So it's finally been revealed. In case you have been on Mars for the past few days or in a cave with your fingers in your ears, your eyes shut and your back to the Earth, allow me to be the first to break the news to you.
Frank Lampard isn't a New York City FC player, never was, and there is no agreement between Manchester City and New York City FC regarding him. On top of that Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City said in an interview about the situation, "I hope that he will be there next year but I think that in this moment the best decision for him, for the club, for New York is to stay here with us."
So, you hear that NYCFC fans? Don't be mad because maybe you'll get Lampard after City is done with him...assuming they don't decide to keep him longer.
Now, I'm not upset at Pellegrini--he's the manager of Manchester City, he obviously does not care one bit about New York City FC. He cares solely for his squad, Manchester City. Were the roles somehow reversed, I wouldn't fault Jason Kreis for shrugging off the outrage from Manchester City fans and offering worthless platitudes. No, my ire is directed in several different, but equally at fault, directions.
The first to blame is Major League Soccer and by association, Don Garber.
Major League Soccer trumpeted the Lampard signing. Don't believe me?
Here is the announcement video. Here is Major League Soccer's announcement article. NYCFC posted a "Welcome to New York Frank Lampard" picture with a smiling Lampard in a NYCFC shirt. There is, frankly put, an almost embarrassing amount of articles, video, and more pertaining to Lampard and his "imminent" arrival to NYCFC.
So from day one Major League Soccer was using Lampard as an incentive to get people on board with the NYCFC team. Now? He obviously isn't with the team and very well may never be with the team if City decides to keep him longer. Granted, Lampard has officialy said That he'll be joining NYCFC in the summer and this has reportedly been confirmed, but obviously until Lampard is on the field it's all speculation.
But this goes further then merely the league itself, Don Garber himself when asked about the Lampard situation said, "I could understand why their fans are unhappy, and I do believe [NYCFC] will work hard to build back that trust. They’ve started that process already. I sensed this was coming and it didn’t surprise me when they ultimately made their decision."
Now, interestingly enough, that quote is from when Lampard's "loan" was "extended" with City. Now that it's been revealed that he was never a NYCFC player to begin with, I have yet to see Garber comment on the fact that both the league (and by association, himself) and NYCFC have been made to look like fools at best and liars at worst.
Garber's comment about how the extension didn't "surprise" him is particularly damning to me because given what has come out over the past day or so, it seems that Garber already knew that Lampard was never a New York player and his status was less of an "loan extension" and more of a "completing his contract."
The idea that Major League Soccer knew nothing of Lampard's status is absurd given the tight control that is held over how the league does business. You mean to tell me at NO point, no one in Major League Soccer actually sat up and said, "Wait a minute, Frank Lampard hasn't actually been registered with our league?"
Also, I'm curious as to what Garber means by NYCFC "building back trust," this is an expansion team. It has no trust, they just opened up their trust bank account and have already overdrawn it. NYCFC doesn't have years of support to lean back on and say, "Look, we messed up, but we're going to fix it." They haven't gotten a location or approval for their own stadium nor have they yet to play a single minute, but yet the league is talking about the team in terms of an old friend who borrowed money from you over and over but paid you back time and time again. As of this moment NYCFC has done little to nothing to show that they are deserving of trust.
NYCFC has already put themselves behind the 8 ball in terms of fan support, for the future I can easily see any "big" name player signing being greeted with skepticism and the question of, "If they do well how long until City simply takes them away?"
Garber himself promised more transparency in his "State of the League" address in December of last year,
"As I did say in 2014, transparency is a priority, transparency is a big priority in 2015. And one of the things that you'll start seeing is the concepts that we have in place that allow players to come into the league, that allow a priority order as to we have some management to who gets the rights to players outside of our draft and outside of the youth system, all of that will be shared with the public after we've come up with way to try organize it in buckets so that people can understand it. Whether that's allocations or priority order, all that stuff that the hardcore fan is trying to figure out today, you have a commitment from me today that at least a heck of a lot more of it will be transparent than it is today."
Ouch. Given the fact that apparently the way the league and it's teams do business is so convoluted, so utterly incomprehensible that their own teams are confused as to when they actually have a player on their roster. The credibility of Major League Soccer took a huge blow from this and will take some time to recover.
The second to blame is Manchester City or more specifically, City Football Group (CFG) the organization that owns and operates Manchester City, NYCFC and Melbourne City FC. What totally and utterly baffles me about this whole situation is how New York City was allowed to run rampant with the idea that Lampard was their player and not once did anyone at CFG pick up the phone, call MLS or NYCFC and say, "Uh, guys? He's not your player..."
Obviously, CFG shrugged and let NYCFC/MLS advertise as they will. My belief is that if Lampard had underperformed or simply been average, Manchester City would have let him go and never looked back. But, since Lampard has done well for City in the season, they obviously saw the value in keeping him there, figuring they would deal with the fallout when it happened. Honestly, for anyone one who for one second believed that CFG valued NYCFC as a separate entity should have had that illusion smashed. Basically at this point my honest question is are all "big name" players signed with CFG or NYCFC? If David Villa starts tearing the league up can City simply take him onto their roster and say, "Sorry guys, he signed with CFG, not with MLS."?
I can only imagine how quickly that sort of arrangement would kill support for Major League Soccer's vision of a "grand rivalry" for New York City.
So how can they fix this?
First of all, New York City FC needs to offer and honor any request for a refund. Normally once you plunk down money for a season ticket it's gone. But given this debacle, New York City should give people who want it the option of opting out of their season tickets and refunding whatever they paid for it up to this point.
Secondly, both NYCFC and MLS need to publicly apologize for how they handled this whole mess. Both parties heavily used a player that they never owned in their marketing campaigns to build up for the 2015 season. They both need to reaffirm that they're committed to building a successful team in New York City.
Thirdly, CFG needs to clarify from this point forward that a player that signs for New York City FC, is a New York City FC player. There should no longer be this strange middle ground where the player signs for the "organization" rather than for the team, this has the distinct likelihood of creating problems down the road for players that start to excel and who actually possesses the rights to them.
Assuming Frank Lampard does arrive in MLS this summer, he's soured quite a few fans in the league already. If Lampard plays lights out, all will be forgiven. However, NYCFC and the league have both embarrassingly stumbled and there needs to be assurances, public assurances, that this will never happen again. People forget that Major League Soccer's 20 year anniversary of its first kick is still next year, and in many ways this is a league that is still learning and growing. Let us all hope that this incident will be a first and a last for it.