As we enter 2013, Chelsea football club enters yet another new era. Club stalwarts Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole have six months left on their contracts, and despite performing to the high standards one would expect of Champions League winners and England internationals, they seem destined to leave the club in the summer.
Although Lampard was signed during Claudio Ranieri's reign, it was under the management of Jose Mourinho that he moved from one of England's best midfielders to one of Europe's best.
Cole joined in acrimonious circumstances from Arsenal, and together with John Terry, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba they formed the core of the team that won back-to-back Premier League titles with Mourinho, an FA Cup, two League Cups and, after the Portuguese boss left, the Champions League last season.
However, with the Mourinho clan entering their thirties and the need to lower a towering wage budget as Uefa's master-plan, Financial Fair Play, looms large on the horizon, it seems Lampard et al are set to leave the Blues.
Drogba was moved on last summer, despite playing a pivotal role in the Champions League success in Munich and the misfiring of Fernando Torres. It appears Lampard and Cole will follow on despite being just as important in a stuttering side under first Roberto di Matteo and now Rafa Benitez. Of course, the managers have little say in the players' futures, but it seems odd that two of their most experienced players are being allowed to leave for free despite retaining their importance to the team.
Chelsea might feel in Ryan Bertrand they have a young replacement for Cole ready and fully integrated, but there is no natural replacement for Lampard. The Blues could argue that in Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard they have plenty of creative and goal scoring talent in midfield, but Lampard brings much more than that, often popping up at the most crucial of moments (his brace against Everton a recent example) and bringing a presence to the centre of midfield that is unmatched by David Luiz, Ramires, or John Obi Mikel.
There was word that Chelsea had changed their mind and decided to offer the ex-West Ham player an extension on his contract, but according to the Daily Mail Lampard met Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay after the QPR defeat and was told that 'under no circumstances would Lampard get a new contract'.
With Terry currently sidelined with a persistent knee injury, and Petr Cech also absent for the moment, the very core of modern day Chelsea is at risk of missing the side's fight to finish in the top four, and risk missing out on qualification for the Champions League.
Under Mourinho there was an underlying determination and resoluteness to win by any means. Wins would be ground out if they needed to be, unbeaten streaks stretched into the new year, and Terry, Lampard and Cole all bought into the manager's mentality.
In the Blues' run to continental glory last season, the shadow of Mourinho covered every game, from the high tempo, high pressure 4-1 win over Napoli in the second leg of the last-16 at Stamford Bridge, the 1-0 away win against Benfica, the 1-0 home semi-final win against Barcelona, and then win on penalties in the final. Rigid defensive organisation, bodies put on the line, and the ability to strike exactly when they need to, were all hallmarks of the Special One's Chelsea.
Now that side has given way to a more creative, free flowing Chelsea. Roman Abramovich is tightening the purse strings, relatively, and the old guard is giving way to a new generation. Rafa Benitez, or whoever the manager is next season, will have the chance to create his own dynasty, mould a team in his image.
Whether Abramovich will allow him the time to have as long lasting effect as Mourinho is up for debate, but with Drogba gone and Lampard and Cole set to follow, the dynasty of Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge is nearly at an end.
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