A balanced fan perspective on the topic splitting Chelsea supporters in two.
This is the last part in an article series covering the case for and against Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard. Part 1 argues why Sarri deserves to stay, and Part 2 why Chelsea are right to sack him. In this Part 3 I look at Frank Lampard’s first season, and argue why he should be appointed now and why it also might be too soon. Conclusion at the bottom. Enjoy!
The case for Frank Lampard.
Meanwhile, “Super Frank” is bouncing with the Derby County fans, has all of Derbyshire brimming with excitement, and is 90 minutes away from Premier League promotion in his first season.
FRANK-ument #1: He has proved he is capable and ready.
While Derby County is an ambitious club that see themselves as too good for the Championship, there was no easy task Lampard was given when taking over last summer. And those who say taking a 6th placed team to another 6th place finish is no improvement, would certainly have to look at Lampard’s performance in more context. (Therefore, allow me to spend a little bit more time on this paragraph.)
First of all, more than half of the Championship is made up by clubs who just recently were in the Premier League and have calibrated budgets and ambition to return as quickly as possible. Derby aiming for those three promotion tickets meant joining a long queue of fierce competitors, and the list of good managers who have failed on the same mission is long.
Second, Derby had to sell two of their key players, top scorer Matej Vydra and first choice right winger Andy Weimann, leaving a hole of 27 goals and 10 assists to be filled. Replacing two of the three main front men was just part one of a hugely necessary squad rebuild, as he was left with a squad of aging players on big contracts and a cost-cutting plan from owner Mel Morris.
Lampard had to rebuild from the bottom, with no money to spend other than the £14m generated from player sales. No easy task, let alone for a debutant. And this will be music in the ears of Chelsea fans: Lampard and assistant Jody Morris’ first priority was to rejuvenate: Jayden Bogle (18) was promoted from the youth team, while Fikayo Tomori (20), Harry Wilson (21) and Mason Mount (19) arrived on loan. Apart from club captain Richard Keogh (32), these four youngsters rank highest in minutes played for Derby this season — a remarkable way of not just giving young players a chance, but making them integral to success.
While he has proved capable of rebuilding a squad and improving young players, it might very well be that his ability to unite and engage is an even more important managerial asset. His glorious playing career sets him in immediate respect, but it is his communication skills that sets him apart, makes him capable of influencing and having impact on his surroundings. In one year, Derby has gone from bearish to bullish, full of optimism and positive spirit, and that has so much to do with Lampard’s personal attributes. Diplomatic and respectful by trade, direct when necessary (e.g. Spygate) and one of the lads when appropriate (e.g. viral videoes from the dressing room), Lampard’s first year at Derby tells us he is already a very good manager.
Even if he has proven capable once, in the Championship!, does not Lampard need more time before he is Chelsea ready? The safe answer is yes, because why rush it when we can wait? Why not let Lampard get another one or two years managing in the Premier League? Especially considering our current manager is not deserving the sack, and could take us forward next season.
But we are talking about Frank Lampard, an unusually intelligent mann, respected and looked up to by anyone who has had anything to do with him, has an unrivaled winning mentality and made his career by proving doubters wrong. The impact he has had on Derby County and all of Derbyshire, tells you all you need to know about how special Frank Lampard is.
For sure, he is not the finished article, nobody is, and will learn a lot in the years to come. Waiting a couple of years sounds ideal, but that does not mean Lampard isn’t ready now. If Lampard himself thinks he is, I will not dare to say he isn’t.
FRANK-ument #2: He will bring Chelsea back to Chelsea.
Lampard was part of another Chelsea, a Chelsea generation that made Lionel Messi say this:
“There are players here who hate Chelsea more than Real Madrid […]. We would rather play Arsenal, Manchester United or anyone else than be on the pitch with Chelsea.”
We were feared. We were hated. It was our competitve edge, and Lampard knows better than anyone the true value of that. In fact, he knows no other way, and you can be certain he will look to instill the same culture and identity if he was our next manager.
instilling a culture is never easy, and John Obi Mikel’s recent quotes will indicate it is far from a quick fix with today’s squad:
When I watch them now, they’re fantastic players but I don’t see leaders. During our time I could scream at Drogba or Lampard. I was 24 years old but I could voice my opinion and it would be heard. Now when I watch them, there’s no one talking to each other, taking responsibility of being the leader. You need that edge and right now that’s what they’re lacking.
And if Lampard is to complement this current squad with younger players, it will surely take some time before these inexperienced players are up to leading like Terry, Lampard and Drogba did in their late twenties, even if both Reece James and Andreas Christensen in this group is captain material.
