Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
What’s she prattling on about today you might ask? Have the FA rewritten their rule book again? Has corporal punishment been introduced at Cobham for anyone known to have used the F-word in their past? Ok, it’s neither of those, in fact, nothing’s happened – and apparently that’s the problem. Or at least it is when it comes to us agreeing or not agreeing contracts as the case may be. Yes, I’m on about Chelsea declining to offer either Ashley Cole or Frank Lampard long-term contracts.
It really wasn’t all that long ago we were beaten over the head with the ‘ageing players’ stick on a regular basis, in fact, Fergie was still taking digs about it at the start of last season. Yet when the club make a serious attempt to address the issue, introducing younger players and accepting that will inevitably mean the departure of some of our former key players, it’s as if the stick’s about to be picked up again – just used in a different way.
Personally, I don’t see how Chelsea declining to offer long-term contracts to players over 30 constitutes news anyway. It’s not as if we haven’t seen it happen before is it? In fact, when a player like Didier Drogba (a player who let’s not forget had just scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final) doesn’t have his arm twisted to stay with the promise of whatever contract his heart desires, then you know the club are taking this stance seriously and rightly so. I mean, of course it’ll always be hard to let players like Didier go but there’s no room for sentiment in Chelsea’s position.
Realistically, they have books to balance whilst continuously building for the future, at the same time as keeping pace with the competition and they haven’t always done that with enough of an eye on the future for me. We seemed to hang onto Mourinho’s players for too long and whilst they were without doubt an incredible group of players, having Deco, Belletti, Ballack, Ferreira, Lampard, Drogba, Hilario, Carvalho and Anelka all well over 30 in the squad at the same time wasn’t particularly forward thinking.
So, Chelsea quite rightly let some of them go. In fact, most of them have gone now and any that remain will need to be clear it’ll be on the club’s terms. Isn’t that as it should be though? Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to shout about us still having the best left-back in the world in Ashley Cole and to be fair to him, he’s sustained that position and his form for quite a few years now. Like Didier Drogba though, we can’t expect that to go on forever, so the club need to be as cautious with his contract as with any player over 30 before him.
Of course they made an exception with Frank Lampard in the past with the very lengthy and very lucrative contract they gave him at the age of 30. As good as Lampard was though, I had plenty to say about that at the time and none of it was in agreement with giving a player over 30 that sort of contract. Yes, Frank is still with us but some 4 years later, is he still performing at a level that warrants something in the region of £140,000 a week? Of course he isn’t but then, as I said at the time, that was to be expected. Quite rightly though, they’re taking a difference stance over any contract they might offer him this time round, likewise Ashley Cole, with one of them club ‘sources’ suggesting “Frank and Ashley are still very important to Chelsea but if they stay it will only be on the club’s terms. Didier held out for more than one year last season and was given a take-it-or-leave-it offer. The owner has made it clear the same will apply to Frank and Ashley.”
Of course, none of this should mean that either player isn’t treated with the utmost respect whatever happens. Nicolas Anelka, as we know, has recently suggested this isn’t always the case, saying “At Chelsea, as soon as you get past 30, you get the impression you’re too old. It’s sad what’s happening to Flo [Malouda]. Two years ago, he was named player of the year. Chelsea could react in another way. When they need you, you’re the best. When they don’t, get lost.” Mind you, what he means by that can only be guessed at or speculated about in the press, given that other players have been much more accepting of the need for their own departures. Michael Ballack, for example, having previously stated “I think it was a decision of the club, not the coach. Sometimes things go differently from the way you think. You have to change your policy. They put more young players in, to change the team a little. That’s understandable.”
Although the press will inevitably twist things whichever way suits them, whatever happens with Frank and Ashley, should be in the best interests of the players but more importantly, in the interests of the club because whilst great players like them will come and go, the one constant for us is Chelsea FC.