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Mourinho the loser as Lampard signs

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Phil McNulty | 17:25 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008


Frank Lampard's contract wrangle has run a poor second behind Cristiano Ronaldo's flirtation with Real Madrid as the summer's longest - and on occasion most tedious - football saga.

It has ended, like the Ronaldo story, with the hero staying at home and the foreign football force's advances publicly spurned.

Chelsea's very obvious pleasure in announcing that Lampard has signed a new five-year deal sprung from several sources.

Luis Felipe Scolari, Frank Lampard

They have secured, for the rest of his top-class career and probably beyond, a player and personality who has become a home-grown symbol of their success amid the blizzard of foreign arrivals fuelled by the finance of Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

Chelsea have also delivered a very public raspberry in the direction of their former coach Jose Mourinho, who did everything to suggest it was purely a matter of time before Lampard came running back to his one-time master and join him at Inter Milan.

Mourinho has discovered, as he occasionally did at Chelsea, that you cannot win them all and his job at the San Siro must go on without Lampard.

It has been rumoured that Chelsea's determination to keep Lampard away from Italy was strengthened by Abramovich's own desire not to let Mourinho put one over on him.

This may or may not be true, but one thing is certain - the news from Stamford Bridge will have made Mourinho one very disappointed man. This alone might just raise a smile at Stamford Bridge.

It is also another pointer to the strength of the Premier League. Gone are the days when the super-powers from Spain and Italy could simply wave a chequebook in the direction of England and get their man.

Real Madrid and Inter Milan have failed in the pursuit of Manchester United and Chelsea's prize assets - this tells you where the power-base lies now. It is here in the Premier League.

It is a victory for new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. I sat just feet away from Scolari at his Chelsea coronation when he announced with great conviction that Lampard had told him he wanted to stay at Stamford Bridge for many years.

This statement prompted some swift posturing from Lampard's camp within minutes, but all's well that ends well and Chelsea and the player will be elated with this deal.

Scolari was as firm in his belief that Lampard would stay as Chelsea were in their insistence he would not leave - and both the statements I heard at that plush Cobham hotel have come to pass.

Chelsea have had to make concessions of their own to keep Lampard out of Inter's clutches, namely increasing the length of their contract offer by 12 months from an offer of four years.

Lampard's camp can claim victory by getting their five-year deal, but Chelsea can do likewise by keeping one of their major players at Stamford Bridge.

And the fact they could announce it on the eve of the new season is a not-so-gentle reminder to Manchester United that Chelsea will once again have their most dangerous weapons available to them again this season.

It is a perfect response to the mind games that have already started, with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson claiming Chelsea were past their peak and Stamford Bridge captain John Terry replying in kind with a barb aimed at Old Trafford.

Lampard has been the country's finest goalscoring midfielder in recent years, although I stand by my belief that Liverpool's Steven Gerrard is the more complete package.

But no-one can doubt his importance to Chelsea and it would have been a huge footballing and psychological blow had he left.

If there is one question I would raise about what will be a hugely lucrative deal, it would be the length of contract for a player who is now 30 and has a lot of miles on the clock.

My own view was that Chelsea's four-year offer was on the limit of generosity, while five seems to be a reward for the service Lampard has given to the club in the past.

Lampard is the consumate professional, but it will be some achievement if he is still the heartbeat of Chelsea's midfield in five years' time.

Chelsea will ignore those legitimate doubts and believe this is price worth paying for a player who has proved his ability and courage (remember the Champions League semi-final penalty against Liverpool just days after the death of his mother?) on countless occasions.

It is a sign of the power of both Chelsea and the Premier League that Inter Milan and Mourinho have failed in a very public bid to court him - and a warning shot from Scolari to his rivals that this is a man who means business.


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