Frank Lampard’s tenure as Chelsea manager has come to an end following a dismal run of defeats recently. But looking back, there is much to celebrate in this unique managerial incumbency, despite the current deflated mood. This is the story of Frank Lampard as manager of Chelsea Football Club.
It all began back on the 4th July 2019, at the beginning of a season in which the club would be under a transfer embargo. The previous campaign had brought a 3rd place finish and a Europa League, but it wasn’t enough to save Sarri. In the unique circumstances, Roman Abramovich decided to look in another direction. The direction of, arguably, the greatest player in the club’s history. On Independence Day, the irony was that Lampard and Chelsea were more intertwined than ever before – it seemed a new era had begun.
Of course, the vast majority of fans expected little from such a limited team-rebuilding viewpoint. It was fortunate for Lampard that Pulisic was already set to join. Otherwise, it was the same squad that in the previous season had looked lacklustre at various times.
The one place where Lampard could look to inject some new life into the team was through the youth system. Players such as Mount and Tomori impressed at Derby, leaving Lampard keen to include them in his Chelsea side. Various other academy stars, such as Abraham and Hudson-Odoi, also had unparalleled trust placed in them and this would set a new precedent for belief in players irrespective of age or experience.
Initially, the reaction was negative. Mourinho, after the first league game (a humbling loss to Manchester United), claimed that he was out of his depth. It may have been a fair comment at the time, but in the first season, it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The Blues enjoyed an extended period of success in the league, with wins against London rivals’ particular highlights. In fact, it was during those games that the sense of togetherness in the squad appeared to peak. Tammy Abraham was reminiscent of Drogba as he pumped his arms out to celebrate in front of the traveling fans at the Emirates – and chants of ‘We’ve got super Frankie Lampard’ echoed around the stadium.
During this time, an exhilarating Champions League group stage run also took place. The clear highlight was the 4-4 draw against Ajax. Looking back now, the atmosphere at the Bridge personified the mood at the club at the time – excitement. It’s easy to forget that a youthful Chelsea was fighting for a Top Four place against other extremely experienced sides. It’s feasible that the so-called ‘new manager bounce’ was still in effect, but it felt like the club had turned a corner. Chelsea were finally fun to watch again.
There was, admittedly, a slight blip during January and February, not unlike the one we have seen in recent weeks. The difference was, there were no expectations for a man who had taken on a seemingly impossible task at that time.
That was the beauty of the first season – the lack of pressure which led to such a bountiful display of success. Players had confidence in their own ability since the fans were eager to see some lasting change. Lampard and his staff were open to trying different systems, and again the fans were accepting of tough times. The first campaign was the blueprint and, as far as the club was concerned, a spectacular project was just having the groundwork laid.
Just as it seemed as though they were finding their feet though, a crisis struck again – but not one of footballing nature. A now infamous virus swept across the world and the club’s charity work was admirable at this time. It was perhaps a testament to the camaraderie between the team, the staff, and the fans, with the number of resources donated to NHS staff at Stamford Bridge.
The lockdown also brought time to look back at the achievements so far that season. Fighting for a place in Europe’s premier competition, into the quarter finals of the domestic cup and a superb run in the Champions League all had their own individual moments to take inspiration from. It may seem a world away, but these were huge achievements considering the state of affairs.
Achieving what had seemed inconceivable will be one of the defining qualities of the Lampard era. Having ridden out a bumpy post-lockdown period, a 2-0 win against Wolves secured Champions League qualification. Mason Mount ended up scoring the meaningful goal in the game, and there is a certain cyclical satisfaction that the 21 year old midfielder, given a chance by Lampard, repaid this faith with a crucial goal. For all of the critics of the recently departed boss, his trust and perseverance with young players who he could empathise with will live long in the memory of those at Cobham, and beyond, in the future.
Of course, the season ended on a low point after a disappointing succumbing to London rivals in the Cup final. A trouncing in Europe followed, but that shouldn’t sour what was otherwise a poignant return. The next month brought a spending spree for the ages; huge transfer fees were one of the main downfalls of the 42-year-old in the end.
Still, even with higher expectations, the club mostly delivered during the first few weeks of the season. A lack of fans now felt normal, although it’s a sad ending in that faithful supporters never got to wave Lampard off. Regardless, until early December things were going relatively well and momentum appeared to be at an all-time high. That was, until the 12th December when the Blues went to Everton and things started to crumble.
Beneath the wave of optimism prior to that game, there was a shift in mood of some players. Reports emerged following the 3-3 draw with West Brom that Marcos Alonso, now a bystander at Chelsea, had refused to come out for the second half. Then there were suggestions that the exuberant mood within the dressing room had subsided and, after just a few defeats, the confidence among the players had almost totally disintegrated. Unfortunately for Lampard, the unraveling only worsened from then on, until the Tuesday evening nightmare in the Midlands.
Pinning everything on the manager is something often done at Chelsea, and often rightfully so. But in this case, there is a sense that fans were reluctant to do so. Individual players don’t necessarily deserve blame either – this was, unfortunately, a team failure.
Putting such expectations on the man in charge means it was never going to be easy. The responsibilities of managing world-class players isn’t something that you learn overnight. The inexperience in this field ended up being put out for the world to see but this learning curve, however tough to take right now, will serve Lampard well in the future.
Whether he stays in management is unknown, but the small legacy he has built will endure the test of time. Youth players at Cobham now feel they have a genuine chance of breaking through. Squads in the Premier League who can’t compete financially will now see the possibility of making a Top Four charge. And Chelsea fans will appreciate the work done in uniting the players, staff, and supporters in unimaginably tough times.
It was always going to be tough for Lampard the manager to reach the heights of Lampard the player. While both had a deep love for the club, on the face of it the latter remains far ahead of the former in almost every way: trophies, wins and individual awards to name but a few.
But one thing the former does possess over the latter is the ability to unify Chelsea fans globally. This man took a job which nobody else wanted and, however much it may have been shrouded in omitted memories, he went above and beyond the requisitions he was presented with when hired.
The legacy of Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge will not be tainted by this dissatisfying end. If anything, it will only enhance the respect and admiration he is greeted with when he, along with fans, return to the stadium as his commitment to the club was laid bare for everyone to witness. Now is not the time for poring over individual games or tactics, or analysing why specifically he didn’t succeed. Instead, it’s a moment for reflection on what has been an unprecedented epoch in Chelsea’s history, under a man who has an unconditional adoration for the side from West London.
There were highs, there were lows, there were friends, there were foes. But above all else, for a short time, there was unity at Chelsea Football Club. And that, I might suggest, has more value than any silverware ever will.
Thanks for everything, Frank.
Written by Noah Robson @noahr24_
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5