Chelsea’s sacking of Frank Lampard is a bitter pill to swallow. This is not just about the connection that Lampard had with the club, his success as a player or the relationship he had with the fans though. This entire saga makes it difficult to be a Blues fan—period.
Lampard is one of the greatest Chelsea players of all-time. He has won everything at Chelsea and rest assured, if he were to bleed, the blood would come out a shade of royal blue. That is what makes this sacking more painful than any of the other managers who been shown the door by Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board, but it is not the only reason this one stings just that bit more.
Supporters on social media have recently come under fire for defending Lampard. They are questioned as to whether their allegiance is to the manager or to the club. It’s a fair question, but it’s misguided in its premise. As supporters, we backed Lampard because we believed he was the best manager to build this team up. He was the one to integrate youth, create a team with a spine similar to the ones he played in, foster a deep passion in the players to love this club, and most importantly, to change the short-term results based obsession that has plagued the Blues.
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Lampard’s appointment signaled that Chelsea was finally changing from a short-sightedness that has cost the team Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah, Nathan Ake and more. It also saw Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and the first iteration of Jose Mourinho walk out the door. Backing Lampard was backing the club because of what the Lampard hiring meant, or at least what it was supposed to.
Lampard was Chelsea, but that didn’t mean he was immune to the pressures or expectations that come with the hot seat in west London. He didn’t come to the job under any illusions of grandeur, he knew that better than anyone, and he said so publicly.
Roman Abramovich and the Blues’ board knew what they were getting when they reached out to Lampard. They knew they were getting an inexperienced manager with a sentimental attachment to the club; partly in a bid to repair the discord that had grown between Maurizio Sarri and the fans. It was the perfect time to bring in a young manager who they knew had heart and faith in the club above all else.
If they didn’t want that, and they wanted short-term success, why bring in Lampard?
With the club under a transfer ban, for Lampard to guide the Blues from the pitiful place they were in post-Sarri, to a Champions League spot and an FA Cup Final—which could have fallen in the Blues favour were it not for injuries to the then player of the season Christian Pulisic, talisman Cesar Azpilicueta and a questionable red card—was miraculous. Yet, Lampard continued to stress that the team was a work in progress, and it was. There were still question marks over the defence and goalkeeper, but Lampard had integrated youth in the team to the extent that four of those youth players—Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham and Billy Gilmour—are all now firmly established in their national team squads.
More than that though, Lampard had invigorated the fans. Yes, there were some disappointing performances, but that was to be expected because the club was still rebuilding. Mount is in a class of his own, Pulisic has become a star, Abraham was getting better and better, while James was primed for a breakout season as a starter. Lampard showed even more glimpses of the future, with Fikayo Tomori having a number of excellent games in defence, Gilmour the midfield heir and Callum Hudson-Odoi finally showing the reason Bayern Munich was so keen for his signature.
One of the reasons that Hudson-Odoi stayed? Lampard and the trust he had built up and displayed by meaningfully integrating youth. For Lampard to be relieved of his duties after his first stretch of poor form is shambolic and once again, reinforces the football-wide criticisms of Chelsea being a short-term success club.
The board knew what they were getting with Lampard and it chickened out. This version of Chelsea is not a world-beater, but that takes time, just like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola were given at their clubs. Yes, Lampard doesn’t have the background or experience those two do, but he is no slouch. If you want to use the answer that Lampard has no vision or tactical ability, re-watch his tactical masterclass against Mourinho and Spurs twice last season, Klopp’s Liverpool in the FA Cup, or Guardiola’s Man City in the league.
There is no patience from a contingent of fickle fans and the board alike—it’s pathetic.
The transfer spending spree was nice for the headlines, but it was an impatient move on the board’s part. It once again hit the hyper-speed button at a club where that is always the first, and apparently only, option. This Chelsea team didn’t need a lump £200 million invested in it at this point. The addition of Hakim Ziyech would help the team solve some of its creativity issues, Thiago Silva was free and Ben Chilwell a fantastic and long-term target—the only major area needed to be addressed was between the posts.
I questioned the Kai Havertz move from the first time it was mentioned. Chelsea had Mount in that position already, as well as Pulisic—who plays as a No. 10 for his country—and Ziyech, who can play across the front three. Why create a logjam? There have been rumblings that Havertz was a board purchase and not one that Lampard particularly wanted. If that’s the case, it’s eerily similar to Abramovich’s forced marriage between Mourinho and Andriy Shevchenko that helped bring an end to the Special One’s first stint at Chelsea.
The history that Lampard has with the club only makes up for the smallest part of the anger and disappointment at his firing. The real vitriol comes from the fact that the board has painted over the cracks with the same old, impatient, short-term brush that every other football club expects from Chelsea. It begs the question, why would elite managers want to join this club when they know they will have no time to implement their ideas?
Hiring Lampard was the first step the club has ever made in appointing a manager that could have dispelled that notion. Yet, the club has gone and done exactly what everyone expected again—rinse and repeat.