MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif.—Frank Lampard believes that Major League Soccer would be an excellent option for good, young foreign players who might be a year or two – or more – away from being able to break into Europe's biggest clubs.
The English midfielder, who joined New York City FC last summer, said the experience would be invaluable for talented youngsters, and his countryman Steven Gerrard of the LA Galaxy agrees.
“If I was to go back in time and someone was to offer me a chance at 17 or 18 years of age, if I can't get into Manchester City or Chelsea or Bayern Munich or whatever team there may be around the world, come and play in MLS,” Lampard said, at MLS's media roundtable Tuesday in Southern California. “Come and play in front of people, come and play where results matter rather than playing in the Under-21 leagues or friendly games.
“I think it would be a great experience for them, [to] come and live in a country that's got great culture, that's interesting, [where you can] learn as you grow up as a person. I think it's a huge thing. … If I spoke to a young English player, I'd tell him to come here in a heartbeat.”
Lampard, 37, grew up in West Ham United's system and was seeing regular time with the Hammers by the time he was 19. He spent the bulk of his career with Chelsea and played last season with Manchester City before coming to MLS.
Gerrard, 35, who spent 17 years with his hometown Liverpool FC before joining the Galaxy last summer, said he thought such a move would be “a fantastic experience” for young players but warned that MLS needs to prioritize American talent.
“It's a very physical, demanding league,” Gerrard said, at the roundtable. “I think it would be good for them to man up and grow and get some really good experience, but also if the MLS can maybe relax the rules slightly to attract even more quality players in, it would be great, but at the same time keep the balance right so the American young kids are still getting the chance to grow and become good players for the national team. I think that's where you have to get the balance right.”
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It'd difficult for young players, no matter how talented, to break into the biggest European clubs, which generally are stocked with the world's finest international players. Many play in reserve-league games or spend time on loan to lower division clubs.
Some Euro-based clubs like Tottenham and Manchester City, which is NYCFC's sister club, have already started experimenting with loaning players to MLS like Simon Dawkins, Shay Facey and Angelino with varying degrees of success. While none of those prospects are considered to be as highly-touted as Lampard and Gerrard were in their teens, it could eventually lead to more blue-chip youngsters honing their skills in North America.
“With top clubs, there's a patch of young boys, where they struggle to get into the team, like, from 16, 17 up to maybe 20, 21 sometimes,” Lampard said. “Rather than tread water and play in Under-21 leagues or the reserve leagues, come and play [in MLS], come and put pressure on yourself, come and have 25,000, 30,000 people scrutinizing you [in the stadium] or watching you on TV.
“That's a different level, and that's what makes players grow quickly.”