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The worst kept secret in football is finally out in the open as Chelsea finally appointed Frank Lampard as manager. Many have been quick to label the move as sentimental on account of Lampard’s status as a legendary player at Stamford Bridge, as it would be a first in Roman Abramovich’s sixteen year reign as Chelsea owner, so why turn to Lampard and can he succeed?
Promise but no prize at Derby
Lampard’s debut season in management with Derby proved a partial success. He did guide Derby to surprise Cup wins over Manchester United and Southampton and to the Championship playoff final by beating Leeds. However, the League campaign was patchy and the playoff final was ultimately lost. Derby finished sixth; the same position they managed the previous season under Gary Rowett, and with a point less than they totaled the previous year. It was the fourth time in six seasons Derby made the playoffs, meaning Lampard’s achievement matched, but didn’t better those of Rowett, Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall.
If Lampard’s record in the Championship was a critical factor in his appointment, perhaps Chelsea should have looked at Norwich’s Daniel Farke, whose team finished twenty points above Lampard’s on a much smaller budget.
Some have drawn optimistic comparisons between Lampard’s move and Pep Guardiola getting the Barcelona job, or Zinedine Zidane doing the same at Real Madrid. It’s true that both those managers took over with no previous management experience at senior level, but the difference was both those coaches began their coaching careers with those clubs by coaching the youth or reserve teams and absorbing the coaching ethos of the club. Lampard by contrast left Chelsea five years ago, and since then, Chelsea have been through another three managers and three radically different playing philosophies.
Lampard’s strongest card over the season was he did well with young players, most notably Harry Wilson, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori; the later two of whom will be joining him with the Chelsea squad next season. There was never much doubt that once approached Lampard would accept the Chelsea job, but in leaving Derby without winning promotion, he does so without a tangible achievement on his management CV.
Chelsea in Flux
Despite finishing last season a creditable third and winning the Europa League, at no time since Abramovich bought the club has an incoming Chelsea manager inherited as many difficulties as Lampard will have this summer. The headline issues are talisman Eden Hazard has gone and the club find themselves under a FIFA imposed transfer ban, meaning they can not buy Hazard’s replacement.
However the questions don’t end there; what now for Maurizio Sarri’s playmaker Jorginho, who was vital to the ‘Sarri-ball’ style but won few admirers last season? After not picking up their option on the misfiring Gonzalo Higuain, who will be the central striker next season? Does Lampard try to bring in from the cold discarded buys Danny Drinkwater, Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko? Where will Christian Pulisic fit in?
It’s widely expected Chelsea will now finally offer first team chances to their academy graduates. Lampard is bringing former Chelsea academy coach Jody Morris back to Stamford Bridge with him and some of his former charges will now be part of the first team. Mount, Tomori, Reece James and Tammy Abraham all enjoyed fine seasons at Championship level but are they ready to step up for a team that will be in next seasons Champions League? Young Welsh defender Ethan Ampadu took his first steps into first team last season and looks a future star, but Lampard is unfortunate that both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi picked up serious achilles injuries at the end of last season and will not be available for the start of the new campaign.
A Change of Policy?
Giving youth a chance is one thing, being patient with it is quite another. Chelsea’s model has always been based on short term results, but rarely do teams with an influx of young players win the Premier or Champions League. Manchester United’s fabled ‘Class of 92’ did win the Premier League and FA Cup double in their first full season in the first team. However that was a team powered by the talismanic duo of Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona both turning in career best seasons, enabling the youngsters to bed into the side; the most obvious man for that role at Chelsea has just joined Real Madrid.
Chelsea’s options this summer have been reduced firstly by their transfer ban and secondly a lack of availability of the world’s best coaches, with Massimo Allegri taking a sabbatical and Erik ten Hag extending his Ajax contract. Lampard will become the first English manager of Chelsea since Glenn Hoddle departed for the England job back in 1996.
Since Abramovich’a arrival the top-class managers have come and then gone with only a Premier League or Champions League win guaranteeing the manager stays in post for the new season. Lampard has little chance of reaching those goals in his first season so the big question remains how long will he get and what are the realistic expectations for this season? Unless their ban is lifted maintaining their place in the top four and a domestic cup run would be a huge success for Lampard, time will tell if he can achieve it and more importantly if Abramovich sees things the same way.
Featured Image: Evening Standard