We take a look at what went wrong for Frank Lampard and what can be expected from Thomas Tuchel.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED
Earlier this week, Frank Lampard was sacked from his role as the head coach of Chelsea Football Club. The dismissal came at the back of Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over second-tier Luton Town that saw Mason Mount captain the team and Tammy Abraham score a hattrick. No sooner than he was let go, Lampard was replaced by German coach Thomas Tuhcel, who himself was recently dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain over Christmas.
Given the legendary status of Lampard at the club, his dismissal has naturally divided the fanbase and critics alike. People have vociferously come to his aid and defended his time at Chelsea, advocating that the decision was harsh and Lampard should have been given more time. While there are a lot of good things that came out of Lampard’s short spell at the club, those following the club closely know all too well that this outcome was only a matter of time.
A PROMISE OF CHANGE
When Chelsea appointed Frank Lampard as their head coach in the summer of 2019, the hierarchy claimed that it would symbolise a new dawn – a change in the way things got done at the club; the days of ruthless managerial dismissals a thing of the past, with long-term projects the new order of business.
Well, so much for that.
Frank Lampard replaced a manager in Maurizio Sarri who in his one season at the club didn’t even come close to getting along with the fans, despite taking Chelsea to a third-place finish in the league and winning the UEFA Europa League. Also, Chelsea were facing a transfer embargo for the next two transfer windows, meaning they needed to look for new players in a place they had barely ventured into – the academy, and who better to establish that link than the greatest player in the club’s recent history himself?
Frank Lampard’s managerial career at this point spanned just one year – a promising season with Derby County in the Championship. Many believed that Lampard would have been better off learning his trade away from the pomp and scrutiny of the Premier League. However, as far as Frank was concerned Chelsea was his dream job all along; refusing the opportunity to take that job was simply not an option.
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WHAT WENT WRONG FOR LAMPARD
Given the circumstances he arrived in and given his status at the club, if there was anyone who’d be given some slack by the Chelsea fanbase it’d be Frank Lampard. Considered to be a long-term repair, the fans would have accepted a mid-table finish if that meant a solid foundation could be established. Instead, Chelsea ended up fourth, level on points with third-place Manchester United. They also reached the last 16 of the Champions League, only to be beaten by the eventual winners Bayern Munich, and reached the final of the FA Cup as well. For all intents and purposes, Lampard’s Chelsea overperformed in his first season in charge.
As requested, Lampard did a brilliant job with integrating academy players into the team. There had hardly been a route for academy players to make it into the senior side, so for Frank to come in and make it work within one year was a remarkable achievement. Players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Billy Gilmour, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James would probably have never made it into the starting XI as seamlessly as they did, were it not for Lampard. Barring silverware, his first season was a resounding success.
That season also saw Chelsea’s transfer ban cut short, and that was effectively the moment when the clock started ticking on Lampard’s time at the club. For better or worse, it was only going to end one way…
With the transfer ban lifted and Financial Fair Play regulations laxed, club owner Roman Abramovich felt it only reasonable to opulently spend money towards building a title-winning squad, and spend money he did. With over 200 million pounds invested in players, Abramovich did what he always does – put his managers in a corner. Win, lest you’re gone.
While the manager does sign off on the signings, it is to be noted that most of the signings were not Lampard’s call. In fact, Ben Chilwell was the only player he explicitly asked for, along with a long, exhausting attempt to bring Declan Rice back to Chelsea, which only infuriated the hierarchy because they did not want to face the critical backlash over spending money to bring back a player who was released from their academy not too long ago.
The arrival of the two Germans – Timo Werner and Kai Havertz – brought more problems for Frank Lampard. When you buy players because you see a window of opportunity where other clubs are not in a position to challenge you and not because you explicitly want said players, you don’t always necessarily bring in the players you need, which was the case with Werner and Havertz. However, they were the biggest investments and for better or worse, it rested upon Lampard to get a tune out of them.
Lampard was provided a very clear picture with the start of the season. Chelsea were to challenge Liverpool and Man City’s duopoly and make a run for the title; if not win it, then at least come close. With all the investment, nothing else could have been considered acceptable. Given the nature of this season, Chelsea were top of the table by early December, but Frank remained cautious, saying that they were not title contenders this season and would eventually have blips. They have since slipped to 8th, albeit only five points off top four.
Moreover, another factor that led to Lampard’s downfall was his relationship with the club hierarchy behind the scenes. There were reports of him falling out with club director Marina Granovskaia, who was already apprehensive of Lampard’s treatment of his players in front of the press. Frank reportedly preferred keeping a close circle of players he trusted and barely talked to the ones he didn’t pick for matches, which did not help especially since he kept making changes to his lineups rather frequently. Mediocre results and a reluctant hierarchy are important factors, but once the dressing room gives up on you, your time is as good as over.
Talks for Lampard’s replacement were reportedly on since the start of this month, but a decision became inevitable after Chelsea’s defeat to Leicester. Lampard was allowed to stick around till the Luton game while Chelsea finalised a deal with Thomas Tuchel, but he knew all too well that it was over for him. After all, he had been a Chelsea player for almost a decade and a half; he knew how it went.
WHAT NOW FOR LAMPARD
Frank Lampard is the only Chelsea manager to receive a personal note from Roman Abramovich himself within his statement of dismissal, meaning albeit considered inevitable, his sacking was not a decision taken lightly. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see where Lampard goes next.
While there’s no doubt that the Chelsea job came too soon for him, Frank has shown enough in the past 18 months to warrant more offers in the future. He may not get a big-club job straightaway, but he’ll attract suitors soon enough. He might want to take a break for a while, which might see him resume punditry while waiting for the right offer to return to management.
Another possibility is that this might be it for Frank Lampard the manager. During his playing days, he mentioned on more than one occasion that managing Chelsea was his only dream job, a dream that is now over. Still, should he return to management, I will not be surprised if many years down the line a more experienced Frank Lampard returns to the dugout at Stamford Bridge.
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WHAT DOES TUCHEL BRING
Thomas Tuchel is widely regarded as a tactical genius. Compared to Lampard, Tuchel brings a clearer understanding of what he wants his football to be. His sides tend to be more flexible, as Tuchel prefers employing different formations not only over the course of a year, but also makes his teams adept at quickly switching formations multiple times within a match.
As far as the players are concerned, Tuchel will be expected to further help Werner and Havertz to not only settle in but find a system that gets the best out of them. He is also reunited by his former PSG captain Thiago Silva and former Borussia Dortmund starlet Christian Pulisic.
One challenge with bringing Thomas Tuchel in is his track record with dealing with the club hierarchies. In both of his previous two clubs – PSG and Dortmund – Tuchel famously fell out with his sporting directors (Leonardo and Sven Mislintat, respectively), indicating that any arrangement with the German often tends to be a short-term one, which in a way works perfectly for Chelsea given they change managers every 15 months. Yet, they’ll need to be careful with how things turn out with Tuchel as they bring him in on an initial 18-month contract.
As I write this piece, I have just seen Chelsea draw 0-0 with Wolves in Tuchel’s first game in charge. Given that the man arrived just yesterday it is not the worst result, but the team needs to pick up pace fast if they wish to salvage this season. All thing considered, the Tuchel-Chelsea marriage promises a very interesting story and it will be exciting to see where Chelsea ends up in 18 months’ time.
As for Frank Lampard, there are multiple arguments that can be made both for and against his dismissal. However, what we cannot deny is this is how Abramovich’s Chelsea works – you either win or you get the sack. Whether we like it or not, this is a system that has worked for him so far, so if ain’t broke, why fix it?