Real Real Gone: Farewell to Frank Lampard

Was it just me, or did you have your doubts too? When he signed and then didn’t come over. When he was forever injured. Did you think, “Is this guy for real? Is he here to be here? Is he gonna be a New Yorker, or is he just someone who slaps on a kit for a fat paycheck?” Did I boo him? No. Did I understand the booing? Yes. Because New Yorkers have work to do, and they respect those who do the work. And they have no patience for those who do not. And about Frank they had their doubts

Real Real Gone: Farewell to Frank Lampard

But then this season. In which New York City FC finally played as a team. Not always pretty. Not always orthodox. But the work got done and by no one more than Frank Lampard.

But in the end, was it worth it? With all the ups and downs, boos and cheers, wins and losses, as we say farewell to Frank Lampard, was his time in the Bronx a success or a failure?

On the Pitch

Long after we’ve bid farewell to Frank Lampard fans will argue whether that “lost” first season outweighs the success of the second. Over two seasons (68 matches) Lampard played in 29 matches (43%) and started 24 (35%). If he’d played all 68 matches, fans would have been shelling out over 88 grand a game. As it turned out, they were actually paying closer to 139K per match he appeared in, or 171K per match he started. That’s a lot for a guy who only scored 15 goals and had 4 assists over two years (or roughly $400K every time he put one past the keeper).

But throw out that first season and things look a lot better. And not just from a dollars and cents perspective. In 2016 he scored the same number of goals as Jordan Morris, Chris Pontius and Chris Wondolowski, even though they all played at least ten more matches than he did. But more importantly, the goals he scored had an impact. He scored the only goal in a vital win against the New England Revolution in June. He scored two against D.C. United in a 3-2 win. And his goal was also the difference in matches against the Seattle Sounders and the Philadelphia Union. Take those away and those wins become draws, and one becomes a loss. Twelve points becomes three, and NYCFC are traveling to Montreal for a one game play-off in the post-season.

For me, it’s a net positive. That first season was always going to be a bit of a clown show because NYCFC were a new team in a new stadium with a cast of players who didn’t know each other (which is one of the reasons sacking Jason Kreis at the end of it was so ridiculous. But hey, my therapist says I’m almost over that). The fact that Lampard hung like a ghost over last season contributed to the chaos. But I don’t think he would have made it substantially better. Would I feel differently had I been personally shelling out almost a hundred K to watch him sit in the owners box? Sure. But I wasn’t. So I don’t.

For NYCFC

In spite of the shadows and whispers surrounding Frank’s initial signing, and then the delay involving his actual arrival, and THEN his interminable first season on injured reserve, and then his SECOND season on injury, and THEN the subsequent booing, as I say farewell to Frank Lampard I have to believe that he had an essentially positive impact for the team, for two simple reasons – one measureable now, one less so.

The measurable reason – more or less – is his role in New York City as the face of the team. I still believe – no matter how much my friends in the NYCFC community argue to the contrary – that the original plan was for David Villa to be the Spanish-speaking face of the club and for Frank to be the English-speaking one. (Only 51% of New Yorkers speak only English at home – and about 25% speak Spanish). In year one, David Villa soldiered on admirably (and his hard work learning English in the off-season is to be commended and praised).

But in year two, New York City’s English language press turned to Frank when they wanted to reach out to non-fans and the “soccer-curious”. He helped give the team a toe-hold in the English-speaking community as it competed for attention with the Yankees, the Mets, and everything else that goes on in the five boroughs. And as the team grows in stature it will have him to partially thank for that.

The other, non-measureable reason, is Jack Harrison. Clearly a bond was formed between the legend and the rookie. You could see it in the way Harrison played, but also how he handled the press, the fans and the pressure. If Harrison becomes the player many of us think he can be, then some credit must be given to Lampard. Because there’s more to success than just talent. There’s luck and hard work. And the advice of people who’ve been through it before you making sure you don’t end up like Ryan Leaf.

For the League

Lampard’s impact on the league, however, will be much harder to gauge. On the one hand one could argue that if he helped make NYCFC a viable team in New York, that if he contributed to creating the rivalry between City and the New York Red Bulls, and if his simple signing forced RBNY to seriously re-evaluate their path and forge a distinct personality, then he played an important role in helping the league establish itself in the lucrative New York market in a way that it had previously struggled to.

On the other hand, he didn’t fill stadia like David Beckham did. And he didn’t elevate the profile across the country amongst non-soccer fans by capturing their imaginations. And further, one might even argue that at 38 years old, his success actually damaged MLS, as it reinforced the belief among the world football cognoscenti that this is still a retirement league for the world’s stars.

But as I bid a farewell to Frank Lampard, that’s not what I will remember. I will remember the passion on the pitch. How he helped a 19 year old rookie. How he took the time to do the work with fans along the rope line at Yankee Stadium time and again. And I will remember his patience with the arcane questions of a certain writer in locker rooms across this country.

Because in the end, Frank finally was a New Yorker.

And he shouldn’t let anyone tell him otherwise.