For perhaps the first time in his professional career, Frank Lampard has failed.
The now former Chelsea manager has had his low points, of course; lost finals, league titles that got away, and so on. But this is a man who knew nothing but success during his time at the west London outfit where he became a legend, scoring more goals than any other midfielder in Premier League history.
At this very moment Lampard is probably grappling with the unfamiliar feelings this is throwing at him. Putting yourself in Lampard’s loafers for a moment, try and imagine the utter dejection of being rejected by Chelsea Football Club – your club – after being the golden boy for the best part of two decades.
That must sting. It has to. This has been your destiny after all. Everything has been leading to this and no one is better suited for the job than you. And now you’ve been disposed to the ever expanding scrapheap of former Blues bosses; just another manager reduced to a pink slip. Ouch.
Frank Lampard is Chelsea manager no more 😢
But once a Blue, always a Blue 💙 pic.twitter.com/0b3tyYXO1F
— Goal (@goal) January 25, 2021
But at Stamford Bridge results matter more than most other clubs, indeed it is all that matters on the Fulham Road. Ironically, this is the very attitude that made Lampard the player so great, the relentless determination and perseverance to win at all costs. He thrived when the standards were set so high, which is why José Mourinho was able to maximise his talents and ability.
Perhaps it has all come too easy for Lampard up to now. There is no doubting that he worked tremendously hard as a player, you can’t succeed like he did otherwise. And yet he came through at West Ham United, where his dad won two FA Cups as a player and was assistant manager to Harry Redknapp, his uncle.
Lampard was handed a head start in his managerial career too, strolling into the Derby County job on the back of his name. Here he was in one of the biggest jobs in the Championship without earning his stripes, and he did alright, taking the Rams to sixth place and the playoff final, which was about par for the squad he had.
Ultimately he was unsuccessful, yet he was instantly promoted to one of the biggest hotseats in the game, taking over the Chelsea job 18 months ago. There can be no other conclusion to make on this appointment other than he was positioned in the role purely because of who he was and not what he was as a manager.
The Athletic’s reporting on Monday pretty much confirmed that he was an appointment of convenience, one that could keep the fans onside during a season where they would be unlikely to challenge for major honours. If he didn’t possess the name Frank Lampard, he wouldn’t have even been near the longlist.
The thing is, Lampard didn’t need to take this job, and again as per The Athletic, it seems he himself was aware that it came a bit too soon for him. But he couldn’t resist, he simply could not turn down his club. Not just because of the allure of Chelsea, but because he backed himself absolutely to succeed. That is a commendable quality, but there is a difference between having the desire to succeed and knowing how to, possessing the tools to do so.
Whether Lampard likes it or not, he is a member of a certain class of people in the UK for whom doors are opened wherever they go. All they have to do is walk through and – hey presto! – you’re now the local MP or executive vice president of daddy’s company, whether you’re qualified or not.
As Sarah Hagi once tweeted, “God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude”. Lampard the player was anything but mediocre, but there is nothing to suggest that Lampard the manager isn’t. The privileges that have served him so well up to now have actually worked against him in this instance. Without that experience and nous, he didn’t know how to react when the team was in a tough situation.
When things went wrong he blamed others for not putting a shift in, rather than looking within to see what he could do to solve the problem. It first happened when Chelsea drew 3-3 with West Brom, a shock result due to “pure mistakes” apparently.
“I’ll take responsibility on the outside but the players also have to take responsibility,” he said after the 3-1 defeat to Arsenal in December, a rather roundabout way of saying it’s actually the players’ fault.
Lampard’s attitude was that he did not fail himself, but that he had been failed by his charges. They, understandably, did not take that well. And when some of the new names – who arrived as part of a £220m splurge in the summer – didn’t integrate as well as expected, he gave up on helping them. In the case of Kai Havertz it’s evident he didn’t have the foggiest notion how to get the best out of him.
Being privileged and taking advantage of them are not in and of themselves a reason to write off Lampard as a coach, but his sense of entitlement has been unpalatable at the very least. He spectacularly blew his lid at the sight of an overexcited Liverpool bench last season, got a little bit sensitive at the suggestion he has an advantage over black managers, and unnecessarily tore into a journalist for having the temerity to do his job.
🗣 "Their confidence would be shot if they read the pieces you write at the minute. The confirmation bias is like a social media pundit to try and get a reaction."
Frank Lampard fires back at reporter Liam Twomey in his press conference pic.twitter.com/vcekiaM6je
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) January 22, 2021
That final pre-match press conference of his Chelsea career illustrated the pressure he was under, that feeling of the walls closing in on and having no control over the situation whatsoever. His only recourse was to belittle the work of a (very credible) reporter.
When asked in 2014 about the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas from Stamford Bridge, Lampard said the Portuguese “had played his cards and it hadn’t worked. I don’t know if he was too young or if it came too early for him.”
Having seen firsthand a trove of great, good and bad managers come and go at the club during his time as a player, you would think he would have learned a thing or two about how to conduct himself when your job is under pressure.
Still, this failure will not diminish Lampard in the eyes of the Chelsea faithful, nor does it sound the death knell for his managerial career. It could even be a turning point – but only if he takes to the right lessons.