In the wake of Frank Lampard’s sacking, I ask the all-important question: should spending £220 million have transformed Lampard’s Chelsea into title contenders?
After the Blues undoubtedly overachieved last season, the club’s wealthy Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, was willing to part ways with over £200 million to back Lampard’s summer squad rebuild. This splurge saw Chelsea bring Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Thiago Silva, Edouard Mendy, Ben Chilwell and the coveted Kai Havertz into the first team. Before the start of the 2020/21 season, fans of rival teams actually feared Chelsea for the first time in years. Spending such a large amount of money on top class players obviously brings with it higher expectations, but were the Blues really ready to compete for the Premier League?
While most fans were convinced of a title challenge, Lampard consistently played down those expectations. He instead talked about bridging the gap between themselves and Liverpool or Manchester City, both of whom have absolutely dominated the last three years of English football. But was that Lampard’s honest belief or was he just playing down expectations in the press to ensure fans do not get ahead of themselves? Either way, it did not work as Chelsea supporters remained adamant that the added quality would instantly click to form a title challenging team. We now know that the reality is far from that.
The real world of sport is extremely different to the virtual realities of FIFA and Football Manager, where integrating new signings into the team takes little-to-no time. However, in reality, it is much deeper than that, especially in the unprecedented and extraordinary times that we currently find ourselves in.
Contrary to what most fans believe, Chelsea did not spend upwards of £200 million to become instant title contenders. The Blues spent the money to make up for lost time due to last year’s transfer ban. Additionally, Abramovich saw an opportunity in the market to secure the signatures of players who under normal circumstances would draw interest from Europe’s top clubs. It was always going to take at least a season to get the best out of this squad.
In a normal season, new signings usually have four to six weeks of preseason where they build relationships with the players and coaches, develop an understanding with their teammates and acclimatize themselves to their new surroundings. No team has had that luxury this season, and as the team with the most number of new signings, Chelsea has clearly faced difficulties because of it.
Additionally, when the Blues did have their week of preseason, a large number of first team players were unable to participate as a result of having to quarantine after returning from international duty or vacation. It’s safe to say that neither of these situations helped Lampard. Further, due to fixture congestion, the squad had fewer days of actual training. With games every three days, most training sessions were spent preparing for upcoming games, leaving no time for Lampard to work on basic patterns and movements with his players.
Add a global pandemic to all these factors and it becomes even harder for new players to adapt. Havertz missed almost a month of action after contracting the virus and could still be feeling its effects. There is also the human aspect to sport which is often overlooked. Adding six new players may seem like an easy task, but when you think about it, those six new players represent more than half of a starting line-up. Of course it was going to take time.
Many people have compared Lampard’s project to that of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and say that It took Klopp three years to achieve success at Liverpool. While I think it is fair to make that comparison and conclude that Lampard needs time, Klopp and Lampard’s situations are completely different as Liverpool boss was able to add one or two signings to his squad each season whereas Lampard has had to make all his signings in one window.
By signing new players every year, Klopp was able to properly assess the areas in his team that needed strengthening. It allowed him to be patient with the new signings and slowly integrate them into the team. Think back to Naby Keita, Fabinho, etc. They were all given time to settle and get used to their new environment before being asked to play regular, high-intensity Premier League football. Lampard was not been able to offer his players that time and patience—like he did with Pulisic last season—because of injuries, fixture congestion, and pressure from fans to play the big signings.
While Lampard must still accept the blame for many of Chelsea’s struggles this season, the situation shows that any manager—not just Lampard—will need time to get the best out of this Blues team because they are not a team yet. Currently, they are a group of individuals working towards becoming a cohesive unit. There may be other factors behind Lampard’s sacking, such as squad unrest and player power, but none have been spoken about more than the sum of money Chelsea spent in the summer transfer window and the raised expectations as a result of it.
What do you think: should the Blues have competed for a title this season? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!