Welcome to the strange case of Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.
Lampard will become a free agent when his contract expires at the end of the season. A few weeks later, he turns 35. He's one of the club's highest-paid players, with a reported salary of more than $10 million. And given that Chelsea is likely to embark on another rebuilding campaign by hiring a new manager this summer—the current boss, Rafa Benitez, still has the word interim in his job title—it might make sense to shed Lampard and his contract.
On the other hand, Lampard isn't only one of the club's most popular players but also one of the most durable over the past 12 years. A goal-scoring midfielder, he has reached double figures in each of the past 10 seasons—which, simply put, is an absurd feat for a striker, let alone for a guy who spends most of the game in the middle of the park. After his goal Saturday in Chelsea's 4-1 win over Wigan Athletic—a trademark laser-guided strike from the edge of the box—Lampard is now just four short of the club's all-time goal-scoring record. Lampard sits at 198; Bobby Tambling, who played most of his career in the 1960s, is at 202. Depending on what Chelsea does in the Europa League and FA Cup, Lampard could have as many as 28 games remaining this season.
It isn't surprising that chants of "Sign him up! Roman, Roman sign him up!" echoed around Stamford Bridge on Saturday as Chelsea's fans urged the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, to offer him a new deal. Abramovich hasn't done so, according to media reports, meaning Lampard will have no choice but to entertain offers from other clubs once he becomes a free agent.