When Lampard returned to Stamford Bridge to replace the unpopular Maurizio Sarri, it felt like the perfect fit for a club seemingly moving in a refreshingly new direction. Photo: Michael Regan/Reuters
When Lampard returned to Stamford Bridge to replace the unpopular Maurizio Sarri, it felt like the perfect fit for a club seemingly moving in a refreshingly new direction. Photo: Michael Regan/Reuters

New Chelsea era under Lampard was just an illusion

By Reuters Time of article published Jan 25, 2021

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By Martyn Herman

LONDON - When club great Frank Lampard returned to Stamford Bridge to replace the unpopular Maurizio Sarri in the summer of 2019 it felt like the perfect fit for a club seemingly moving in a refreshingly new direction.

It proved nothing more than illusion, however, with Lampard on Monday being jettisoned in the same ruthless fashion as 11 other managers in the reign of Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

Last season Lampard was lauded for guiding the team to fourth spot in the Premier League and the FA Cup final despite a transfer ban that meant none of the usual big-money signings previous incumbents have been provided.

Perhaps forced by the unusual circumstances, Lampard took the chance to bed in the likes of young English talents Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

The fact they flourished under his watchful eye offered the promise of a new way for Chelsea whose vast collection of silverware since Abramovich bought the club in 2003 had been facilitated by massive muscle in the transfer market.

Lampard, in effect, was handed a season-long honeymoon period partly because of his standing as the club's record goalscorer and partly because of the fact that, unlike his predecessors, he could not be judged on how effective he was at spending Abramovich's money.

His impressive first season was rewarded with a massive 220 million pound ($301.22 million) splurge with the likes of German duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, Ajax Amsterdam winger Hakim Ziyech, Leicester full back Ben Chilwell and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy all brought in.

Exciting though they were, the real test of the marriage was about to begin and Lampard, familiar with the inner-workings of Chelsea during his playing career, knew it.

When Chelsea went on a 17-match unbeaten streak it appeared that Lampard had seamlessly blended in the big-money signings to the framework he had put in place during his first season.

Lampard preferred to offer a dose of realism though, continually playing down his side's title prospects, saying it would take time for his re-modelled team to knit together.

Abramovich was clearly not listening though and, perhaps with some justification, grew increasingly alarmed as Chelsea's season hit the buffers after a 1-0 loss at Everton in December.

They have lost five of their last eight Premier League games, sliding to ninth, and Lampard has cut an increasingly gloomy presence on the touchline with his tactics and selection perhaps exposing his relative inexperience as a coach.

He has struggled to get the best out of the extremely talented but lightweight Havertz, Werner looks nothing like the striker who scored at will for RB Leipzig and Ziyech's influence has been sporadic at best.

Lampard's points-per-game ratio was the worst among Chelsea managers in the Abramovich era, lower than the much-maligned Andre Villas-Boas, yet for all that he leaves with Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League, the fifth round of the FA Cup and only five points behind fourth-placed Liverpool.

Hardly a huge crisis for most clubs.

Yet Chelsea's hierarchy have reverted to type at the first sign of trouble with Abramovich showing scant regard for the affection the club's fans hold for a man who won three league titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League as a Blues player.

Significantly, Abramovich offered some personal sentiment after wielding the axe, something he is not exactly known for.

"This was a very difficult decision for the club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him," the Russian said.

They will be of little comfort to Lampard who will point to the patience afforded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

Two months ago, when Lampard's Chelsea were flying high, Solskjaer's United were languishing in the bottom half of the table and the Norwegian's future hung in the balance.

Now United are top of the league, Chelsea are about to veer off in another direction and Lampard has his first bitter taste of the fragility of life as a manager.

Reuters

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