The MLS has been seen by many for a while now as the place that aging heroes from the European game go to see out the last few years of a star-studded career. This can all be traced back to when the legendary Pele signed for New York Cosmos many moons ago. David Villa is the first this summer to follow in these hallowed footsteps and he could be followed closely by veteran Frank Lampard. So has anything changed?
The former Barcelona and Atlético forward’s transfer was announced on Monday after much speculation over the weekend. He joined Manchester City’s American franchise; New York City FC, after many fruitful years in Spanish football. He shot to fame for his goal record at Valencia and this continued at the famous Catalan club where he scored at many vital times. By comparison, a relatively short stay in Madrid did result in quite possibly the most rewarding part of his career to date; winning La Liga with a club other than the big two.
In what may prove to have been his final season in European football, Villa was certainly not a passenger in Atléti’s trophy charge on multiple fronts. Achieving 13 goals in 36 league appearances; a little worse than 1 in 2, he had clearly remained an integral part of his side. Furthermore, he is only 32 years of age, is part of Spain’s final 23 man squad for the World Cup, and has not been plagued by injuries commonly induced by simply getting too old. Therefore, you have to ask, why is he leaving the limelight of the European leagues to become a very big fish in a relatively small pond in the USA?
Villa himself described the package that New York City FC were offering him as “too good to turn down”, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of player who is purely motivated by money. If that was the case, surely he would have left the sinking ship that was Valencia a lot earlier than he did, and he wouldn’t have joined Atlético from Barcelona. Despite only playing at the Vicente Calderon for a season, he has developed a connection with the Atléti faithful, declaring that he “will now always be a fan”. Such sentiment could not leave the lips of a mercenary I feel.
No, the driving force behind David Villa’s departure in my opinion is not too dissimilar to that of David Beckham when he joined L.A. Galaxy. The Spaniard is in the twilight of his career and his legacy is already intact in Europe for certain, but were he to spark the success of an entirely new franchise in one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, then hero worship would not do his reception justice.
As for Frank Lampard, his current situation is much less cut and dry. After his move across London early in his career from West Ham United to Chelsea, he has become an absolute legend at Stamford Bridge. I do not believe you could find one Chelsea fan with one bad word to say about him to be honest. While fans of other clubs may not rate him as highly as a player, he has been exemplary as a person throughout. Finding this trait in a footballer these days is as easy as draining blood from a stone.
At the end of last season, he was embroiled in a contract wrangle too, with the board eventually either seeing sense or caving to public demand and handing him an extension. This time around however, there has been no such compromise. Lampard’s future has been subject to much speculation ever since he was placed on the list of players that Chelsea were willing to release. In my view, this is a rather crass manner in which to treat a club hero.
Though not yet confirmed, it seems very likely that he will join Villa in the Big Apple in the coming days, but the finer details are yet to be ironed out. I am sure that ever since Chelsea’s intention to let him leave became known, he will have been inundated with offers from other Premier League clubs. So why not take one of these options instead? I believe it shows the class of the man, who does not want to break both Chelsea fans’ hearts and his own by walking out in another Premier League strip to face The Blues.
Nearly at the age of 35 now, retirement is not too far off the horizon for Frank Lampard at this stage, but his inclusion in England’s World Cup squad surely goes some way to prove that he still has a great deal to offer any side. Chelsea still used him right up to the end of last campaign; more sparingly than before I must admit, but he still popped up with the odd goal. I think Lampard would have loved to end his career at Stamford Bridge, but as he is not quite ready to call it quits just yet, almost all the doors became closed to him. America gives him the chance to enjoy the last couple of years of his playing career at a more relaxed pace, possibly build up a network of contacts across the pond, and allow plenty of time to reflect on what has been a simply stunning 19 years on these shores.