What Next for Frank Lampard After Chelsea Dream Turns Sour?

David Fox

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Frank Lampard was supposed to be different. If all of the other Chelsea managers of the Roman Abramovich era were mere short term flings - and there have been plenty, with 14 managers in 18 years, (two more if you include temporary caretakers Ray Wilkins and Steve Holland), and both Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink getting two cracks at the job - then Lampard was supposed to be the sensible long term relationship to settle down with. It's always been you, Frank.

Except that was just a nice idea, a dream, the reality of the Chelsea manager's job - really any manager's job at a rich, successful Premier League club - was always going to rudely intrude on such plans.

The sacking of their former hero, the leading goalscorer in their history, has always felt grimly inevitable ever since they appointed him. Like fellow club legend turned manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, it has always looked as though Lampard was a few bad results from the chop. While Solskjaer remains in situ at Old Trafford having led the Red Devils - unexpectedly - to the top of the table, Lampard could not turn his team's form around once the results and performances started going south.

Lampard was appointed after only one season in management, with Championship club Derby County. While he had admirers in the press for his attacking style of play and trust in youth, he failed to lead the club to promotion to the Premier League. In fact some argued that Lampard failed to do much at all - the club were in sixth place when he arrived and still in sixth place when he left.

So appointing the rookie manager - who had spent more time in media work post-retirement, including a spell on a television comedy panel show, than in coaching - was always a risk. But if you squinted it made some kind of sense.

Lampard would be following Maurizio Sarri, the chain smoking Italian who never really connected with the fans or the players (although he did bring home a trophy in his single season at Stamford Bridge in the form of the Europa League), whereas Lampard had an instant connection via his playing days. He brought another former Chelsea player along in the form of Jody Morris, his assistant at Derby and had even loaned Chelsea youngsters Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori at Derby.

His faith in Chelsea youth, in fact, was a big factor in him getting the job. Chelsea were under a transfer embargo, and had sold their best player, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid, meaning they were finally forced to trust the fruits are their expensive and much vaunted youth academy. Lampard did so, and by the end of his only full season Mount, Tomori and striker Tammy Abraham had become not only Chelsea regulars but England internationals while he also gave minutes to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Billy Gilmour amongst others.

And maybe if Chelsea continued their "trust in youth" policy Lampard would still be in a job. But as the transfer embargo ended, Roman Abramovich's famous transfer largesse returned. The feeling that rivals would be keeping their powder dry with the uncertain financial effect of the coronavirus pandemic reverberating throughout the league allowed Chelsea to go for brine thanks to the Russian's (presumably unaffected) funds. In the summer came expensive high profile signings including Hakim Ziyech from Ajax (£37m), German internationals Timo Werner (£50m) and Kai Havertz (£75m) as well as new goalkeeper Edouard Mendy (£22m). Even a free transfer of the experienced Brazil international Thiago Silva came with the cost of high wages.

So if his first season was about cobbling together a new identity for a young, home grown Chelsea team, this season was about fitting expensive new signings in and, maybe, challenging for the Premier League title.

Unfortunately, Lampard has not been up to that challenge. It's been clear he doesn't know his best team and has constantly chopped and changed personnel and positions. He has struggled to get the best out of Werner who has looked out of sorts both up front and wide on the left, and Havertz - who has been switched between the wings and central midfield has looked a little off the pace in the Premier League. Ziyech has been a success when he has played, though, and Lampard can't be blamed for the injury troubles that have dogged the Moroccan's first season in England.

It could be argued the unexpectedly early lifting of Chelsea’s transfer ban - originally imposed for two seasons but lifted after just one (check this) has sealed Lampard’s fate. He was more comfortable working under lower expectations, with the ready-made excuse of being unable to make transfers always there. Maybe he will grow into the kind of manager who can corral a team of expensive superstars into a cohesive whole, but he is not there yet.

His confirmed replacement, the highly-rated German Thomas Tuchel, looks like a best of both worlds replacement. His managerial CV thus far includes improving an existing squad instead of relying on big transfers (Mainz), blending youth and experience (at Dortmund) and working with inflated superstar egos (at PSG). Although his track record of falling out with his bosses in both of his previous jobs suggests that he may have an interesting relationship with Chelsea’s famously hard to please hierarchy.

What next, though, for Frank Lampard? He left Derby with a burgeoning reputation as a young manager, but overall he did not meet expectations at Chelsea - and if it didn’t work out with his one true love, will any other Premier League club take a punt on Lampard being “the one”?

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David is an author and freelance writer. He has published two books of short stories and his first novel is due to be released in January 2021. He writes about parenting, relationships and life with a disability, as well as about pop culture, writing, productivity, politics and soccer. His work has appared in The Mighty, Apparently, Movie Pilot, WhatCulture, Vocal Media, What Millenials Want, State of the Game, FootballEye, Football Critic, The False 9 and Just Football.

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