Frank Lampard victim of his own success at Chelsea
Pep Guardiola feels bad for Frank Lampard.
They are supposedly rival managers. Or at least. But on Monday morning, Chelsea sacked Lampard after just 18 months in which his former star midfielder won almost twice as many games as he lost.
In his first season, Lampard had skilfully led a rebuilding team made up mostly of old and young players to fourth in the Premier League and a place in the Champions League, which surprised many and exceeded reasonable expectations. There have been a ton of new attackers this season who haven’t been immediately successful, just two wins from eight Premier League games and the associated fall from fourth to ninth place. Six bad weeks was all it took.
It doesn’t matter that Chelsea had only lost once in their eleven league games. Or that it had sailed through the group stage of the Champions League. Or that it was still alive in both national cup tournaments. Or, in fact, that it won its last game, an FA Cup match with Luton Town.
Lampard ran out of time.
“People talk about projects and ideas,” said Guardiola, the Manchester City manager. according to the BBC. “You don’t exist. You have to win or you will be replaced. I hope to see Frank soon and go to a restaurant with him when the suspension is over.”
A pity meal, no doubt. A meal to reflect on the realities of elite football.
Also a meal to reflect on the injustice of Lampard’s predicament. When he replaced Maurizio Sarri ahead of the 2019-20 season, he inherited a team caught between cycles that had just sold the club’s best player, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid. In addition, a transfer ban meant he had to stick academy kids and survivors of the club’s long-term credit factory into the many holes of the cadre. It was a year of rebuilding. Everyone understood that.
And so it was all right that Lampard would be responsible for this. Because he was a prospect himself, a young manager with just one season of experience who led Derby County to the championship playoffs. He would learn on the job, like so many of his players. The club legend would be given time to develop his apparent management potential.
Chelsea, for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, stepped back and started over. It would do things right, or at least the traditional way. For once, it wouldn’t hack, change, and patch right away.
Last season the paradigm changed. Lampard’s unexpected success apparently convinced the club that the rebuilding was nearing completion and Chelsea could start again. In that sense, Lampard could have been a victim of his own good work.
The club’s statement announcing the dismissal of Lampard said: “Recent results and performances have not met the club’s expectations, leaving the club in the midfield with no clear path to sustainable improvement.”
Of course, Chelsea haven’t been looking too good lately. And maybe it even seemed hopeless. The clear path to sustainable improvement, however, was obvious and showed in all of the young attacking players who had not yet peaked. In Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic. All of these summer acquisitions included Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy, most of whom hadn’t settled in yet.
The decision that Lampard had bumped into a wall was a decision, a perspective that he couldn’t turn around. Never mind that Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta showed in the same six weeks that sparked Lampard’s professional demise that over time a manager can absolutely fix seemingly unfixable problems. They too had moved close to the edge of the cliff just to solve their problems and drive long unbeaten streaks.
For a while, hiring former star players to manage large teams, regardless of their inexperience at this level, was a fad. Like Solskjaer and Arteta, Lampard also benefited from it. However, if the club has changed its executive hiring profile and deviates from the laurel veterans, it has forgotten to adjust its expectations accordingly. While the Blues’ rivals gave these clubmen the opportunity to mature into their new positions, Chelsea treated Lampard like any other manager. Bad month. Time for someone else. There is Thomas Tuchel, who led Paris Saint-Germain to the Champions League final last season.
Chelsea will not hold themselves accountable. It is not left to the argument that with every young team, with every side that has undergone major changes, a fallow period will follow, even if the initial results were promising. If a manager is to be appointed in training, he should be allowed to make mistakes, difficulties, and failures.
Now it starts all over again. Once again. And woe to the next man, the 16th appointment of the Abramovich era, if it takes him more than a year to win things. No matter under what circumstances. Only the manager will be to blame.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a columnist at Emox News and a lecturer in sports communications at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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