Lampard, the predictable end of experiment Frank

THERE WILL be no shortage of sympathy for Frank Lampard as he goes the same way as a dozen or so other Chelsea managers. Eighteen months might not seem like a long time, even by Chelsea’s standards, but this was an appointment that went into the same category as AVB and RDM. In other words, the hiring of a relatively inexperienced manager that represented a little symbolic bravery on the part of the club. Deep down, Chelsea knew that they would, sooner rather than later, revert to type and acquire a big name from the elite band of managerial hired guns. 

The script could have been written on the very day that Frank Lampard was appointed. The club had been hit with a transfer ban, Lampard came in with the convenient dedication to youth and the fans loved it. Certainly, the die-hards who fell in love with Chelsea before trophies started pouring applauded it, a blues legend in charge and home grown talent filling the team. They would exercise far more patience than fans who have known nothing else but success at the club.

But when Chelsea’s transfer ban was shortened, Lampard’s departure was already inevitable. They could go out a bring in who they wanted and money would be made available to strengthen the squad. The Chelsea purse strings were loosened and over £ 200 million was spent on players – for an inexperienced manager to toy with. These two pressure points meant that Lampard and Chelsea would have to produce something special to keep the C-suite happy. As the season unfolded, every setback was another piece torn off Lampard’s contract and the signal for another phone call to see who might be available to replace him.

Lampard went from easy-going, pragmatic Frank to grimacing, poker-face Frank and even sniped at journalists in a press conference. The pressure was starting to show as much as the under-performance of some of the highly-priced talent brought in to Stamford Bridge in the summer.

Of course, Lampard knew the score when he was appointed: Chelsea have no margin for error in their modern culture. He was given a year’s grace because he is Frank Lampard, but that only meant that year two would carry a monumental burden – it would have to be Premier or Champions League. The consolation prize of FA Cup would not be enough.

When Thomas Tuchel became available, another pressure point started to build. Would Chelsea risk missing out on one of Europe’s top young managers? And what about the mysterious Max Allegri, when was he going to resurface?

Tuchel, if he is the man, will test Chelsea. He may be a decent coach, he may have some good ideas, but he is a strong-willed, highly technical individual who appears to be abrasive in his relationship with his employers. He did well at Paris Saint-Germain, winning trophies and taking them closer to European success than ever before, but he often fell out with the club’s top brass. Such a relationship has invariably been the beginning of the end for managers at Chelsea, so how he will work within the Abramovich regime remains to be seen.

Furthermore, Tuchel’s interaction with some players has been described as “complex”, which may also wave a red flag at Chelsea. When past issues have emerged in the dressing room, the players clearly have the upper hand. There may be success, but like most of Chelsea’s appointments since 2003, Tuchel will be a temporary employee.

It will, of course, be fine while it’s fine, but then when it goes wrong, more cash will be paid to a manager dismissed mid-contract. As football finance expert Kieran Maguire noted, Chelsea have paid out £ 110 million in manager compensation in the Abramovich era. That’s an expensive way to run a club, but the bulging trophy cabinet suggests it is a successful model, even if it is built around short-termism. Lampard may be smarting now, but he’s an intelligent and popular man who will be back.

@GameofthePeople
Photo: PA Images
Infographic: PA Graphic

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