When the announcement was made that Frank Lampard was extending his time at City until the end of the 2014/15 season it wasn't the decision itself that caused consternation but that the structure of the agreements between Lampard, City and NYCFC were not quite what they appeared.
This was because it transpired that there was no contract in place between Lampard and NYCFC, meaning that Lampard was not, after all, on a short term loan to City from NYCFC but that he had effectively signed a deal only with City.
This led to a statement from Third Rail, an NYCFC supporter group and this post from SB Nation's NYCFC blog Hudson River Blue, accusing both City and NYCFC of lying. (They also do a good job today picking over the whole mess.
We then had a statement from the Premier League which stated that it was satisfied that City had not breached any contractual issues and that no agreement was in place with NYCFC.
"Frank Lampard is registered as a Manchester City player until the end of the 2014-15 season. The Premier League has sought and received assurances from Manchester City that there is no agreement in place between the club or City Football Group with New York City FC relating to the player."
Hope you're all keeping up here.
Today then we had a further statement, this time released on behalf of Lampard (the first time - not unsurprisingly - we have heard from Lampard on the issue) stating that he did sign an agreement with NYCFC:
@franklampard Frank Lampard Statement: pic.twitter.com/P62colcjPT— SKM (@skmltd) January 9, 2015
Perhaps Lampard is positioning himself for a career in politics given this statement. The aim, undoubtedly, is one of damage limitation. You could argue it is a matter of semantics, but in saying that he signed 'a commitment' to NYCFC is not the same as signing a contract. It is clear then that at no time was Lampard officially an NYCFC player, therefore he was never on loan at City. The intention may have been to join up on 1st January 2015 after a spell with City but the lack of a contract provided Lampard (and City of course) with the necessary 'out' that was needed.
So why all the confusion then?
Here's my take.
I can't think that there is any great subterfuge involved here. Despite the muddy waters we are trying to wade through what is clear is that there is no attempt to breach FFP regulations. The commitment was signed with NYCFC with the intention to train with City in the autumn and see how things progressed. (If you remember back to the start of the season there was no great expectation that Lampard would have a meaningful impact). By not signing a formal playing contract (only a commitment) this meant that the option of staying at City was always open should things progress well on the field at City.
What isn't clear, or has been explained though, is why it was not announced this way initially? By doing it this way it has only served to cloud the issue and actually caused more problems than the decision itself. Marketing reasons? Lampard was the focal point of the NYCFC marketing and ticketing drive. With only a 'commitment' to NYCFC could they have sold merchandise, tickets and so on in the manner they have done, knowing that an extension was a likely outcome?
Was there even consideration for Chelsea (on Lampard's part) in that moving to NYCFC and then a loan to City was more palatable than to be seen to be moving directly to City from one of their biggest rivals? Far-fetched perhaps but his ties with Chelsea were strong.
Logic dictates that the marketing line is the most likely. Lampard, the marquee name for NYCFC (and don't forget in a way City, through the City Football Group connection) in what was the lead up to their inaugral MLS season, was a huge signing for them. To think they also added David Villa to their roster but it was Lampard who garnered the headlines.
What then, if anything, was the involvement of MLS? Would a contract not be registered with them? Were they aware (and complicit) with the whole deal? Are we perhaps guilty of overplaying this?
I don't know to be honest. The whole matter is a confusing one and I still for the lift of me can't quite figure it all out. I'm sure there is a simple answer to these questions but it appears unlikely we will get them with the message now (you'd have to think) being carefully controlled.
I'm sure all parties are looking to bury this story as quickly as possible, which, from City's point of view will be easier given they have games coming thick and fast, but for NYCFC there is no distraction until they get their season underway which may mean we get to see and hear plenty more about it.
The questions, for Lampard, for NYCFC, for MLS are coming thick and fast and don't appear to be letting up any time soon.