The long goodbye between Frank Lampard and Chelsea took another twist yesterday (Friday) when the club captain, John Terry, voiced how "devastated" he was by his friend's pending departure this summer. Lampard's contract expires in June and the club have shown no indication of offering a new deal to the popular, in-form 34 year-old described as the "heartbeat" of Chelsea by Terry.
Chelsea's interim first-team manager, Rafael Benitez, admitted he was "surprised" when informed his captain had written a heartfelt tribute to Lampard on his official Instagram account. Terry habitually uses the site for posting Hello!-type happy family snaps or pictures of him on fitness bikes. Deliberately or not, Terry's use of Instagram has helped soften his much-battered image in some eyes.
Yesterday was different. This was an off-message, on-target cyber-rocket sent hurtling across the Surrey airwaves from Terry's mobile into the club's Cobham fastness. "Devastated is an understatement,'' wrote Terry under a picture of him and Lampard celebrating. "We should retire the number 8 shirt in honour of Lamps. #theheartbeat #hero #legend #hero #goalmachine #friend #ktbffh (Keep The Blue Flag Flying High) #cfc #chelsea''.
In the manner of a contentious tweet being deleted, and they know the procedure for that at Cobham, Terry's "devastated" posting was later removed. Another photograph was inserted, of Lampard with the Champions League trophy, with Terry writing that he was simply reacting to comments reportedly from Steve Kutner, Lampard's agent, about his client moving on this summer. Kutner insists he gave no such interview.
Whatever the confusion, everyone can see Chelsea's board has deemed Lampard surplus to requirements, even though to most neutrals' eyes he looks to have another year's top-flight life left in him. Terry actually deserves applause for his honest, emotional reaction to the reality that a friend and valued colleague is about to leave.
Terry himself is 32, his body has taken more damage down the years than Lampard's, and he probably hears the clock ticking as well. His contract expires next year.
Terry has clearly been simmering over the treatment of Lampard, using his programme notes for Wednesday's game against QPR to note the No?8 was a "living legend" at the club who had been "playing brilliantly'', lauding him as "the best in the game at arriving in the right place to finish off moves".
Benitez, who has to deal with the questions over a board decision which is nothing to do with him, yesterday had to handle the fallout of Terry's Instagram grenade. "I was surprised when they told me but that's it,'' he said. "We know we have to manage the situations as they are coming. This time it was the agent with things that he says he didn't say so it was quite difficult to follow. But I don't have any problem.
"We are talking too much about a situation we know. We have a good professional who is doing well in every training session and trying to do his best in the games. I am sure he will do this until the end. And after we will see. We are really pleased to keep him here, playing games and scoring goals."
Benitez hopes the situation will not dominate the thoughts of supporters or those who chronicle the club's fortunes. Dream on. This is Lampard we are talking about, a "living legend" in Terry's estimation, the man who captained Chelsea in their greatest moment. He has built up vast amounts of goodwill in the national bank. People will fight his corner.
No career lasts forever, of course, and even a player such as the wonderful 39-year-old Javier Zanetti will eventually retire at Inter Milan, but the Italians will doubtless handle the situation with dignity. Gilded gladiators must leave their club coliseum with heads held high, with songs of praise reverberating in their ears.
Didier Drogba did it brilliantly, winning the Champions League, calling a handful of journalists for a sit-down chat at the well-heeled gym next to the Bridge and then announcing he was definitely off while his advisers were in the background releasing a statement to Sky. It was controlled and classy.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his board have simply decided to pursue a younger option but they must show Lampard the respect he deserves for more than a decade's glittering service.