On the final day of 2014, Major League Soccer expansion team NYCFC confirmed that Frank Lampard will not be joining them for the start of the 2015 MLS season as originally planned/promised. Instead, Lampard will stay in the Premier League with Manchester City until July, then join NYCFC halfway through the MLS season.
The announcement outraged NYCFC fans and angered a lot of MLS fans, not least because the relationship between the two City teams is a new concept that we’re all still getting our heads around. As Jeff Lebowski would say, “This is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.” Some of those what-have-yous are explained below.
Why is it called Lampardgate?
Because, ever since Watergate, anything with a hint of scandal about it gets appended with the word “gate.”
So this is a scandal?
It’s all technically above board, but some people would still use the “s” word. For example, NYCFC supporters group The Third Rail released a statement condemning the decision. They’d been promised that a certain goalscoring midfielder would be present for the start of MLS 2015 and, more importantly, that their sky-blue team would not be a “farm” team for the bigger sky-blue team. Here’s a direct quote The Third Rail’s statement:
We reject out of hand any suggestion that NYCFC is in any way secondary to Manchester City FC, regardless of the source, and are disappointed that City Football Group would give such an appearance.
But doesn’t Man City own NYCFC? Doesn’t that make NYCFC a farm team by definition?
Not exactly. The Man City team doesn’t own NYCFC directly. It’s more that both clubs, as well as Melbourne City in Australia, are owned by an entity called City Football Group. In the past, City Football Group has suggested that all three teams would be treated equally. But Lampard staying with City reveals the true pecking order. Which, to be fair, any sensible person could have figured out on their own.
Wait … who is Frank Lampard contracted to then?
He seems to be contracted to City Football Group, which means they can then ask him to play for whichever team they want. Or maybe whichever team he wants. And nobody, not Don Garber, Barack Obama or even Jeff Bridges can do anything to change that. So Lampard is staying at Man City.
What’s the big problem with Lampard joining in July?
It means he’ll spend the second half of the 2015 MLS season acclimatizing to turf and long flights and his new team, and probably won’t be properly adjusted to MLS until the 2016 season. Sounds harsh, but the play of everyone from David Beckham to Clint Dempsey in their initial half-season of MLS bears it out. And here’s what Jason Kreis had to say when announcing the signing of Lampard in 2014, and the reason he was excited to have Lampard for the full 2015 season:
For me, players that enter in the middle of the season are typical fails. The chances for those players to really contribute meaningfully in a second half of a season in MLS are very, very small.
Ouch. So how does this impact the reputation of Major League Soccer?
It makes the league look weak because Lampard staying with City is a sort of snub to MLS. And it underlines the relative importance and weight of the Premier League vs. MLS. There’s nothing MLS can do. But this is what happens when you deal with massive massive ownership groups who have more than one interest. Especially when one of those interests plays in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.
Did Man City, sorry, City Football Group, plan this all along?
I’m guessing no. Otherwise they would have let Kreis know before he made that comment about July players being “typical fails.” I’m guessing they thought it would be useful to have Frank Lampard fill out Man City’s roster for the first half of the season, keep himself fit, maybe score a goal, and then happily send him across the Atlantic in January 2015. But then Lampard defied expectations and became a major contributor to City’s season (he’s currently City’s third-top scorer with seven goals in all competitions) and so now they’d rather hold on to him, especially with Yaya Toure going on Africa Cup of Nations duty this month.
Are City using this to get around UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules?
Not really. Lampard’s wages are on City’s books right now, so it’s not like the club is getting his playing time for free. The only FFP advantage to having Lampard be a City player is that he counts toward UEFA’s required minimum of homegrown players.
What about Frank Lampard. What does he want?
Glad you asked! Because amid all the Lampardgate talk, no one has thought to consider the player’s perspective. If Lampard is enjoying himself in Manchester, and he wants to stay and maybe win a trophy or two, then who’s to stop him?
Fair enough. So, again, why all the scandal talk?
The best way to look at this is as a public relations disaster by City Football Group. They were painfully slow in informing the MLS hierarchy, NYCFC fans and soccer fans in general that Lampard was staying with City. It’s as if they enjoyed the good publicity of announcing Lampard would be with NYCFC for the start of 2015 so much that they didn’t want to spoil it, and so filed the Lampard staying in Manchester story in a box marked “problems that might go away if we ignore them.” Only it didn’t. So then they filed it in a box marked “news to announce on New Year’s Eve in the hope that people don’t notice.” But people did.