Chelsea reverted to form and sacked their popular hero player and now former manager Frank Lampard as the club moves forward amidst uncertainty with more questions than answers. In an action that seemed inevitable in the days following the defeat to Leicester City 2-0, the Chelsea Board once again sacked their manager, as usual in a panic move to ostensibly seek to change the fortunes of the club midseason. It was an ill-advised move.
Commentators and fans comment on a game-by-game basis. They question a manager’s team selections, substitutions, formation, and any number of other decisions. That’s what we do. But that doesn’t mean that the overall body of work should be determined only by a few games or run of games, especially under circumstances that were clearly overwhelmingly unfortunate and disadvantageous for the new manager. The overarching fact in the sacking of Lampard by Chelsea is that it was premature and either totally oblivious to or uncaring of the uniquely challenging and almost insurmountable set of circumstances under which the young manager had to work in his mere season and a half at the helm of the Blues. I backed him strongly before, and I think it was a mistake to let him go.
Under ordinary circumstances, Lampard’s success-potential would have been a long-shot. Under conditions commencing in March or so of 2020 in the Covid-19 world, they were completely untenable for him. First, he was a young coach assuming a team constructed for a completely different playing style for a different manager, yet still possessing the players imported to fit that now outdated style. That’s a quite poor situation to begin with.
Second, he was impacted by a transfer ban by FIFA in the summer immediately after his hiring, and then a self-imposed ban was imposed upon him by his own club in January of last season. Still, he was able to patch the squad of some talents, misfits, and young academy players together to finish third on points and gain Champions League qualification. Some observers minimize this accomplishment. It’s unfounded and baseless to so argue. That fact alone should have been the singular mitigating factor in allowing the team legend the opportunity to finally, at some point, be able to put his full imprint on this squad in some semblance of normal circumstances. He never received that chance. He couldn’t operate under the transfer constraints and abominable health and other team circumstances, including a no-fans-in-the-stands situation that was absolutely unprecedented.
In a previous article, three major reasons why Lampard should have been retained were outlined in detail. They will not be belabored too much here, though they are still completely valid today, the day of his sacking. Yet, the addition of a number of high profile non-English players to his squad, several of whom along with other key players were injured for months at a time, allowed the manager little if any opportunity to put them through their paces in a system of his choosing. And any new system with a whole host of key new players needs trial and error to get it right. Lampard never received that opportunity. He had almost no pre-season. And, he had a full squad at his disposal probably for about 5 games all season, with little training time available with a slew of games to play in a jam-packed holiday season, while also participating in two additional competitions.
For those and other reasons, Lampard’s sacking was another short-leashed Chelsea reaction to a run of bad form that was entirely premature and a massive miscue. And the early success now stands in stark contrast to the late run of poor form. It was certainly suggested in these pages that the early run of form was more the creation of strength of schedule (or rather lack thereof) than any great form by the club. Yet, despite the many drawbacks under which Lampard operated, he managed to do what few Chelsea managers of late have been able to do and that is to beat the teams they should beat.
The problem was that all the previously mentioned and other unprecedented obstacles in Lampard’s way were and ought to have been recognized as virtually insurmountable in the short-term. Those factors should have allowed the manager a reasonable opportunity to be able to perform his magic in circumstances that had some vestige of normalcy so that his body of work could be judged accordingly and fairly. They were not and his tenure at Chelsea is over. At least for now.
The question was asked when Lampard was hired whether it was too early in his managerial career to take on a job as monumentally difficult, challenging, and full of expectations as Chelsea with only a year of managing in the Championship on his resume. It was a fair question then and it remains one on which to speculate now. But those questions were asked with only one or two aspects of the massive challenges that Lampard would face evident for all to see, the transfer bans and trying to fit players that were acquired to play in one system to fit into his. On the transfer bans, two windows were fortunately reduced to one, with the club inexplicably and totally irrationally deciding not to give Lampard any additional support whatsoever in January 2020 when the ban was fortuitously lifted.
One might have asked at that point, for whatever reasons the club had, were they looking to put their new manager in a position to fail? Perhaps it was to their dismay, that surprisingly and perhaps astonishingly, he did anything but. And, he came within a Christian Pulisic hamstring pull of possibly wrapping up another FA Cup trophy for Chelsea, in addition to landing the massively important Champions League qualification that he did bring back to the Bridge.
So, it’s a sad day for this Chelsea fan and many others for sure, and not just that a beloved former player and now former manager gets sacked. When a manager is hired, except in very few situations, they are on borrowed time from that day until they get called in as Lampard did this morning to be told their services are no longer required. It’s part of the business but it’s a lousy thing to happen to anyone. Especially when they are not deserving. And it clearly and unequivocally was not deserving in Lampard’s case today in light of the uniquely difficult and challenging situations in which he was required to manage.
We’ll see what Thomas Tuchel or whoever else is hired can do now. But don’t expect too much. The same circumstances (absent possibly the transfer situation) will pretty much exist for him, as well.