As Frank Lampard continues to prove his enduring, rather remarkable, quality at the very zenith of football, his current employers have something of a double mutiny on their hands. Manchester City, now not just a football club, but a global corporation, are not only occupied with chasing the Premier League title, but they’re also having to muffle two separate clamorous hordes, on two different continents, who are baying for recompense.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini has intimated that he would like Frank Lampard to stay on for another season at the Etihad. Why this is, is clear; Lampard has been a sort of super-codger this season, scoring winners here, last-gasp equalisers against title rivals there, and calming the City midfield with a well-worn, tactile comfortability, like a tufty-eyebrowed grandfather cracking a nut, or Bob Hawke skolling a beer. Yes, Pellegrini is very happy indeed to keep him in for, at the very least, the remainder of the season.
But there is a problem, and it’s here that one of the clamorous hordes enters the scene. Frank Lampard, when he left Chelsea, wasn’t supposed to become a Manchester City player, at least not for more than half a season. He was supposed to be on his way to New York City, to play for Manchester City’s the newly minted New York MLS franchise. They’ve been waiting patiently for the arrival of their marquee midfielder, but now are being told that they must wait a little longer because, sorry, Super Frank isn’t a spent force in the Premier League like we thought he might be and that, terribly sorry, he’s a little too good for the MLS just at the moment and that, awfully sorry, but you’ll have to wait a little longer. Did we mention we’re sorry?
The New York City supporters groups are rather displeased with this whole affair. A little bit like a 10 year old child, protesting alone in their room in front of the mirror, after the adults have already handed out the punishment, they stated:
“Many fans, including our members, decided to support the team, committed to season tickets, and bought merchandise under the impression that Frank Lampard would be playing for New York City Football Club, not Manchester City,” the New York fans’ group Third Rail said in a statement.
There’s a scene in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, where, having pitched the hopeful plan to rebuild Carl Fox’s Bluestar Airlines, the unscrupulous Gordon Gekko decides, seemingly on a whim, that an asset stripping and liquidation approach might be a better, more profitable course of action. Gekko calls the shots, so when Bud Fox, Gekko’s partner on the deal and Carl’s son, bursts in to demand an explanation, Gekko snipes mercilessly “You’re walking around blind without a cane, pal. A fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place!”
And so, just like Gekko had bought and wrecked companies before (so Bud Fox should have known better), the powers that be in Abu Dhabi have too had priors when it comes to player management at the colony clubs.
David Villa, World Cup winner, 2013/14 Champions League finalist and touring superstar arrived in Melbourne in October last year, just a handful of days before the A-League season commenced, to begin his 10-game stint with Melbourne City, Manchester City’s newest A-League franchise. Well, we (the people of Melbourne, that is) thought it would a ten-game sojourn; it turned out to be only a four-game cameo appearance, an embarrassingly short commitment, and a rather pitiless indicator of how much the A-League actually matters to those who own one of its clubs. Villa scored twice for Melbourne City (and is still their equal-fourth highest scorer this season) and then up and left, leaving them red-faced and a star striker short.
So, one of the best strikers of the last decade flits in, scores a couple, then leaves early, as if our domestic league was nothing more than an impromptu kick-around at a local park. How this affected the Melbourne City squad one can only guess at. They currently sit 6th on the ladder, and are gazing lovingly at Damien Duff, the other lovely international marquee who didn’t leave them in the lurch.
Manchester City is an multinational company, who harbour ambitions of constructing a network of satellite clubs around the world. As such, they treat their revolving assets in accordance with their global importance. And now, after the Lampard affair, the pecking order is clear: Premier League trumps MLS, which trumps the A-League. This is the reality of modern football, and no matter how vocally indignant the fans get, their protestations will make little difference until they begin affecting revenue. Assets in the form of players will be shuffled around at will, regrettable but necessary downsizing will no doubt continue, and all of it will be for the good of the business. For Melbourne City and New York City, there is now an entity sitting above them, with the power to take away as swiftly as they give, and to whom all deference must be made. They were the lucky two selected to hold the Manchester City candle abroad, so they’ll have to grin a bear it.