Long before Maurizio Sarri jumped the ship and made his way to pastures new, Chelsea were foundering, seemingly destined for another one of those seasons of mediocrity that have plagued their performances in the past few years. Yet somehow, despite the grim realities of their current situation, there's an air of positivity around Stamford Bridge once again, as club legend Frank Lampard returns to his old stomping grounds... as a coach!
The move and the events leading up to it have unfolded like the plot of a film, with Lampard playing the protagonistic role of 'The Chosen One,' destined to take the reigns and lead the club to shelter from a storm of their own making.
But in his first press conference as Chelsea's head coach, Lampard was careful to nip any attempts by the attending media to prematurely script his success story in the bud. Instead, what he stressed on was realism. The realism of his own lack of experience, the realism of the expectations on his shoulders and the realism of the challenges that await him, of which there are a fair few.
On the face of it, it doesn't look like there's much going Lampard's way. After finishing a whopping 26 points behind champions Manchester City last season, it's quite clear that some form of a revamp is required for Chelsea to stay within touching distance of the league's top teams. Unfortunately for Chelsea, their chequered history of hanky-panky in the acquisition of young talent has come back to bite them in the shape of a year-long transfer ban. This effectively means that for the first time in fifteen years, an incoming Chelsea manager cannot hope to buy their way out of trouble.
To make matters worse, the Blues have gone and lost the goose that laid golden eggs, finally letting Eden Hazard join Real Madrid after years of unabashed courtship. The loss of the Belgian wizard leaves Lampard's squad looking a little threadbare in terms of world-class talent, with the reliable N'Golo Kante occupying the club's sole spot in that bracket. As if this weren't already enough, Lampard also has to contend with long-term injuries to breakout stars Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who are both unlikely to return before the start of the season.
This heady cocktail of handicaps and disadvantages would be enough to set back even the most experienced of managers, but it might also just be exactly what Lampard needs. Whether intentionally or not, Lampard possesses all the tools required to navigate Chelsea out of the quagmire they currently find themselves waist-deep in, and that is most obvious when you compare him to his predecessor. Sarri is widely revered as one of the most tactically influential managers in football, but for all that he brought to Chelsea, he will perhaps always be remembered for mulish rigidity. Lampard, being a newcomer in the field, is unlikely to be as stubborn about his choices when they do not pan out.
Lampard's sole year as a head coach came at Derby County in the Championship, in which he took the Rams to the Championship play-offs final. Unfortunately for Lampard, his Derby side lost to Aston Villa, but it was still a fairly successful campaign, which involved a couple of decent cup-runs. While he was unable to truly carve out an identity for himself in his short stint at Derby, much of the football that his team played was characterised by a tireless, frenetic pace, with some aggressive pressing, which will come as a breath of fresh air for Chelsea fans frustrated by the oft-lumbering deliberation of 'Sarriball'.
His overall lack of experience as a manager is also bound to give him a degree of wiggle room, when it comes to the expectations of the administration. While several managers have been booted out the door for failing to win silverware, it's wholly unreasonable for Lampard to be judged on the basis of trophies. Chelsea's willingness to bring him on board signals the desire to build a project around him and that requires time. That being said, failure to qualify for the Champions League and a couple of bad results could just backfire the club legend's credentials. After all, Roman Abramovich is not exactly known for his nurturing qualities.
Another key aspect of his appointment is that Lampard is undeniably English. Like the man himself, his father played for England, and his uncle Harry Redknapp has managed just about every club in the country. A major bone of contention for fans of English football in the past few decades has been the lack of opportunities afforded to English managers in the upper echelon of the domestic top-flight. Lampard's appointment to the Chelsea role will go down well with the supporters, who could not accept the chain-smoking Italian that was the subject of their wrath for much of the previous season.
Lampard's choice of coaching staff is also noteworthy, in that it consists of Jody Morris and Chris Jones, who followed him back to Chelsea from Derby County, and the pair of Joe Edwards and Eddie Newton, who have been promoted from their roles in the youth academy. All four of the individuals that will make up Lampard's support staff have deep connections with the team and have worked with the crop of young players that will be aiming to make the transition into first-team football under Lampard.
The coaching staff's knowledge of Chelsea's academy set-up will be especially beneficial in this season, with the transfer embargo forcing the club's hand a little. Very few have bridged the divide between the academy and the first-team, despite there being a number of promising contenders over the last year. Perhaps one of the only people to have made that transition with any real degree of success is Danish centre-back Andreas Christensen, who played a number of games under Antonio Conte in the Italian's last season in charge, but even he has since been relegated to the role of back-up.
Under Lampard and Co, however, that path to the starting XI looks more open than ever. The likes of Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount worked extensively with the new Chelsea boss while on loan at Derby last year, and Tammy Abraham and Reece James also impressed out on loan at Aston Villa and Wigan respectively. Other returning players like Michy Batshuayi and Kurt Zouma, and the incoming Christian Pulisic, will supplement the squad at Lampard's disposal, giving him a wealth of largely mediocre yet vastly different options to pick from.
All-in-all, the upcoming season promises to be a departure from the expected for Chelsea fans. While the prospect of trophies has never looked less likely at the start of a season, the appointment of Lampard should resolve many of the issues that supporters have had in recent years and give them something to be cautiously optimistic about. A host of opportunities for young players, Kante's return to his position of choice and Chelsea's first English boss in decades should be enough to tide them and the notoriously fickle administration through to next year, barring a truly disastrous outing. After that, maybe we can all go back to talking about Chelsea buying Philippe Coutinho for $200 million and the world will be alright again.
Updated Date: Jul 05, 2019 14:07:22 IST