Frank Lampard's Chelsea Move Is A Dip In Sentimentality And Risk
Frank Lampard was not short of offers when he made his first foray into management.
A 21-year playing career saw Lampard play the top of the game while collecting an impressive haul of trophies along the way including the Premier League (three times) and the Champions League.
His eagerness to embark on a new career was offset by a desire to pick the right opportunity. He held discussions with both Oxford United and Ipswich Town before eventually agreeing to become manager of Derby County in May last year.
From the moment Lampard arrived there was pressure put upon him. Football is littered with talented former players that struggle to make a successful transition to the technical area.
“It sold itself to me as a club and the players were very close to promotion last year,” Lampard said. “There are expectations and I understand that. I played under expectations as a player. I know what’s required and the vision of the club and I will try my best to bring it to the table.”
Derby was a team in transition after losing Gary Rowett to Stoke City. Lampard’s arrival represented owner Mel Morris’ fifth permanent appointment since he became involved with the club in 2015.
The 41-year-old was tasked with trimming the wage bill, making the team younger, and also producing a more entertaining style of play.
During last summer 9 players aged 28 or older departed the club, with six of that group aged 30 or older.
In their place came a dozen new arrivals including Duane Holmes and Jack Marriott as well as loanees Harry Wilson, Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount (all of who were under 24). Lampard sprinkled experience on top by adding Ashley Cole and Efe Ambrose in January and February respectively as the club finished just inside the top six.
Lampard's Derby side finished a point worse off than the previous season, but there was a tacit acceptance that he had performed well, with his team finishing the season in the playoff final, one game from Premier League football.
“Frank has brought the buzz back to the place,” Chairman Mel Morris said in May before the playoff final. “He has created a special environment. It wasn’t about him being a celebrity, it was about somebody giving us excitement. He has an aura, like all great managers.”
It is, however, premature to call Lampard a ‘great manager.’ While the overall picture of the season was positive, there were still aspects that caused concern. A draw against Nottingham Forest in mid-December began a wretched run of form that saw Derby win just five league games between then and the start of April.
Amid the struggles and talk of Derby’s annual collapse, Lampard took aim at what he called the ‘doom merchants’ surrounding the club. He often cut an emotional figure on the touchline, and some of that spilled over during the ‘Spygate’ controversy involving Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United.
“Ready for my presentation, everyone? We do analysis, too,” he said after Derby’s FA Cup third-round replay win at Southampton before adding. “I haven’t seen it [Bielsa’s presentation], I’ve heard about it obviously.”
That remark distracted from what had been an impressive performance. Tactically, Lampard asked his players to press high and preferred a quick short passing game while oscillating between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formation (as well as experiments with 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2).
There were memorable displays against Manchester United and Chelsea in the cups, but ultimately his side struggled for consistency.
That elusive quality may have arrived in time, but that is not a commodity associated with Chelsea managers. In 16 years, Chelsea have been through 14 permanent managers.
Thankfully, the situation Lampard walks into does share parallels with his time at Derby. He will need to integrate young players into the Chelsea first team and introduce an exciting new vision for supporters that finished the previous season frustrated. He will also hope to break a cycle of short-term appointments.
It may be argued that a move for Lampard is an attempt to end that habit. Tapping into the goodwill attached to a former player by hiring them as manager is nothing new (as seen with Manchester United last season).
In the short-term, it will evaporate the negativity that shrouded the final months of Maurizio Sarri’s tenure at the club.
As a player Lampard ushered in a new era at Chelsea, and he must now do that once again as manager.