Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Andres Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and now Frank Lampard. The Englishman joins a long list of high profile Chelsea managers who were brought in by Chelsea and subsequently dumped at the first sign of trouble. This is exactly the same as before, except this time it’s completely different. Chelsea and Roman Abramovic aren’t just sacking any elite super-manager, they are dumping the greatest player to ever to play for the club, the man who made his name under the lights at Stamford Bridge. Lampard brought Premier League titles, Champions Leagues and all sorts of glory to Chelsea, and you would hope that would have built him some credit in the bank. But in reality, Roman sees everything the same, it’s a results business, and if you don’t bring them, move over so someone else can.
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Lampard joined Chelsea in the summer of 2019 when they were going through a transition at the club. The club had just been given a transfer ban by FIFA for 2 windows (eventually reduced to 1) for the transfers of players under the age of 18. They had also lost their best player Eden Hazard to Real Madrid and would have to find internal solutions to replace his goals, assists and overall playmaking. Fortunately for Chelsea, they had an elite group of youngsters coming through, who could slot right into the Chelsea first team under the right manager. Chelsea chose to go with Frank Lampard, a young coach who could guide academy prospects like Mount, Abraham, James, Gilmour and Tomori into the first team just like he did all those years ago. Lampard was a bold appointment from Chelsea (who had previously picked from the Champions League carousel) as someone who only had one year of managerial experience at Derby County in the Championship, and was very much still a work in progress.
Lampard’s appointment felt symbolic though, and for perhaps the first time in a long time, it felt like Chelsea were looking to build a long-term project with a young manager familiar with the club and a talented group of kids, a la Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. 18 months later, however, the brutality of modern football arrived again. There is no such thing as a project, time is the rarest commodity in football, and results are the oxygen that keeps you afloat. Unfortunately for Lampard, it was all over in an instant. Chelsea was on top of the Premier League table as recently as December 5th, but five losses in eight games were enough for the Chelsea board and owner, it was time for a change. Chelsea never ditched their managerial merry go round, they simply put it on pause for a while before resuming their ways this season. The Athletic even reported that Lampard was never going to last long at Chelsea, and the owners were waiting for a bad run of form to replace him.
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Lampard did have a fairly successful first year with the club. He guided Chelsea to a top 4 finish, reached the Champions League knockout stages and an FA Cup Final, while dealing with a transfer ban. More importantly, he helped Chelsea academy stars like Reece James, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount integrate into the first team and become regulars for both the Blues and England.
However, in his second season, instead of building on the top 4 and challenging for the title, Chelsea regressed. Chelsea sit 10th in the Premier League at the time of Lampard’s dismissal, and are below the likes of West Ham, Everton and Southampton in the table. This is after a mammoth spending spree in the summer of £220 million on mercurial talents like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and experienced veterans like Thiago Silva and Hakim Ziyech. Lampard however couldn’t fit them all together in a system and was yet to find a way to make all the pieces of the puzzle connect. For the Chelsea board, this was the tipping point. They had a series of investments in the new players brought in during the summer, but a manager who wasn’t able to maximise them and more importantly gave up on maximising them in the end, as the likes of Werner and Havertz were relegated to substitute appearances.
Eventually with the investment, comes expectations, and Lampard failed to live up to them. There were also grumblings amongst players of Lampard not communicating well with the team and not giving them clear tactical instructions on what to do on the pitch. Calling them out and questioning their desire in the media after defeats to Arsenal certainly didn’t help either, and by the time he lost to Leicester City, you could feel the end was near.
Lampard leaves Chelsea with the worst record for a Chelsea manager in the league in terms of points per game since Roman Abramovic took over in 2003. From a footballing sense, you could argue his departure was warranted. Premier League managers have certainly been sacked for less. But Lampard successfully guided Chelsea through one of their toughest periods in modern history and was then not afforded the time in a congested calendar with no pre-season, to work with his new toys and make them fit the system.
So eventually this fairy-tale story for Frank Lampard comes to an end, maybe his dream job came too early on in his career, and he didn’t have the requisite tools to handle it. But as Lampard packs up his things and leaves the Bridge, it’s a timely reminder that football isn’t about feel-good stories or perfect romances. It’s about winning, and if you can’t do the job, move over and let the next man try.
[Image Credit: Frank Lampard]