On Monday, Chelsea sacked head coach Frank Lampard after 18 months in charge of the Blues.
His sacking came immediately after a 3-1 FA Cup win over Luton Town, which set up a fifth round tie away to Barnsley. However, the issues at Stamford Bridge were becoming clear.
Striker Timo Werner missed a penalty late on and looked completely dejected, desperately in need of a goal. He’s scored once in his last thirteen games – and that was a relatively simple finish against League 2 Morecambe.
Chelsea have been out of their best form since losing 1-0 at Goodison Park in mid-December. Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton secured all three points, and that game was Chelsea’s first defeat in 18 in all competitions, having secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages and been in the sort of form you’d expect of potential champions.
Lampard knew, though, what he was getting himself into when he signed on the dotted line back in the summer of 2019. He, more than any other Chelsea manager, knew how ruthless Roman Abramovich could be when it came to managers. He knew that he would risk losing his job when things turned for the worst.
He also would have been aware he wouldn’t get the same treatment as other relatively young managers making their way in the big time. Mikel Arteta – whose Arsenal side were being spoken about as genuine relegation candidates – is still in post at the Emirates. Steven Gerrard – in an arguably less competitive league – has taken Rangers to a whole new level, being over 20 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership table. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken Manchester United from being destroyed 6-1 by Tottenham to leading the Premier League. These clubs have all given their coaches time – time that Lampard was not going to ever be given.
The sentiment from Chelsea fans seems to be ‘disappointed but not surprised’. Few if any Chelsea managers survive poor form, regardless of experience. Roberto di Matteo brought the Champions League title to Stamford Bridge, and was rewarded with the sack just six months later.
It is sad to see, though, that Lampard wasn’t given more time. The squad remains young, with the only real experience that the Blues brought in being Thiago Silva. A bit of confidence, a couple of wins in a row, and who is to say that Chelsea wouldn’t be back on course for success?
Indeed, it is Frank Lampard’s faith in youth that he will be remembered for. For the first time since John Terry, academy products were given a real chance at Chelsea – in part due to their transfer ban, and in part on merit. Reece James, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin and Mason Mount have all played a part in Lampard’s time at the club. One can not avoid noticing Lampard’s loyalty to Mount – it felt as if giving him the armband against Luton may have hinted that Lampard knew it was his last game and wanted to give something back to a player who made over 120 under his guidance both at Derby and at Chelsea. It remains to be seen whether these young players will still be given the chances they deserve under new management.
With Thomas Tuchel in the hotseat as Chelsea’s new head coach, confidence is his primary concern. He needs to instill confidence into a squad desperate for it. Kepa Arrizabalaga needs to feel as if he can realistically compete with Edouard Mendy to be the first name on the teamsheet, rather than getting fleeting opportunities against lower league opposition. Timo Werner needs to find the form which made him so sought after at Leipzig. Kai Havertz must earn his keep in west London, the strength of N’Golo Kante needs to be properly utilised.
Above all, the confidence has to lead to results. The Blues now sit 11 points off of top spot, and know that a dramatic change in fortunes is required if they are to have any chance of emerging as potential title contenders again in this campaign. They sit five points off of the Champions League spots; whilst it is not impossible to see them making the top four, it is again something that Tuchel will really need to address.
And where next for Lampard? It is understood that he will be followed out of the Bridge by his assistant Jody Morris, and Celtic is a destination he might like. A chance to be at a big club – and, be in no doubt, Celtic are a big club – competing for trophies and giving himself the opportunity to do well and rebuild. He took the Chelsea job quickly, and early in his career, and there is no shame in moving somewhere that perhaps does not have the same pedigree as Chelsea to learn a bit more about his tactics, about his strengths and weaknesses, and build a brand for himself. With the Celtic job potentially coming available after their dismal season, this looks a good potential next step for Lampard if he still wants to compete at the top level immediately.
Failing that, a good Championship job might be where he can continue to ply his trade until he is confident enough to make the step up. He understands the Championship – though there aren’t many vacancies at the moment.
Or does he risk staying in the Premier League, albeit at a lower level? With Roy Hodgson out of contract at the end of the campaign, maybe Frank Lampard can take the rest of the 2020/21 campaign off and spend it with his growing family – wife Christine is expecting the couple’s second child in the spring – and opt to stay in London to take what could be an exciting Palace job.
A final option for the 42-year-old is to head abroad, though with a young family this won’t be an easy option. Going into Europe or even to the States is something he may want to consider for diversifying his experience.
Wherever he goes, Blues fans won’t forget what he did for the club as a player and perhaps it is not the last time they will see Lampard in the Chelsea dugout. It may be a case of right man, wrong time.