Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez stated in his news conference yesterday, that Chelsea veterans Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard look set to leave at the end of the 2012/13 season. There's been much speculation since the season started that these 2 England internationals would be on their way, with contract talks seemingly stalling. Both have said how bewildered they've been that the club has let contract talks go down to the last year of their respective contracts. In the past, Lampard has always had his contract renewed with 2 years left, but now it seems as if the club is prepared to let him and Cole leave.
With Drogba leaving at the end of last season, and whispers that Cech could perhaps be either sold or benched, with the young Belgian Courtois looking to come back from his loan spell at Atletico Madrid next season, it does seem as though an end of an era is coming to Chelsea FC with the old guard being pushed out of the door. If Cole and Lampard were to leave, it would leave just John Terry of the old guard, with some even questioning his future at the club, with the injuries he seems to be picking up along with the constant controversy which seems to surround the skipper.
The departure of Drogba was hard for fans to take, but we sort of knew that this was coming. Contract talks were going nowhere, and the club seemed to be looking to back striker Fernando Torres by making him the main striker. Also, Drogba couldn't have had a better departure for Chelsea, leaving in the fairytale manner of winning Chelsea the Champions League for the first time with his winning penalty. But the depatures of Cole & Lampard will be just as hard for Chelsea fans to overcome, after all they've done for the club.
Frank Lampard came to the club in 2001 from West Ham in a £11 million deal, which many thought was too much for a young midfielder at the time. But, as everyone will know, this was probably one of Ranieri's best every buys. Playing 572 games for the club, scoring 189 goals and assisting 120 others, the man will go down as another legend of this Chelsea era, and one of the best midfielders to ever grace the Premier League. Many fans, such as myself, want Lampard to remain for at least one more year, with the all time goalscorer record at Chelsea within Frank's sights, being just 13 goals away from Bobby Tambling. It would be fitting for Lampard to leave the club as the all time top goalscorer, especially considering he's a midfielder. But it doesn't seem this is unlikely to happen.
With Chelsea adopting a 4-2-3-1 system, with Ramires & Mikel seemingly first choices for the two deep lying positions, Lampard's chances have been limited, coupled with the hamstring injury he sustained against Shakhtar Donetsk away. But many will say that Lampard still has a role to play, even as a bit part player. As one of the most experienced players in the squad, after the influx of youth at the club during the last 2 seasons, it does seem essential that Chelsea hold on to their vice-captain. At many times during his Chelsea career, Lampard has dragged Chelsea back from defeat, and won so many games for the club, which is what makes him so adored.
In last season's Champions League run, he was influential in organising the team in the Nou Camp as they went down to 10 men after John Terry's sending off, as well as captaining the club to their first Champions League in the Allianz Arena. Experience is not something that can be bought easily, especially for world class players, which is what Frank fits in to. Frank still has a part to play in Chelsea's present and future. It would be foolish to let go of all of the experienced players in the side, as these are the players which help guide and help the youngsters in their development. At Manchester United, Scholes & Giggs have been kept on for that purpose. Their experience is vital when United have to try and win big games in tough situations, and they're good squad players to have. So why can't Chelsea do that?
The same principle applies for Ashley Cole. This is a guy who is still regarded by the masses as the best left back in the world. He's been at such a high level of performance over his entire career for England, Arsenal & Chelsea that it would be foolish to let him leave. At the age of 31, going on 32 in December, this is still a player who has a part to play. Younger than Lampard, who is 34, this is a player who still puts in world class performances week in and week out.
Cole's replacement at Chelsea, seems to be another young Englishman Ryan Bertrand, who was part of the starting line up in the Champions League final in what was his first ever Champions League match. At the age of 23, it's clear that Bertrand has much to learn. At times this season, he's been left exposed at the left back position, but it can be seen that he has a lot of promise, having obtained his first England cap earlier in the year. But with Bertrand not seemingly a regular starter just yet, why let Ashley Cole leave? Another player who's been there and done it in major cup finals, and won league titles.
A loud and extravagant player off the pitch, but on the pitch he's one of the most reliable in the business. Making 276 appearances in 6 seasons, he's been an integral part of this Chelsea side. However, Cole has been hampered with injuries over the past few seasons, with an ankle injury seemingly returning every so often, which does limit the amount of games he can play. But, ask many Chelsea fans and they'd rather have him for half of the games in a season, than none.
There are rumours that a deal with PSG is all but done for Cole, with Lampard's destination seeming to be LA Galaxy, these are departures which would be very hard for Chelsea fans to take. With many fans still very unhappy with the arrival of Benitez after Di Matteo's dismissal, it would be a word of warning to Roman to keep this players on the books, as he may well go on to regret this decision. Chelsea fans understand that times are changing, but for some the steps are being taken too quickly. These players are club legends, and their leadership is something you can't buy. With Terry being one of the only natural born leaders in this young team, Lampard & Cole's leadership qualities may just be worth the price of a new contract, for both of these England internationals.