But look no further than Derby’s 4–2 turnaround at Elland Road to see what a spirited team and never-say-die attitude Lampard has created in his first season as manager. That will be his focus at Chelsea too, even if making it happen is easier said than done.
FRANK-ument #3: Lampard equals long term backing and a new academy-based foundation.
Many fans have been calling for long-termism to overtake the ruthless, yet extremely successful, hire-and-fire practice since 2003. Sarri was supposed to be that guy, but his complicated relationship with fans would likely have to see a dramatic change for it to be him who spearheads such a strategic change by Roman. But it is also his undiplomatic, yet refreshingly honest, way of dealing with tough questions and situations, that seems a poor match with politically correct and brand-aware Chelsea of 2019. Because, while Chelsea are taking charge and launching honourable campaigns against anti-semitism and homophobia, it just seems likely that the club figureheads, such as the manager, has a more “poster boy-ish” behaviour than what a chain-smoking, outspoken hipster like Sarri is capable of having. (If I’m allowed to put it that way …)
Lampard however, has the perfect long-term profile.
But regardless of ‘brand match’, if things are not working on the pitch, will he not face the same fate as all the top managers before him?
Probably not. Why?
Given Lampard’s legendary status at the club and his good relationship with Roman, I can’t see an appointment of Lampard being made with the same expectations to short-term success as the ones before him. Lampard knows his time at Chelsea is coming at one point, and would not spoil his chance this early without being given extraordinary terms (e.g. more time). And if Chelsea refrain from appealing to CAS and end up taking the transfer ban this summer, the club has an extra reason to give Lampard more time than anyone before him. In fact, the two scenarios (Lampard manager and transfer ban this summer) fit so well together, that I expect either both or none of them to happen.
As long as Lampard do not find himself in a relegation battle, I am confident he will be given more than one season (or even two) with trial and error, which again will let him build a new foundation of this generation’s top academy players. Imagine where players like Mount, James, Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek and Abraham can be in two years of week-in-week-out football at Chelsea … With Petr Cech about to be appointed sporting director as well, this does sound like the ultimate dream for many Chelsea fans.
Everyone is assuming Lampard will rely heavily on the academy if he gets the job, and he even spoke about this topic just recently:
While I agree those are gorgeous words, we all know Chelsea are not very familiar with taking players from the academy to the main stage quickly, and even if Roman gives Frank and his boys time, the media will not. Pressure will be there from the very beginning, and it can be hit and miss with how well these 20-year olds will respond to mistakes and a press smelling blood. We have all seen how Christensen is still kind of recovering from that Barcelona back-pass more than one year ago. If we go all in with Lampard and transfer ban, and these young players lose confidence and start dropping their heads, then what? We must understand the risk in that project, it could also backfire.
And whether this moonshot will be able to land or not, it would be a change in direction many fans have been crying for, for a long time.
Trying to conclude
For me, there are two rights and no wrongs here.
Sarri deserves to continue in his job; he exceeded expectations, and a full pre-season will likely see the team improve and further adapt to Sarriball. Fan relationship is worrying, but football is a result-driven business, and Sarri has done nothing wrong (e.g. Rafa Benitez quotes) to suggest good results and performances will not be able to win everyone over.
Lampard looks like he is able to have the same success as manager as he had as player, and with Chelsea in dire need of a new identity and finally capitalising on the world’s best youth academy, he is the ideal candidate for the job — be that now, in 12 or 24 months.
Roman Abramovich will have to put sentiment aside, whether that would have been in favour of the harshly-judged Maurizio Sarri or his affection for favourite player Frank Lampard. Regardless of who deserves the job and what Chelsea fans’ immediate reactions will be like, Roman must only focus on making the decision he believes will mostly benefit Chelsea FC long-term.
Further complicating the decision and adding to the equation, is the incoming transfer ban and how we best deal with the inevitable loss of our best player Eden Hazard. With those two challenges taken into account, we are at a crossroads this summer, and whatever Roman decides I think we will look back at this decision as a club-defining moment in the future.
That sounds both scary and exciting. But it is in these moments that I really trust Roman Abramovich’ judgement. While all of his sackings have seemed harsh and been met with negative reactions, it is only the sacking of Ancelotti one can argue was wrong. His long term success gives him every reason to believe in his judgement, whether he decides to change or keep the manager.
If we stick with Sarri, then Roman believes in him and I will be hopeful Sarri can improve us next season, even without Hazard. If we leap with Lampard I will be disappointed for Sarri for a short period of time, but that will quickly be replaced with new and even greater enthusiasm. Lampard will become Chelsea manager one day, and will hopefully stay in that job for a long time. Regardless of what happens this summer, I think we win, as both Sarri and Lampard are great albeit very different managers.
Que será, será.
Over to you, Roman.