Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The summer’s worst kept secret was officially announced last week as Frank Lampard returned to Chelsea as their new head coach. A man so pivotal in shaping the modern identity of Chelsea and an indispensable individual in a period of unprecedented success for the club, his appointment has evoked infectious excitement among the Chelsea faithful.
During his playing career with the Blues, Lampard established himself as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever midfielders and possibly the best player to have ever represented Chelsea. He won it all at Chelsea, with 11 major honours in 13 years and his legendary status – not that it required verification – was sealed when he became their all-time leading goalscorer.
To focus solely on the 41-year-old’s achievements would be to neglect his intelligence and demeanour. Lampard is an erudite man, who speaks with an intrinsic passion for the game and a nigh-on forensic understanding of how it operates, accumulated by years of success.
This is a man who understands what it means to represent Chelsea, as phatic as that sounds, Lampard is acutely aware of the pressing issues at the club and the needs of its supporters. It’s for that very reason that Lampard was the outstanding candidate for the vacant position.
There’s no denying that his lack of managerial experience is a legitimate concern. Also, appointing a manager at Chelsea with only a season of experience in the Championship would have been an unfathomable, borderline ridiculous, proposition for most of the Roman Abramovich era.
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However, these are peculiar times in south-west London. In the post-Hazard age, Chelsea must discover a way to sustain their success without a player of immense pedigree, one whom Chelsea depended on excessively.
Coupled with their transfer ban, the Blues are now forced to utilise internal resources, offering a golden opportunity for their plethora of young talents and voluminous loan army.
Lampard has walked into the hardest job of any Chelsea manager in the Abramovich era, but he’ll also begin with more good will – from the club, from the supporters – than anyone who came before him.
This season is going to be fascinating #cfc
— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) July 4, 2019
One must also consider that despite winning the Europa League, the relationship between the support and manager, and on a broader level, between the fans and the club has been noticeably fractured. There was a distance that soon transpired into toxicity between the Chelsea faithful and Maurizio Sarri.
That splintered relationship only served to intensify and deepen supporters’ ill-feeling towards the club, be that concerns over a lack of footballing knowhow at board level, the wasteful treatment of young players or the general sense of ambiguity facilitated by a lack of communication at the club.
Fundamentally, these issues are at the heart of Lampard’s appointment and conceivably, there has never been a better time for the Blues to appoint their legend.
We explore two reasons why that is the case…
Lampard’s historical importance to Chelsea requires no introduction but on the surface this appointment could denote a misguided and romanticised act of wishful thinking from Chelsea, particularly for observers looking outwardly at the club’s predicament.
As alluded to earlier, the supporters’ disengagement with the club has created a lurking sense of apathy among its core support and given the rising cost of football – which has already alienated many longstanding fans – there is a risk of isolating generations of supporters.
While the suggestion may appear hyperbolic, many young supporters are already priced out of attending games regularly, and the last thing that the club wishes is to estrange fans who are financially able to attend games.
Lampard’s reputation and bond with the club’s supporters will likely address these issues, re-establishing connections and an alliance fortified over 13 years. Moreover, Lampard’s supporting cast of Jody Morris, Petr Cech and Eddie Newton – players who are indefinitely associated with the club – will help ease his transition and further appease disillusioned fans.
Jody Morris… proper Chels: “I’ve had one year in Derby which was unbelievable, but I’ve had a lifetime of loving and supporting the Chels!”
He’ll be in our dugout next season with Lamps. This is Chelsea. Amazing.
— Garry Hayes (@garryhayes) July 4, 2019
Most significantly, no manager in Chelsea’s recent history, perhaps not even Mourinho on his return to Chelsea, will have received a more congratulatory reception or unwavering support than what Lampard is poised to experience. Not only has the supporters’ relationship with the club and its manager been turbulent, but the support itself was far too divided, particularly online.
Such division led to vitriol and hostility that is all too common on social media. Lampard’s appointment will be welding several groups under the pursuit of a common objective, thereby addressing an urgent issue.
Another issue that has irked Chelsea supporters for far too long has been wasteful mismanagement of young players.
The Chelsea academy have enjoyed a period of unrivalled success both domestically and on the European stage in recent seasons – which includes two UEFA Youth League titles, two U18 Premier League titles and four FA Youth Cups in the space of five years. Much of that success has been overseen by Jody Morris, and more recently Joe Edwards, both of whom will be integral members of Lampard’s staff.
While continuing to succeed at youth level, the avenue to the first team at Chelsea has been practically non-existent. Ruben Loftus Cheek’s breakthrough season at Chelsea last season stemmed from a loan spell with Crystal Palace, and at the age of 23, he is pushing the boundaries of a ‘young player’.
Similarly, Callum Hudson-Odoi’s involvement during the second half of last season was seemingly facilitated by intense interest from Bayern Munich rather than the club’s willingness to entrust their academy graduates.
In his sole season in Derby, Lampard aimed to offer consistent opportunities to young players – be that players on loan or Derby’s academy products. Shortly after his appointment at Pride Park, the manager identified the importance of embedding youth into the squad, per talkSPORT: “We had a group which was pretty old in terms of average age.
“That is not necessarily a bad thing but it felt to me the right thing to do was to try and invest in youth, whether that is loans or academy players coming through or players we could bring in.”
Jayden Bogle is the paradigmatic example, as he amassed 50 appearances in his inaugural season of senior football under Lampard’s tutelage. The Chelsea manager has already worked with Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori at Derby, both of whom excelled under his leadership.
For the first time in the Abramovich era, the prospect of young players receiving opportunities to impress at Chelsea no longer feels like another unsubstantiated promise or lip-service to placate the masses; suddenly, it feels like a tangible and attainable vision.
This isn’t to suggest that every young player at Chelsea is worthy or capable of breaking through at a club of the Blues’ stature, but equally, no longer will they be discarded without consideration.
Chelsea have spent an obscene amount of money on average players in recent seasons, such as £39.7m Tiemoue Bakayoko, £35m Danny Drinkwater and £33m Michy Batshuayi, at times when logic dictated that promoting young players into rotational positions would have been far more beneficial both fiscally and strategically.
From the way Lampard spoke about his vision in his first interview, you could sense an air of genuineness and unbridled excitement that characterised his every word.
There’s no refuting that the appointment is a risk, for all parties, but doesn’t that amplify curiosity and add to the mystique?
Lampard’s appointment will address some of the club’s most immediate concerns and restore the pride and feel-good factor at a club in dire need of realignment.
Congratulations to Frank Lampard with his appointment at @ChelseaFC. Lack of experience won’t be an issue. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and I suspect Frank has it. Wish him well.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 4, 2019
Bluntly, Chelsea need Lampard. Chelsea need a man of his expertise, intelligence and unprecedented importance to the supporters. He has come to epitomise Chelsea in the modern era.
Now he is the man to guide them on their next voyage.