André Villas-Boas has cast fresh doubt on Frank Lampard's Chelsea future by admitting that he does not know whether the player will be at Stamford Bridge next season. Lampard has been part of the London club's furniture for more than a decade but has become so dismayed at his reduced role in Villas-Boas's renovation that there is an increasing likelihood of him leaving this summer, 12 months before the end of his current contract.
"I hope he will be here but it does not depend on me," said Villas-Boas. "It depends on three parts: I have to want him, the person has to want to stay and the club has to want him."
Although the manager maintains that he would like to keep the services of the player whose goal against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday took him past Jimmy Greaves in the Chelsea all-time scoring charts, it is clear that he does not consider Lampard to be the linchpin that he once was. This season he has omitted him from the starting lineup for crucial Premier League games against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur and the Champions League group match against Valencia and, most controversially of all, the first leg of the Champions League last‑16 tie against Napoli last week.
While Lampard says that he accepts that, at 33, he can no longer expect to play in every match, he believes he should still be deployed in the most important ones. The manager seems to disagree and the player acknowledges that their relationship is "not ideal".
The way that Chelsea fans acclaimed his every touch against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday suggests most of them believe Lampard is still more worthy of a regular starting place than, for example, Raul Meireles, who has replaced him in most of the aforementioned matches. Villas-Boas seems not to agree and, although recognising the merit of the crowd's attachment to Lampard, insists such sentiments can play no part in his decision-making.
"I take no instructions from anybody," says the manager. "The word legend represents exactly that. He is a player who has been involved for all managers before and played in most of the games – just a couple of games missed through injury. The only difference this year from the years before is that we have more competition in midfield and things become more difficult for everybody. But Frank is now in the top five of players most used [by Chelsea] so he is up there with the best."
But not always for the best games, which is why there is a sense that if Roman Abramovich allows Villas-Boas to persist with the overhaul that the manager says he was hired to implement, then Lampard could leave. Especially if his discontent disrupts the dressing room. Already reports have linked Lampard with a switch to Paris St-Germain, who are owned by wealthy Qataris and managed by the former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti.
It is, of course, by no means certain that Abramovich will keep faith with Villas‑Boas. The Russian's patience was tested by a run of four wins in 14 matches prior to the win over Bolton, which he flew in to watch up close. The owner will have been satisfied that another setback never looked likely and second-half goals from David Luiz, Didier Drogba and Lampard gave an emphatic scoreline to a performance that never needed to be anything above competent, such was the poverty of Bolton.
Bolton's Premier League status looks even more precarious than Villas-Boas's job security. They are 19th in the table and unlikely to be any higher after next weekend, when they face Manchester City. The run-in after that is where Owen Coyle, the manager, expects to collect enough points to survive.
"After that we will have played seven of the top eight twice – the elite clubs – so we know there are winnable games after that. Our fate is in our own hands. We have good enough, young enough players to address that and that's what we'll focus on."