Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo airs concerns for first time as midfield stalwart Frank Lampard enters the final season of his contract.
Frank Lampard was England’s man of the match against Italy on Wednesday, utterly integral to Chelsea’s Champions League triumph and has scored at least 10 Premier League goals a season from midfield for a decade.
His manager, Roberto di Matteo, has suggested than he can play at the top level for up to five more seasons but, as another new campaign begins, there is still no certainty that he will be a Chelsea player this time next year.
With the exception of a brief chat last year, and despite Lampard’s desire to end his career at Chelsea, no talks have been held regarding the extension of a contract that expires next June. It is a puzzling situation and one that says much about the way Chelsea is run. Di Matteo has diplomatically kept a distance from the situation but, for the first time, has now admitted that he hopes that negotiations between Lampard and the club’s board will be successfully resolved.
Di Matteo, whose team begins its Premier League campaign at Wigan Athletic on Sunday, has also made that opinion known to the board. “I am very happy with Frank — he shows the quality that he has in every game,” said Di Matteo. “He is a very influential player within the group. I give my recommendation and then the board makes the final decision.
“I think Frank is a very important player. He is in good shape, he has not suffered any major injuries and he looks after himself. We have seen that many players who live that professional life can go on and play until their late 30s.”
Asked if he was hopeful of a successful conclusion to Lampard’s contract talks, Di Matteo said: “I am, yes.”
This is Chelsea, however, and the wishes of player and manager will be secondary in the final analysis to those of owner Roman Abramovich. And, having spent around £80 million over the past year on recruiting Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, Abramovich may believe that there is no long-term need for Lampard.
That analysis, however, would ignore the intelligent modification of Lampard’s game towards the end of last season. As he showed by playing in a deeper-lying role for England on Wednesday, Lampard is more of a disciplined midfield anchorman these days, albeit one who still has the predatory instincts of most strikers.
“He certainly has a little bit of a different role but we still want him to do what is best for him,” said Di Matteo. “I don’t think we will change everything about Frank – we want to enhance his qualities.”
Fernando Torres is another star name who is surely now playing for his Chelsea future. Another extravagant transfer window has left Di Matteo with numerous attacking midfield options but no replacements have yet been found either for Didier Drogba or even Nicolas Anelka. It leaves Torres and Daniel Sturridge competing to start as the main central striker.
Torres’ difficulties have been exhaustively documented but, in the way that he ended last season and then helped Spain to win euro 2012, Di Matteo is adamant that a corner has been turned.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “At the end of the season he showed a lot of qualities. He was a vital player, he scored some immense goals and produced a lot of assists as well.
“The players live with the confidence — they need that, it’s how they can produce great performances. By scoring a goal or winning a game you get back into that shape and mentally you are in a better place. We have a lot of confidence in Fernando.”
Di Matteo does not believe Chelsea’s Champions League success has added significantly to the pressure of his job. “It was always so high anyway,” he said. “It’s an ambitious club and we know that we have to try to win trophies and be successful.”
By Jeremy Wilson