LIFE is never dull at Chelsea since they became a super club. As the Blues unveiled their latest financial figures, other statistics were being pored over, those that indicate Frank Lampard, club legend and all-round good fellow, could be losing his way at the moment.
There has been paper talk that some players are confused about team tactics, a very worrying signal because when the club’s human equity starts to bleat, the manager tends to go shortly afterwards. Some players, such as Antonio Rüdiger, Marcos Alonso, Fikayo Tomori and Kepa, all seem to have been frozen out of contention.
Lampard will probably be given the benefit of the doubt, even if it is a short-term decision. He is “Super Frankie Lampard” after all, but he is in season two and he is expected to win silverware. That’s why he was given over £ 200 million to build a team in his own image.
As it stands, Lampard’s record makes him very vulnerable at the moment. Since the current golden era began in 2003-04, José Mourinho, Luis Felipe Scolari, André Villas-Boas, Roberto di Matteo and Mourinho again have been sacked in mid-season. Others have left the club at the end of a campaign, sometimes, such as in the cases of Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri, following a trophy victory.
Mourinho 1.0 was let go after a fractious start to the season amid rumours of creative differences. He had won five major trophies in his three seasons, but in his last year, butted up against the Chelsea board.
Scolari was never the right man, AVB was a bold move that a club renowned for having a low threshold of boredom should never have made and Di Matteo, the winner of the Champions League, was always a temporary appointment. Mourinho 2.0 was sacked in December 2015 after a dreadful start to the season with Chelsea in 16th place with four wins from 16 games. He had, supposedly, “lost” the dressing room, which was probably the key factor.
Lampard’s appointment was something of a gamble even though he was being called for by the supporters. He was a managerial rookie, having had just one season at Derby County in which he led the Rams to the play-offs. But the timing was in his favour as Chelsea had been handed a transfer window ban. His support for young players such as Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James was also appreciated by the club’s fans. However, the pandemic has taken Lampard’s biggest advocates, the Stamford Bridge faithful, out of the stadium. The value of loyal support for a club hero inside the ground should not be overlooked.
The shutdown of the game cost Chelsea more than morale support, it also reduced their income by £ 39.3 million. The club managed to make a profit of £ 32.5 million, but the worst is yet to come as far as the pandemic is concerned. Chelsea played their last four home games behind closed doors and as a result, their matchday revenues fell from £ 66.6 million to £ 54.4 million. Obviously, with the current season being played out to empty arenas, the impact is going to be greater. Commercial and broadcasting revenue streams went down by 5% and 9% respectively, again figures that could worsen in 2020-21.
Yet Lampard was so close to real success in 2019-20, losing in the FA Cup final and finishing high enough to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The addition of fresh talent in the close season was aimed at making Chelsea into title contenders. On paper, the players signed – Werner, Chilwell, Havertz and Ziyech – were among the most coveted in Europe.
This sizeable outlay has yet to reap benefits for Chelsea and Lampard, at least not consistently. Chelsea have not beaten any of the top teams this season and recent results have revealed a team lacking motivation and tactical savvy. Their performances against Arsenal and Manchester City over the Christmas and New Year period were poor. Four defeats in six games have turned Lampard from a reasoned, relatively easy-going manager into a grim-faced man with the world pressing down on his shoulders.
He knows as well as anyone that such a run of games at a vital stage of the season can earn nothing but garden leave. It’s Chelsea, after all, failure is not built into the business model, and failure is not defined at the club in the way it is at other clubs.
This is a huge challenge for Lampard, but equally, this is an awkward moment for the likes of Roman Abramovich and his entourage. Hiring Lampard was public relations 101, but sacking a club luminary will incur the wrath of a lot of Chelsea fans. Will the club care? You need only go back to 2012 when Roberto di Matteo was fired just months after winning the Champions League and FA Cup. For a few weeks, Chelsea fans stamped their feet, chanted their displeasure and gave the caretaker, Rafa Benitez, a really hard time. Actually, Benitez was too much of a professional to be distracted by the abuse and he won the Europa League in 2013.
Hiring popular players as managers doesn’t always work and comes with a warning. Chelsea should know – John Hollins was the Lampard of his time in many ways, but he wasn’t really a manager and he was undermined and then sacked. It felt bad seeing such a great player being shown the door and if it happens to Lampard, people will feel the same way. That’s why it is safe to assume if and when the message comes from Israel to take action, Chelsea won’t dispose of a much-loved figure on a whim. Just think how much positive PR persevering could bring – proving that nice guys might not always win, but they should be given the opportunity to try just a little longer. In this most difficult of times for the nation and the sport, it might be the best – but not necessarily the most fashionable – course of action.
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