Premier League: In right place at wrong time, Chelsea's beloved son Frank Lampard departs after failing to impress

As Chelsea manager, Lampard was able to reprise the same work ethic he was known for as a player, putting blood, sweat and tears into the job, but when it came time to deliver with one of his trademark finishes, he failed to hit the mark.

Aadi Nair January 26, 2021 14:06:25 IST
Premier League: In right place at wrong time, Chelsea's beloved son Frank Lampard departs after failing to impress

File image of Frank Lampard. AP

As a footballer, Frank Lampard was never really the most gifted. The likes of Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard — two contemporaries that Lampard is always pitted against in the comments section of Facebook pages — were undeniably a lot easier on the eye. Scholes and Gerrard had a certain elegance on the ball that Lampard never possessed, a natural talent that could not be replicated. But what Lampard did have, and what he used to such good effect for both Chelsea and England, was an unparalleled work ethic and this uncanny ability to arrive in the box late and score goals.

This combination of work ethic and his mastery of the delayed run into the penalty area led to him becoming one of the most efficient footballers of his generation and helped him endear himself to the Chelsea faithful for life. The love and respect that he received from Chelsea fans was unrivalled, and it was this love that led to him eventually taking up the role of Chelsea manager in 2019, a time where his club needed him the most. As Chelsea manager, he was able to reprise his work ethic, putting blood, sweat and tears into the job, but when the time arrived to deliver with one of his trademark finishes, he failed to hit the mark.

Buying time

When Frank Lampard was signed, Chelsea were in a mess of their own making. Under Maurizio Sarri, the club had just won the Europa League, but they had also finished 26 points behind eventual champions Manchester City in the league. They had also been placed under a transfer ban for some shady dealings, and had lost their best player in the shape of Eden Hazard. There were problems galore, and even at the time, it didn't feel like they were appointing a solution for these problems. In recruiting Lampard, a fan favourite and long-time hero of the club, they were really just buying time.

For a while it worked. The hype surrounding Lampard was enough for fans to forget about the difficult situation they were in, and in his first season, they mostly backed him, even through difficult situations. He was also afforded a degree of leniency by the transfer ban, and his results were often seen in the light of his circumstances, with most critics softening their blows. But after the conclusion of the ban, Lampard was backed to the hilt by the club, with Chelsea spending big in the transfer market on the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Ben Chilwell.

Lampard's problems began soon into his second season, as the club began their Premier League campaign poorly, drawing against West Brom and Southampton, before being beaten by title rivals Liverpool in the league and Tottenham in the League Cup. Lampard did manage to right the ship for a while, putting together a decent unbeaten run in October and November, but his efforts were derailed after a string of defeats that began with a 1-0 loss to Everton in early December. That string of defeats has left Chelsea 11 points off the top of the Premier League table in ninth place, and it eventually rang the death knell for Lampard's time at Chelsea.

 

A lack of vision

Something that undermined Lampard's every good moment at the helm of Chelsea was a lack of an overarching vision, something to bind together the whole team under one objective. Antonio Conte had his iconic 3-4-3 formation which he used to great effect in Chelsea's 2016-17 Premier League title win, Maurizio Sarri had his 4-3-3 system that was nicknamed 'Sarriball' but under Lampard, Chelsea constantly flip-flopped between a range of formations with no consistency to be seen.

In fact, the only consistent aspect of Chelsea's performances was a defensive fragility that was most unbecoming of a club that has, in recent years, garnered a reputation of being water-tight at the back. In Lampard's 57 games in charge of Chelsea in the Premier League, the club conceded 77 goals. In fact, you'd have to go all the way back to the 1996/97 season to find a Chelsea team that conceded more goals in a season than the 54 that Lampard's side let in last year.

Further up the field, Lampard also struggled tactically in the midfield department. His midfielders were often required to press aggressively, leaving large gaps behind them that could be infiltrated by the right pass or a clever one-two. These deficiencies were often masked against lowly opposition, but when playing top-six sides, they were often exploited. Under Lampard, Chelsea had an abysmal record against the best teams in the league, and much of that came down to his midfield being dominated in the middle of the park.

Premier League In right place at wrong time Chelseas beloved son Frank Lampard departs after failing to impress

Timo Werner pictured during Chelsea's 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. AFP

His leaky defence and feeble midfield was just part of the problem, however. In his tenure at the club, Lampard also failed to nail down an established forward line, instead choosing to chop and change with abandon. While this wasn't much of a problem last season, considering the fact that he had diminished resources, it has become a problem in recent months when you take into account the fact that the club spent a combined $151 million on the German duo of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in the pre-season transfer window.

Young at heart

While there is much to say about Lampard that isn't kind, one thing that no one can take away from him is that he made the walk between the first-team and academy locker rooms a lot shorter than it has been in recent years. Under his guidance, the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Billy Gilmour have all received their full debuts for the club.

Premier League In right place at wrong time Chelseas beloved son Frank Lampard departs after failing to impress

Tammy Abraham celebrates with Billy Gilmour and Callum Hudson-Odoi after scoring against Luton Town in the FA Cup. AP

Chelsea topped the list for most minutes played by academy graduates in the last season, and Lampard had an 89-game streak of matches in which he picked at least one academy graduate in his starting XI. Some of these players might not play many matches for Chelsea under new management, but Mount, Abraham and James have truly blossomed into Premier League worthy talent, and it is all thanks to the trust shown in them by Lampard.

Don't let the door hit you

In hindsight, it isn't the least bit surprising that Lampard was shunted out so unceremoniously. Chelsea have been brutal when needed in the past, letting go of underperforming managers with a cold, calculating ease. While it all seems a bit distasteful, no one can argue that their willingness to get rid of deadweight has been a crucial factor in their success. Chelsea have been the most successful club in England by a considerable margin since Roman Abramovich took over the club, winning five Premier League trophies, a Champions League, two Europa Leagues, five FA Cups and three League Cups.

Lampard became the 11th manager (13th if you take into account the fact that Guus Hiddink and Jose Mourinho have had two terms at the club) to have taken charge of the club since Abramovich arrived. The 42-year-old joined the club knowing fully well how fickle the job was, having himself been present for nine managerial changes during his spell as a player, so he won't have been blindsided by this move.

In fact, Lampard was afforded a great deal more respect than his predecessors by the club, signs of which can be seen in the statement announcing his departure. The Blues' usually reclusive owner Abramovich, who has very rarely been seen giving his opinion on football, was quoted by the release as saying, "This was a very difficult decision for the Club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him. He is a man of great integrity and has the highest of work ethics. However, under current circumstances, we believe it is best to change managers."

Wrong Time, Right Place?

In the end, you could argue that it was the right place at the wrong time for Lampard. From the very outset, it seemed like this move came too soon for him. He was inexperienced, the club was in turmoil and the relationship between the club and the manager began on a note of desperation.

While his spell at the club ended in failure, all is not lost for either party. Though it may not seem like it at the moment, Lampard will come out of this a better manager, and his experience at the top level will allow him some negotiating power with future suitors. Chelsea, on the other hand, will also come out of it a better club. They now have an energetic and youthful squad that can be coaxed into doing great things by a more experienced manager.

But make no mistake, Lampard's destiny is intertwined with that of the club, and it will be a welcome sight to see him at the club once again in a few years. Perhaps a second chapter in this story is yet to be written. As a football fan, one can only hope.

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