A contribution piece by Jack Capizzi

Baseball, like football, is a ruthless, result-oriented business. Following the 2017 MLB season, the New York Yankees decided not to retain Joe Girardi, their manager for the past ten years. Though the 2017 Yankees finished their season one win away from the World Series, the team’s performance failed to match the boardroom’s ruthless standards.

Realizing their detrimental habit of signing ageing superstars and appointing old-school managers, the Yankees decided to place their bets on a younger manager and team legend – a manager committed to bringing up youth prospects and building towards future success. So here’s my question Chelsea fans – does any of this sound familiar?

Since the end of the 2017 season, the Yankees have overhauled their team’s identity as a star grabbing organization fueled by a “win now” mentality. Now, they have emphasized using an analytical perspective on the future performance of each athlete in their organization.

Rather than focus on how much a first-baseman can bench press or how many followers a right-fielder has on Instagram, the club now searches for hidden youth prospects and future stars. Given the right coaching and opportunities, these prospects can develop into all-stars in just two or three seasons. 

It’s time for Chelsea FC to undergo their identity overhaul. This recalibration of the club’s perspective is about six years overdue but, with this club more than any other, there’s no time like the present. Early on, the club found it easy to disregard warnings that their interminable carousel of managers would haunt them in the long run.

After all, they maintained a streak of trophy-winning season’s that remains unparalleled since the start of the millennium. Today, 16 years after Roman Abramovich bought the club; the ride is stuttering to a halt. The club is in desperate need of direction. The path from the youth squads to the first team is vague and unorganized, and the club’s tactical philosophy is nonexistent. The appointment of Frank Lampard, however, could wipe the slate clean, allowing Chelsea the fresh start it so desperately needs. 

Given the immediate similarities of their situations, Chelsea should look across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City for a model for just how effective Lampard’s appointment can be.  

Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees (Photo – USA TODAY Sports)

In 2017, Girardi, the gruff bastion of Yankees culture from decades past had lost control over an aging lineup, the patience of the New York media, and the respect of Yankee fans across the country. The Yankees’ ownership, led by general manager Brian Cashman, initiated a new generation of Yankees baseball by giving the reins of the club to a man who had never managed a single inning in his life, Aaron Boone. Yankee fans, of course, were extremely familiar with their new manager.

While playing for the Yankees in 2003, Boone became an instant Yankee legend with one swing of the bat, hitting a walk-off Home Run against the Boston Red Sox to send the Yankees to the World Series. But how was this one moment of brilliance supposed to prepare Boone for managing a $4.6 billion franchise?

Currently, the Yankees are enjoying their greatest season in the last two decades and are en route for a 28th World Championship. Whatever Aaron Boone brought to the Yankees clubhouse – regardless of how inexperienced a manager he was – is working. 

Whereas Frank Lampard is perhaps Chelsea’s greatest ever player, Boone doesn’t make a list of the top 100 Yankees through history. Also, though Lampard managed Derby to an appearance in the Championship Playoff Final, Aaron Boone’s first managerial experience came in his first game as Yankee manager.

When it comes to experience managing and playing in their respective sports, Frank Lampard makes Aaron Boone look like an illiterate five-year-old. So why are so many in the press and around the Premier League so sceptical of Lampard’s appointment? 

Well, by all accounts, Frank Lampard should not be managing Chelsea Football Club. He’s not older than 50, he’s not Italian, and he doesn’t have a trophy-filled resume littered with the names of clubs like Real Madrid, Napoli, Porto, or Juventus. Hell, forget the Champions League, Lampard couldn’t even win the Championship Playoff. So what in God’s name is Frank Lampard doing on the Chelsea touchline?

He’s constructing the next generation of Chelsea FC. 

Frank Lampard being unveiled as the new Head Coach of Chelsea Football Club (Photo – Daily Express)

When Callum Hudson-Odoi agreed to a five-year contract with Chelsea, he not only handed Bayern Munich their second-biggest loss since 2012, but he also began the second stage of Chelsea’s identity overhaul. Lampard’s appointment alone was not enough to instil confidence in the club’s worldwide support.

To signal the club’s investment in its youth structure, the club had to pay up. That price tag came in the form of Hudson-Odoi’s £100,000-per-week contract – a price that will be far surpassed by the player’s market value as he grows into his mid-twenties.

