The end of the Lampard experiment
Frank Lampard’s managerial stint at Chelsea had the same ending as almost every other full-time manager at the club in the Roman Abramovich era. After a string of poor results, Lampard, a club legend, was sacked on Monday, with reports indicating that former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) boss Thomas Tuchel is set to replace him.
No full-time manager at Stamford Bridge, barring Maurizio Sarri, has survived the sack since Abramovich’s takeover in 2003. The Italian left the club for Juventus in 2019 but wasn’t a very popular figure among Chelsea fans. When Lampard was roped in that year to replace Sarri, the club was preparing for a life without transfers, having been banned for the next two windows because of transfer irregularities.
That tempered expectations and Lampard, widely adored by the Chelsea faithful, was expected to steady the ship. A top-four finish in the league and a run to the FA Cup final had seemed like a good enough first season to build on. But once the club spent the big bucks in the 2020 summer transfer window, Lampard found the bar being raised a few notches.
With new acquisitions taking time to settle and results not going Chelsea’s way, the inevitable happened. “I am disappointed not to have had the time this season to take the club forward and bring it to the next level, ” said Lampard. Still popular with Chelsea fans, Lampard could head into another job soon. Or return to punditry, a profession that he had briefly dabbled in a few years back.
While the Lampard experiment at Chelsea didn’t succeed, it was not a new one. Many prominent clubs across Europe have hired former players as managers. Some of them, like Lampard, have little top-flight managerial experience but are insulated from fan pressure initially because they have been popular players.
The timing of the appointments also matters. Had Pep Guardiola taken the Barcelona managerial position two years before he did in 2008, he would have inherited a Champions League-winning team and expectations would have been far higher. Guardiola was an instant success but being appointed after a forgettable season helped him settle down. Diego Simeone too has had a memorable time at Atletico Madrid and is into his 10th year at the club.
This season, Lampard wasn’t the only manager among Europe’s football elite to be in charge of his former club. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and Mikel Arteta at Arsenal are two others who have had mixed fortunes at their clubs so far. At Real Madrid, the highly successful Zinedine Zidane is into his second stint as manager of the club and as Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo has had a few early hiccups.
Solskjaer’s time, in particular, has seen ups and downs. He replaced Jose Mourinho in December, 2018 and got off to a flying start that saw United famously knock out star-studded PSG from the Champions League after losing the first leg at home. Then their form dipped and by the middle of the 2019-20 season, Solskjaer’s position seemed to be in threat. That was until the arrival of Bruno Fernandes propelled United to a third place finish in the Premier League. This season too, United had begun the season shakily, losing three of their first six league games.
“Do I have what it takes to be in such a situation? Can you handle setbacks? Can you handle success? I think I can,” a defiant Solskjaer had said after being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages. This season, he seems to have handled the early setbacks well, as evidenced by United’s top place in the standings going into the West Brom-Manchester City game.
A seven-game winless streak in the league this term put Arteta’s job under serious threat but with four wins in their last five games, he has managed to buy time. Winning the FA Cup title last season too must have helped him earn some trust from the Arsenal hierarchy.
At the Bernabeu, Zidane has already cemented his place as a legend, on and off the field. Having taken over from Rafa Benitez in the 2015-16 season, he led the club to three back-to-back Champions League titles. He guided Real to a second league title under him last season but they have struggled since. But barring a significant deterioration in form, Zidane is expected to survive the season.
The surprise appointment of the season has been that of Pirlo. After a slow start to the campaign, Juventus are playing catch-up but with the club having won nine straight back-to-back Serie A titles, anything short of another Scudetto might not be enough.
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- For lesser mortals, the overhead kick is a volley executed with the back to the ground, feet twirling in the air and face turned either to the sky or the chin locked on the chest.