Does he do a Cantona and leave the Club as a bona fide legend? Or does he slowly fade away with early substitions, Carling Cup winter’s nights in Wigan, and the odd crowd jeer or two in his ears?
Let’s get one thing clear. Frank is a legend. He arrived at Chelsea in 2001 with more puppy fat that an Artic seal and an £11 million price tag which would make even Abramovich blanche today. Seven seasons later and Frank’s guided Chelsea to two Premiership’s, two Carling Cups, an FA Cup, a Charity Shield and a Champions League Final.
Of just as much significance is the fact that he transformed himself from an overweight mummy’s boy to a midfield General who came second to Ronaldinho as UEFA European and FIFA World player of the year in 2005. That same year, the Football Writers awarded him best player in England and he cemented himself into Chelsea folklore as the player who scored a brace at Bolton to lift the Premiership. Ask anyone who was at Bolton and they’ll tell you it was probably the finest moment ever to be a Chelsea fan.
In 2001 Claudio Ranieri, who had a great reputation as a manager who could spot young players’ potential, opted to buy Frank. However, at £11 million for a twenty two year old (who wasn’t even popular at his existing Club West Ham) there was hardly one Chelsea fan alive who thought it was good business. In his first season, Big Fat Frank was decent in a Steve Sidwell sort of workman-like way. But £11 million? No chance.
Whilst Frank didn’t get any boos, he hardly got any plaudits either. In his second season, Frank got used to playing for a big Club and settled in better. But it was still Eidur & Jimmy and Terry in defence who stole the limelight. Frank was decent but that’s as far as it got.
And then something happened. Frank turned into a monster-player. All those extra hours at the training ground; the weight lifting and gym workouts; the free-kick and corner routines – it all started paying off as one coherent whole. Super Frank was born.
Barclay’s Player of the month in Sept 2003, he subsequently notched up double figures in league goals in 03/04, as he was to do for five consecutive years. 2004’s glorious Champions League win over Arsenal’s invincibles at Highbury – where Frank scored – nearly saw him appear in his first Champions League Final only for Ranieri’s insane team selection to kill the tie dead in Monaco.
However, it was with the arrival of Jose Mourinho that Frank saw his status as a good player suddenly change to ‘a great player’. Jose refined his game, improved his confidence and made him the midfield fulcrum in what is still Chelsea’s best ever season – 2004/05. So impressive was his form during the Champions League and league run that former Brazilian captain Carlos Alberto and Dutch footballer Johann Cruyff both referred to him as one of Europe’s best midfielders.
Since then Frank’s gone from strength and is recognisable to any European football fan as one of Europe’s best midfielders. Click here for a little selection of his goals: Feroz Ali WMV.
However, what singles out Frank as truly special is his humanity. I talked with Rob Hobson of CFCnet two years ago when CFCnet interviewed Frank (read interview here) and in his own words, Rob said, “Frank’s a true gent. A nicer chap you couldn’t wish to meet. He gave us plenty of time and actually apologised to us when our time came to an end because he wanted to continue the interview. He loved doing the interview and said we could interview him any time – he said it was refreshing for him to talk to real fans and not journalists.”
This last Season, every Chelsea fan was touched by Frank’s courage, grit and class in the wake of his mother’s death. His goal celebration against Liverpool brought tears to us all.
So should Frank stay or go?
To me, Frank is such a legend I’d hate to see him wear a Blue shirt and fade into obscurity like an old race horse that one day had won the Epsom Derby and was now trotting around the knacker’s yard. Football can be cruel and just as we have recently seen with Joe Cole, a few avarege or below-par performances can take the shine off a whole season. As Frank’s speed diminishes and his stamina fades, do we really want to see him decline before our eyes like a certain Andrei Shevchenko? Do we want to see him playing second fiddle to some ex-Barcelona tart? Do we want to hear crowd jeers from the idiots in the Matthew Harding Lower who’s memories are like knats only shorter?
Frank, leave now. Leave as a legend.