By appointing a non-traditional manager and investing in youth, the club has begun tearing down the Russian glamour of wealth and stardom that accompanied Roman Abramovich’s arrival at Stamford Bridge. 

Already, fans have begun to predict that a new wave of prospects will dominate Chelsea’s lineup next season.

Even though they’ve never proven themselves in the Premier League, Mount, James, and Abraham feature in numerous predicted lineups and favoured selections. Christian Pulisic erected numerous sceptical headlines when Chelsea placed a $60 million price tag on his head, but the American International remains just twenty years old.

The sudden celebration and implementation of youth players, however, was not a scheduled shift in the club’s mentality. It was a side-effect of having nowhere left to turn.  

Sure, this may seem like a grim interpretation of the club’s current state, but it is consistent with the past decade of management from Chelsea board. In the eyes of Marina Granovskaia, using youth players to fix the squad is like using duct tape to fix the engine of a Boeing 737.

After being strapped with a transfer ban and watching their previous manager return to Italy – Chelsea was forced to pull off the publicity spin of a generation. Appointing a club legend as manager and posting youth prospects across social media gave them room to encourage the fans, getting them excited for the upcoming season. 

But this article is not a doomsday criticism of Chelsea’s impending downfall. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

When the Yankees appointed Aaron Boone as their manager, they were trapped in a period of underwhelming success. Overpaid starlets of decades past scarfed down massive sections of the Yankees payroll, holding the team’s management hostage as they removed any potential for trades or signings.

Aaron Boone, the current manager of the New York Yankees (Photo – Major League Baseball)

The Yankees didn’t have a year-long transfer ban but, for a moment, playing for the Yankees looked as appealing curling for the Haitian national team. But Aaron Boone, backed by the ingenuity and forward-thinking of GM Brian Cashman, had a plan to revive the sport’s greatest franchise. 

Though Boone had no managerial experience, he announced a commitment to the Yankees youth prospects. After Boone awarded them his trust, players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Gleyber Torres grew to perennial all-stars under the manager’s guidance.

Today, the New York Yankees hold the best record in baseball. They are leading their division by ten games and are preparing for a deep run in the postseason that may  result in a 28th World Series trophy (knock on wood.) 

Frank Lampard has an opportunity to match Boone’s enthusiasm for constructing a new identity for his beloved team. There is no questioning the woeful standards of Lampard’s arrival. The club is stuttering between periods of great success and dressing room disaster. The starting lineup lacks immediate leadership, and the club’s best prospects are more than five years away from reaching the height of their potential.

But Lampard’s status as a true icon of the club might give him a unique ability to achieve success without a vast managerial resume. His coaching staff consists of men who have grown up in and around Chelsea Football Club including Jody Morris, Eddie Newton, and Joe Edwards. These coaches have overseen the development of Chelsea’s next generation and will be vital for integrating these players into the first team. Tactically, Lampard mentions his style of play is inspired by his days playing under Jose Mourinho and his fond admiration for Pep Guardiola.

If Lampard discovers a lineup that blends the technical brilliance of superstars like Kante and Jorginho with the pace and determination of youngsters like Hudson-Odoi and Reece James, Chelsea could embark on their most exciting season of the decade. 

Of course, if the team slips down the table by mid-October, many impatient Chelsea fans inside and outside of Stamford Bridge will quickly criticize Lampard’s inexperience. Excuses of a new manager, young squad, and transfer ban will not dampen their criticism of the new manager.

After all, after Maurizio Sarri secured third place in the league and won the Europa League,  large sections of Chelsea supporters still seemed more inclined to throw on a Tottenham kit than give credit to the 60-year-old Italian.

Frank Lampard should be judged on his ability to progress Chelsea’s identity during a period of immense strife for the club. The next ten months will prove incredibly difficult for the club and its supporters.

With the correct allocation of youth prospects, the undeniable skill of world-class players, and the resolute leadership of a dedicated manager, however, Chelsea can weather the storm to a brighter future.

John Terry may have worn the badge for a decade and a half, but right now, Frank Lampard is Chelsea’s captain. 

(Photo – Getty Images)
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