Attention Mansour Financial Group, Manuel Pellegrini, Don Garber, Jason Kreis, Claudio Reyna, Frank Lampard, and anyone else with any modicum of power regarding New York City FC, I have a message: when they begin their debut season in MLS next March, Frank Lampard, if healthy, must be playing.
Do you get my point?
For anyone else, let me give you some context: last summer, the expansion team announced Lampard, the all-time Chelsea goalscorer with over 100 England caps, as their big new signing, complementing the previous addition of David Villa, Spain’s all-time leader in goals. While the Spaniard was loaned to Melbourne City, who have a similar partnership with Manchester City as the New-York based team does, the Englishman was loaned to the Mothership, continuing his time in the Premier League which began in 1996, just a couple weeks after his NYCFC teammate Matt Dunn turned two.
While being on loan at the Mancunian side, Lampard has been quite successful, scoring 6 goals for them. The 36-year-old has been more important to the title contenders than was originally thought, with City’s Chilean manager, Manuel Pellegrini, having this to say:
“I think Frank is a very important player for us and I hope we will not have any problems for him to stay here. I hope we can have a decision as soon as possible. He has a loan just until the end of December and there is another club involved. The MLS [sic] is involved also. There are a lot of parties with an arrangement. It’s not just depending on one opinion. If he can finish the year here, better – but I think that the MLS is a very important league also and I think that Frank Lampard will be very happy in the United States.”
So, Pellegrini wants Lampard to stay the rest of the season; the season which, as most of you know, lasts until May, which is after MLS’s March start date. If all parties agree on it, this is technically reasonable. However, it’s perfectly within NYCFC’s right to bring him back, because as we all know, they are the ones with true ownership of him, and he is merely on loan to Man City…right?
This is where we get into the whole issue of the dual-ownership situation that they have. Both are owned by the same financial group, and the idea that they want us to believe is that NYC is its own team. That it’s merely a partnership. Nothing wrong with that, right? Of course not. Even the slightly more cynical conclusion that New York City is a bit of a farm team isn’t inherently bad. Adding a few Man City youth players and some of the older main guys (Yaya Toure a couple years from now, anyone?) is a good prospect for the league.
That being said, it’s good unless they treat NYC as merely a toy for them to play with. The cynical part of me looks at this like a corporation putting their headquarters in some place like Luxembourg in order to pay less taxes. That they’re just putting Lampard in MLS so that he doesn’t count against financial fair play because he’s technically a loan player. MLS deserves better than that, right?
Of course it does. And that’s why director Claudio Reyna and coach Jason Kreis need to make a stand for their new team, to make sure it starts off on the right foot (soccer pun mildly intended). And it’s why Don Garber needs to step in to avoid creating a second Chivas.
A second what, no one asks? A reiteration of one of the worst experiments in US soccer. CD Guadalajara (aka Chivas; the Spanish word for “Goats,” unrelated to the Scotch) is a Mexican team (one of the biggest) and they decided to buy an expansion team in MLS, based in Los Angeles, called “Chivas USA.” It failed miserably, with their performance on the field and in the stands (i.e. attendance) among the worst in the league for a good bit of their existence. Recently they folded, after the 2014 season, to be replaced by a new LA team in 2017. I feel bad for Chivas USA fans, who showed incredible loyalty to stick by that disaster of a team, but it doesn’t make me any less glad to see the failed project done.
The memory of Chivas lingers on, only overshadowed by fear of a repeat. Surely the gross mismanagement and almost complete lack of competence won’t be echoed in the Big Apple, but any signs of poor parenting (as in, “parent club”) will cause a flurry of criticism heaped at Manchester City and MLS itself. Not bringing in Lampard is one of the easiest ways to cause this, so both parties will want to avoid it happening.
This all adds to the pressure already there, because it’s in New York (which I am an expert on having watched Seinfeld), and because they’ve spent so much money. Failure will surely make the fanbase restless and their gigantic army of critics even more rabid than normal, and that will be sped up if Lampard is still in England by first kick. (By the way, I am neither a fan of theirs or a critic.)
And what a first kick it will be! 2015 will be very big for MLS. A new TV deal and two new expansion teams, for one, but also new stars, such as Villa, Orlando City’s Kaka, and whoever else will come in the off-season. With many promising storylines (Can Seattle rebound from their good yet ultimately disappointing season to win their first MLS Cup? Can Toronto add a few pieces, stay healthy, and finally make the playoffs? Can the Red Bulls survive without Henry?), a failure to have one of their big stars play will be a noticeable blemish on the league.
It is Don Garber’s job to defend MLS to the bitter end, as he proved by controversially calling out US coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Thus, it is Don Garber’s job to make sure Frank Lampard will be at Yankee Stadium by March, which he has the power to do given the league’s single-entity structure.
And while, at first, is sounds like a great idea for Man City to keep the veteran midfielder around, as he has demonstrated to be helpful to the currently second-placed team, but the ramifications of this move will certainly be felt in their front office. See, in the day of the modern European SuperClub, they are not only battling for supremacy in regards to local competitions, but in regards to international fans. The US is considered one of the top, shall we say, “developing nations” in soccer, with many new fans willing to buy merchandise and watch them on TV. This is why they play a good bit of their pre-season over here.
Many Americans support Barcelona or Real Madrid, yes, but overall the EPL is the most popular league. However, while United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton, and Tottenham all have large followings on this side of the Atlantic, City is lacking fans outside of Manchester, given the fact that they have only been prominent recently, and even then it’s been due to an influx of Sheikh money. City are thus at a handicap compared to the other teams in the quest for fans, and they are trying to overcome that by building a solid reputation in the states. Keeping Lampard away from NYC will crush that reputation more than it would if Sheikh Mansour bit someone.
To recap: keeping Lampard in Manchester would be disastrous, and the first step to a meltdown and thus another Chivas USA. Letting this happen (or, well, letting it not happen) will be bad for Manchester City, even worse for MLS, and worse still for NYCFC. If they know what they’re doing, Frank Lampard will report to Jason Kreis for pre-season.
If they don’t know what they’re doing, we’re in for some rough times across the Hudson.