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Frank Lampard Is Home but Has Taken on a Tough Task at Chelsea

Frank Lampard Is Home but Has Taken on a Tough Task at Chelsea

Saturday, 6 July, 2019 - 05:45
Frank Lampard is back at familiar surroundings in west London. Photograph: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
London - Frank Lampard
At first glance the timing is all off. Chelsea’s ambitions have been severely constricted as a transfer embargo chokes incoming business, a sanction that could grip through two windows depending on how long it takes the court of arbitration for sport to adjudicate on an appeal. In the meantime the best player, Eden Hazard, has been sold, exiting the squad’s WhatsApp group and parading in the gold-trimmed white shirt of Real Madrid.

Two of the first-team’s most talented academy graduates, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, are in long-term rehabilitation from achilles tendon ruptures and it may be optimistic to expect either to be back in contention this calendar year. A cluttered schedule lies ahead, from pre-season fixtures in Japan to a return to the Champions League. Retreat only a couple of campaigns and Antonio Conte, a far more experienced manager, found that slog too much of a stretch for his title winners, with a fifth-place finish reflecting a collective slip in standards.

It is hardly an appealing scenario, not least with Chelsea having finished 26 points off the top last time round, and that is before one even acknowledges Frank Lampard’s coaching career is in its infancy. A year in the Championship with Derby – his team started well, tailed off badly mid-season, then rallied late to finish sixth before succumbing in the play-off final to Aston Villa – is hardly sufficient preparation for all this. The 41-year-old will know that, for all the assurances that may be delivered from on high and the talk of sympathy at the overall predicament – pledges of patience rarely afforded to his predecessors – standards will not be permitted to dip much further.

Champions League qualification remains the minimum requirement expected of Maurizio Sarri’s successor, as of every manager appointed by Roman Abramovich. The need to comply with Uefa’s fair-play regulations will ensure revenues of up to £70m cannot simply be waived while the new man adjusts to life in the dugout at the higher level. The club’s record goalscorer witnessed a dissatisfied Abramovich sack seven managers over the 11 years the midfielder spent under the oligarch. He knows the culture well enough.

Lampard will have spent the past few weeks weighing up all those concerns, conscious that, in an ideal world, he would be approaching this emotional return to Stamford Bridge having spent longer cutting his teeth at Pride Park. A couple more years learning how best to cope with the vagaries of a brutal industry would have served him well. Yet, ultimately, both he and Chelsea still consider this an opportunity that cannot be passed up.

For the club this is a bright, young manager whose appointment would lift the mood after a difficult – if nonetheless successful – year under Sarri. The fans were split over the Italian and his style of play, the disconnect more pronounced than ever between match-going supporters and those far less regular visitors to Stamford Bridge. The hierarchy had been dismayed by anti-Sarri chants as the team were knocked out of the FA Cup, and an away contingent in open mutiny as they laboured at Cardiff. The poison was similar to that to which Rafael Benítez was subjected during his stint in interim charge in 2012-13, the simmering discontent omnipresent even as the team achieved their creditable third‑place finish or César Azpilicueta hoisted the Europa League trophy in Baku.

But throw in the anticipated arrivals of the coaches Jody Morris and Chris Jones, or the mooted addition of Didier Drogba or Claude Makélélé to the backroom staff, along with that of Petr Cech, who will work with Marina Granovskaia as technical and performance adviser, and the revamp could be restorative in terms of the mood. This can be packaged as a return of the old guard. It is hard to contemplate an appointment that would be welcomed more heartily. That, in itself, may buy the new regime some time should there be inconsistency in results, for all that the board will be wary of everything Ole Gunnar Solskjær has experienced at Old Trafford.

Who else could Chelsea hope to entice? Massimiliano Allegri or Erik ten Hag would surely have wanted to add elite players to fill the void left by Hazard and bridge the chasm to Manchester City and Liverpool. A summer window where Christian Pulisic is the sole new face, £44.8m is spent on Mateo Kovacic and an array of loanees return – from Michy Batshuayi to Tiemoué Bakayoko and Kurt Zouma – would be far from appealing. Lampard, on the other hand, knows the setup and may be more amenable to work with what he inherits. He may even be attracted by the prospect of tapping into the academy graduates’ potential.

He eked the best from Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori at Derby and watched Tammy Abraham and Reece James thrive at rival Championship clubs. Morris, who benefited from a crop of lavishly talented players in his previous role as the Chelsea Under-18s coach, would be a familiar face to help shape the next phase of their development. Plenty at this club have craved the chance to blood the youth. Lampard’s appointment will have the academy coaching staff fist‑pumping in delight, not least with early talk of greater integration between senior and younger squads at Cobham, and the elevation of Joe Edwards to the first-team coaching staff.

It will be intriguing to see how the new head coach fares. He may wonder whether his reputation would actually be that damaged if things go pear-shaped, given the circumstances in which he has taken up the reins. Regardless, there is always the prospect of the deficiencies of others – Manchester United, Arsenal – benefiting Chelsea in their pursuit of another top-four finish. Whatever happens, he is home. In that respect, the timing is irrelevant.

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