Saying farewell to Lampard is right, but Chelsea have handled it wrongly

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The Independent Online

There is a video clip doing the rounds on the web of a fans' forum at West Ham in 1996 in which Harry Redknapp is confronted by a supporter who criticises him for favouring Frank Lampard, then just 17, while allowing two other youth-team prospects – Scott Canham and Matt Holland – to leave.

Lampard, puppyish and fresh of face, looks on mortified while his uncle goes on the attack. "I'll tell you with no shadow of doubt, there will be no comparison [between those two players] and what Frank Lampard achieves," Redknapp says. "He's got everything needed to become a top-class midfield player. His attitude is first class, he's got strength, he can play, he can pass it and he can score goals."

The start of Lampard's career was blighted by the strange manner in which the West Ham support took against him. It is a pity that the end of his time at Chelsea is threatening to get nasty too.

Lampard, with 193 goals for the club and a starring role in the most successful period of Chelsea's history, is in his last season. That much is certain, in spite of reports yesterday about the possibility of him staying. The trouble is that his impending departure is threatening to turn into a public relations battle between player and club over where the fault lies.

Chelsea have decided not to give him a new contract and have explained in private to Lampard their reasons for doing so. Lampard is understood to have agreed a deal in principle with Los Angeles Galaxy. In many ways it should be that simple.

But the decision not to renew Lampard's contract inevitably divides opinion. He will be 35 in June and his goals against Everton last week, as well as his penalty against Southampton on Saturday, have renewed the fervour that he has at least another good year in him. But there is also a strong argument for saying that this summer is as good a time as any for the club to go in a new direction.

Chelsea have to hand the baton on to a new generation at some point, and they have invested heavily in those players. Lampard has always been among their top earners, rightly so, and the notion that he has offered to play for less is, one is reliably informed, not the case. The club cannot keep adding to their wage bill if they are to comply with Uefa financial fair play.

Every goal Lampard scores, from now to the end of the season, in pursuit of Bobby Tambling's club record of 202 will inevitably provoke more disbelief from certain quarters that he is being allowed to leave. The supporters are already disenchanted with the club's current choice of Rafa Benitez as manager and Lampard's future has further pricked that sense they have of Roman Abramovich's indifference to their opinions.

It is a personal view that the summer is a good time for Lampard to go. There is no guarantee the club will find another 20-goals-a-season midfielder but that was always likely to be the case. Great players are very rarely replaced like-for-like. At 35, Lampard will still be young enough to gain one more lucrative contract elsewhere.

Change is hard. Especially at a club where Lampard has been a constant through the good times and the bad of the Abramovich era. Explaining change has not been a strength at Chelsea. The club could do a lot worse than clear up the reasons, as dispassionately as possible, why they are not renewing Lampard's contract. Not everyone will agree but it might take the sting out of the situation.

Lampard's departure should not end with bitterness on both sides. His name will be cherished by the fans for years to come. He might well manage the side. He may even get a statue on the forecourt one day, like Peter Osgood. It would be a dreadful shame if when he bids farewell to Stamford Bridge in the last home game of the season on 19 May it is not an amicable farewell.

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