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Lampard for Chelsea? Lure of a volatile managerial role

If Chelsea’s most iconic player is made the team’s manager, he will inherit a troubled legacy

football Updated: Jun 20, 2019 12:01 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Frank Lampard,Chelsea
FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 file photo, former Chelsea player Frank Lampard does a lap of honour.(AP)

On the eve of Alex Ferguson’s last ever meeting against English rivals Chelsea—just a couple of weeks before his retirement in May, 2013— the legendary Manchester United manager was asked about a familiar foe, Blues midfielder Frank Lampard.

The Scotsman had made no secret of his admiration for the player earlier. But on that day, Ferguson, for the first time, expressed a tinge of regret at not having signed Lampard for United.

“The guy has had a great career. I must say we looked at him when he was at West Ham as a young player and I maybe regret not having done it,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson’s admiration for Lampard, by his own admission, stemmed largely from the latter’s prolific goal-scoring record, a rarity for a midfielder.

At Chelsea, Lampard would finish as the club’s record goalscorer with 211 in all competitions after a 13-year stay. Those years saw him cement his reputation as one of the most intelligent players in the sport, largely due to his impeccable positional sense, a trait that helped him build his prolific goal-scoring record.

Lending credence to the legend of Lampard the brainiac was an IQ test conducted at Stamford Bridge in 2009. Then Chelsea club doctor Bryan English revealed that Lampard had not only topped the intelligence test conducted on players but scored ‘well over 150’, putting him, according to a report in the BBC, in the top 0.5% of the world population.

Having traded the playing boots for managerial suits, Lampard has done his reputation no harm at Derby County in his debut stint. In his only season as a manager, Lampard led Derby to the Championship play-offs, where they lost out on promotion to the Premier League after a narrow 2-1 loss to Aston Villa in the final.

During his time at Derby, Lampard showed eagerness in working with youngsters. The likes of Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, both Chelsea loanees, and Harry Wilson—on loan from Liverpool—excelled under Lampard’s watch.

The former Stamford Bridge hero is now, according to reports, set to return to his old stomping ground, this time to replace new Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri as manager.

The Italian left the London club on the back of a season where Chelsea finished third in the Premier League and won the Europa League title. But the Blues finished 25 points behind second-placed Liverpool and regular chants from the stands targeting Sarri underscored the growing resentment among fans over changes made by him at the club.

If Lampard takes over the Stamford Bridge hot seat, he will do so with the knowledge that he will be insulated from the kind of antipathy Sarri was met with during the later stages of his reign. His iconic status at the club will mean Lampard will be afforded more time by the fans than was the case with Sarri.

On Chelsea’s part, appointing Lampard will be a significant departure from the club’s established manager hiring policy. Since Roman Abramovich took ownership in 2004, Chelsea have usually appointed two kinds of managers—the most prominent names in the market with recent successes, like Jose Mourinho of 2004, Andre Villas Boas, Antonio Conte and Sarri, or highly experienced and successful managers like Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and the Mourinho of 2013.

Roping in Lampard will indicate the club is willing to move away from the existing philosophy.

In recent years, Italian giants AC Milan have tried to quell fan anger over underinvestment in the squad by appointing club legends as managers; Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso having been in charge over different periods in the last five years. Manchester United followed the lead last season by putting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in permanent charge. Results at both clubs have been far from promising. Under Abramovich’s ownership, Chelsea have themselves tried the former player route before with Roberto Di Matteo, and even though the Italian led them to their sole Champions League title, he lasted only a few months as head coach owing to poor results.

The managerial job at Stamford Bridge has always proven to be a volatile one, particularly under Abramovich’s ownership. In fact, Sarri, by leaving the club to join Juventus, became the first manager on full-time charge in the Abramovich era not to be sacked from his position.

Even then, the Italian’s future remained a subject of intense speculation during the second half of last season, and a parting of ways had seemed inevitable.

For Lampard, the lure of taking charge of the club where he is widely adored may be irresistible. But, not only is the Chelsea manager’s position a volatile one, it is also at this moment particularly unenviable. The club is currently serving a two-window transfer ban and recently sold talisman Eden Hazard to Real Madrid. As things stand, the only arrivals this summer will be of the youngsters the club had loaned out last season.

Lampard’s former teammates have declared him ready; former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba recently played down Lampard’s inexperience as a manager.

“Does he have to wait until he is 50 to be ready? I think it depends on your experience and depends on your desire to succeed and do it. If he feels ready I don’t think it is too early.”

Former United centre-back Rio Ferdinand, once Lampard’s teammate at England and West Ham United, cited Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola’s example: “What experience did Pep have when he went into Barcelona’s first team? He trained the younger kids at the club.”

But while Guardiola’s revolutionary four-year stint at Barcelona is seen as a blueprint for young managers, Lampard, if he does join, will be in a quandary: he will have all of Chelsea’s expectations of staying in the title race on his shoulders, yet he won’t have the means to sign new players.

First Published: Jun 20, 2019 11:43 IST

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