“The players have to make it different. The message is clear. The basics are to run and to sprint and the players have to do that on the pitch. The way we approached the Arsenal game in the first half wasn’t right.”
This was Frank Lampard’s reaction to Chelsea being completely outperformed by a down-on-their-luck Arsenal in December.
“Was it tiredness? No. Did the players lack character against Arsenal? They did and they know that. The first half we lacked it. Second half we didn’t, to be fair.”
Not for the first time, he publicly lambasted his players for failing to compete. Maybe that’s something Lampard, one of the finest footballers to have ever played the game, would never understand. He always ran the hard yards, always showed up on big occasions, always thought he was a world class player. Perhaps it just didn’t compute to him that a manager would be at fault for what happens on the pitch.
It wasn’t the first time one of Lampard’s ugly blind spots emerged. His comments regarding the different routes into management he and Sol Campbell have endured (highlighted by Raheem Sterling) were ones trying to deflect a blame not necessarily aimed at him, rather than continue a much-needed dialogue. His snappy remarks at The Athletic’s Liam Twomey for his articles negatively impacting the players’ confidence smacked of desperation. To the bitter end, it could never have been Lampard’s fault.
But there may still a good manager in him, somewhere. Waltzing into the Derby County job in 2018 with his suit tightly fitted and his top button undone may have looked easy (apparently his uncle Harry Redknapp helped grease the wheels, but you keep insisting your route into management was about hard work, buddy), but it was still a rather unsteady club to join.
The Rams had a bloated, ageing squad on a wage bill fit for a Premier League side rather than a consistent Championship playoff contender, with financial fair play regulations threatening to hit the club hard. Many of Derby’s core players – including Golden Boot winner Matej Vydra – left upon Lampard’s arrival. Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori coming in on loan injected much-needed youthfulness into the squad, while six senior players signed permanently and went straight into the fold.
The squad turnover was high, but a rookie manager still took Derby to the Championship playoff final, memorably knocking out Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds when everyone had written them off along the way.
And the circumstances which Lampard arrived to at Chelsea weren’t much better either, with Eden Hazard departing for Real Madrid and a transfer ban coming into effect. What he was given was what he had to use.
Lampard successfully utilised players from the club’s academy more than any other manager in the Roman Abramovich era. The talk going into the 2019/20 season was that it was a free hit for Chelsea, and they ended it in the top four and with an FA Cup final appearance. Along the way, they played some great but naive football, often hamstrung by their inexperience and holographic goalkeeper.
Chelsea looked to establish themselves as a super club once more, splurging over £200m in the transfer market. For the first time in his managerial career, Lampard’s task was more about challenging rather than merely competing, and he failed.
“We are grateful to Frank for what he has achieved in his time as Head Coach of the Club,” Chelsea’s parting statement read. “However, recent results and performances have not met the Club’s expectations, leaving the Club mid-table without any clear path to sustained improvement.”
Lampard is obviously a smart man with a great footballing brain, a manager willing to give youth a chance and someone who should command the respect of the next dressing room he walks into. But it definitely won’t be at a club like Chelsea, and he can’t ignore his quite obvious flaws any longer.