On Saturday, a report by the Daily Mail stated that English midfielder Frank Lampard might be pursuing an early release from his Manchester City contract. That would allow him to join New York City FC ahead of his scheduled arrival in July. This is possible because the MLS transfer window is open, and will remain that way until May.
Why is this broiling up now? It's due to a number of factors.
In contrast to the autumn, when he repeatedly made key appearances for Manchester City, Lampard's been an afterthought since January. Although he started Saturday and played for 65 minutes, his appearances leading up to that have mostly been cameos -- seven minutes against Liverpool, eleven minutes against Leicester, nine minutes against Burnley.
Even though the whole point of keeping him through the end of the Premier League season was to provide cover for Manchester City in midfield -- particularly with Yaya Touré playing in the Africa Cup of Nations in February -- the opposite happened. Manager Manuel Pellegrini instead rotated his regular squad, meaning that Lampard simply didn't see much playing time.
Let's be serious: if you're not starting Lampard against the Leicesters, Burnleys, and West Broms of the league -- and not even playing against Hull City -- then what's the point of keeping him?
For Lampard, who opted to sign with Manchester City in order to get playing time, sitting on the bench must be bitterly disappointing. It must gall him even more that he could -- right now! -- be the toast of New York City, actually playing meaningful games, instead of sitting forlorn and forgotten, hoping for scraps of time. This must be a bitter denouement indeed for one of the legendary English midfielders of his generation. This couldn't have been how he envisioned things -- coming on for eight minutes against Everton, and a measly thirteen minutes against his beloved Chelsea.
An early move to MLS makes even more sense for Lampard when you consider that with eight games left, Manchester City simply don't have much to offer him. Chelsea seem to have a firm grip on the Premier League title. In Europe, Manchester City were thoroughly outclassed by Barcelona. They've already been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions. They are on second, currently, so there's no risk of losing out on the Champions League place.
It's entirely probable that as Manchester City mount a desperate defence of their Premier League trophy -- and Pellegrini attempts to hang on to his post -- that the team lineup will remain fairly constant. That's a lineup that doesn't feature Lampard.
So why stay? So that he can come on with twelve minutes to go against Sunderland? That's not what players like Lampard do.
The more you consider things, the more it makes sense for Lampard to cut things short and come to New York City.
First, the history of European players arriving to MLS in mid season is decidedly checkered. Virtually all of them -- whether it's Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and so forth -- have struggled. Players who've developed comfort and game knowledge struggle to accommodate the new arrival. Meanwhile, that player grapples with the realities of playing in a tough league, getting used to a new country, and the punishing toll of intercontinental travel.
For New York City in particular, getting Lampard ahead of schedule would be an exceptional boon. Three games into the season, the team's midfield remains a work in considerable progress. In every game, the midfielders have struggled for fluidity in their play. That's resulted in David Villa being more isolated than not, forcing him to drop deep to collect the ball.
There's a problem with that. Villa isn't a midfielder, and New York City's struggles there have imposed a far greater workload on him as a result.
Having Lampard in that midfield solves many of those issues. At the height of his powers, Lampard was universally regarded as one of the greatest midfielders — if not the greatest — of his generation. His greatness, as it has for so many other players, laid in his versatility. Lampard generally slots in as a box-to-box midfielder (a "number 8", which explains his shirt number), but because of his stamina and ability to discern how the game is flowing, Lampard can really deploy anywhere in the midfield — defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, centrally, you name it.
Heck, he's even done time as a supporting striker.
Thanks to his vision, technique, and most crucially, his passing range, Lampard can also function in a creative role. That, in effect, makes him a Swiss Army knife in any formation. It's no mystery that head coach Jason Kreis has been wrestling with how best to build his midfield, both in the preseason and now. He has a plethora of attacking midfielders, but no one who can slot in as a holding or defensive midfielder.
Andrew Jacobson is, at best, a stop-gap solution; he is a box-to-box midfielder like Lampard, but lacks both his passing range and defensive abilities. The Mix experiment hasn't delivered the results that either Kreis or national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann's wanted to see yet; his defensive play is simply adequate at best, and he has a worrying tendency to spray lots of passes around the field without much effect. And on down the line.
In short: Kreis doesn't have a Beckerman or Javier Morales. Getting Lampard solves those issues at a stroke. It would be a massive upgrade to a midfield that desperately needs it, and it would free the midfielders that Kreis has to do their best work in their best positions.
On top of that, there's an additional element in play here. It's no secret that while head coach Jason Kreis famously spent. a year getting steeped in the Manchester City "way of doing things", he remains attached to using a narrow 4-4-2 diamond as his preferred way of setting up the team.
Now, Lampard is an intelligent player; still, that formation -- and his role within it -- are both going to be new to him, and take him some time to get used to. I can imagine both camps thinking that it's better to get those kinks out of the way early, rather than trying to do it in the depths of the league season.
For those reasons, I would not be surprised to see Frank Lampard patrolling New York City's midfield ahead of schedule. It's what works for both parties right now.