frank!
New York City FC

Man, oh man, oh man. In every scandal, in every coverup, there comes a point when things start unraveling. The people involved see this, and instead of biting the bullet and telling the truth, they start contradicting each other. Yesterday, it was the Premier League’s and Lampard’s agent who did that; the league said there were no agreements concerning Lampard, while his agent said that he’d signed a contract with New York City for 2015.

This morning, Frank Lampard gave it a go. The player released it on his Facebook page. And hilariously, it contradicts everything else thus far.

I want to make it completely clear about my situation as I have read a lot of lies and nonsense over the last few days. When released from Chelsea last year at the end of my contract I signed a commitment to play in NYCFC for two years starting January 1st 2015. I was then offered the chance to train and be part of the Man City squad in the interim to keep myself in the best shape going into New York.This period has since been extended by Man City and I now will start playing for NYCFC at the end of this current Premier League season. There has always been a constant dialogue between all parties in this time to find the best solution for everyone. I can say that I am very excited about arriving in New York and giving everything to the team to make us a success in the MLS as soon as possible. Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2015!

One thing is becoming clearer: Frank Lampard will, most likely, be playing for New York City at some point in 2015. A "commitment" isn’t a contract, though, so that could change; but between MLS being adamant that he’ll be playing in the league this year, his agent claiming that yesterday, and now Lampard staking himself to that, it certainly looks as if he’ll play in MLS.

I wouldn’t blame New York City fans for being deeply skeptical, though; didn’t he commit to playing last July? And what’s to prevent Man City from extending his playing "period" for them? All great questions, but let’s leave them aside.

From the beginning, I’ve asserted that this scandal isn’t about one player; it’s about how a player, a team, the owners of that team, and a league broke faith with fans by lying about a player’s contract situation. It’s not the player, it’s the principle. I couldn’t care less about Frank Lampard; he could stay in Manchester from now until the end of time; it matters not a jot where he plays.

Yesterday, as I delved into the specifics of Lampard’s contract situation, I stated the question that’s driving all my coverage of this scandal:

Why is there all this confusion? Why do we have this level of misdirection and deception from City Football Group over the contract status of one player?

Like I wrote yesterday, I don’t have an answer, but I can read between the lines. Yesterday, I looked at Lampard’s contract; now, I’m going to briefly sketch out Manchester City’s position.

The Premier League is the richest league in the world of soccer. Over its lifetime, only five teams have won its title: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers (yeah, I know, right?), and Manchester City. Let’s dismiss Rovers: they won the league in its third year of existence, and they’re currently in the second division.

So we’re really talking about four teams that regularly contend for the title. Of the four, United and Arsenal are properly classified as "old money" teams. Chelsea were the first of the "sugar daddy" teams to win the Premier League; when Roman Abramovich bought them in 2003, they were known for being stylish, but weren’t considered a title contender. That changed with a quickness.

The other "new money" team is Manchester City; even more than Chelsea, they’ve shown a propensity for splashing cash with abandon since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008. The rise of teams like Chelsea, Man City, Paris-St. Germain and others led to the creation of financial fair play rules by UEFA. I’m not going to explore FFP deeply here; that’s for another time. Essentially, though, FFP is a mechanism by which UEFA can ensure that clubs aren’t spending beyond their means.

In its first year of enforcement, both Manchester City and PSG fell afoul of those mechanisms. They were punished by UEFA with a fine and loss of roster spots in European competitions; instead of being able to field 25 players, Manchester City was restricted to 21 players, and five of those had to be "homegrown". Lampard was one of those five, part of what makes him so valuable to Manchester City.

Unlike Manchester City, Chelsea had slowed down their rampant spending significantly in the advent of FFP. There was one other thing they did, though, that was just as smart and ruthless: they created and fostered affiliations with European clubs. Jake Cohen at We Ain’t Got No History explored one of those affiliations in fantastic depth; you have to read it. Chelsea now have a similar working relationship with Middlesbrough, though nowhere as extensive as the one with Vitesse.

It’s hard not to think that Manchester City looked at this, and thought to themselves: We can do that. Hell, we can do Chelsea one better; we can just own the clubs!

And thus you have City Football Group.

Things become a lot clearer if we think of City Football Group as, essentially, a mechanism to exploit the various loopholes and blind spots that exist in UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. Bobby McMahon wrote a piece at Forbes exploring CFG from that perspective; it makes for illuminating reading.

When I concluded my piece yesterday, I posited that the agreement that Lampard signed with City Football Group was fiendishly complex. I think it helps if we accept that Lampard’s agreement — and for that matter, likely David Villa’s, as well — are prototypes for how CFG will deal with all their star players moving forward.

If you look at it from that vantage point, then all the confusion and misdirection and deception start to make more sense. And that’s why this goes deeper than just one player. It goes to the integrity of the competitions, both in Europe and North America.