If rumours are to be believed, Chelsea are about to appoint Frank Lampard as their new manager.
This could potentially be the most impactful and club-changing managerial appointment since 2004 when they hired José Mourinho for the first time. The Portuguese hit the Premier League like a brutal right hook, leading Chelsea to win the title in his first season and set records for points won along the way.
That’s not to say Lampard is going to lead the Blues back to the big time at the top of the league, but he could have a similarly seismic impact on the structure of Chelsea Football Club as Mourinho did. The Portuguese changed things at Stamford Bridge in a far-reaching way.
Mourinho is often accused of being a short-term manager who never leaves a long-lasting idea or philosophy. He shows up, drives the club to victory with his brand of win-at-all costs management, ruling through conflict and macho nonsense. But eventually these kind of tactics wear out his players and by his third season things start going wrong and he ends up leaving (that first spell with Chelsea is actually the only time in his career that he has survived a third season in charge of a club).
Despite Mourinho’s short-termism, he has had a massive impact on Chelsea. His legacy is very much felt at the Bridge, not just that the core of his 2004/05 title winning side ended up seeing the club win their first-ever Champions League title a massive eight years later in 2012, but something beyond even that incredible triumph.
The manager who oversaw “the greatest night in the history of Chelsea Football Club” was Roberto Di Matteo. In May 2012 he was King of the King’s Road, by November 2012 he was out of a job – he had only been appointed in March 2012.
Short-termism. That is Mourinho’s legacy at Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese created a toxic culture of conflict where the players felt like they had to fight everything and everyone. This aided him to create an instant winning mentality, and he made legends out of Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba, etc. but the players had such an immense profile with the fans and ownership that when they eventually fell out with Mourinho, Roman Abramovich sided with them and sacked Mourinho.
Chelsea appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari to try and swing the club culture. It didn’t work and he was gone after less than a season. A succession of managers followed, each one different from the last. And every time they tried to implement their ideology it either didn’t work, or only worked for a while. In the end they all had one thing in common: they were expendable. Chelsea valued only their star players.
Mourinho had given Abramovich a taste of glory with those first two titles, and by valorising the players who delivered it, he had conditioned Abramovich’s loyalty. The Russian liked winning, and since it was the players who did the winning – they commanded his loyalty.
Thirteen managerial stints have followed Mourinho, including Mourinho again in a rote, by-the-numbers Deadpool 2-esque sequel. The main “thing” Mourinho did in that second spell was make Eden Hazard as untouchable as he had previously made Terry, Lampard and Drogba. To the point where Hazard has effectively taken two seasons “off” and gotten two managers sacked (including Chelsea’s best post-Mourinho manager in the excellent Antonio Conte), yet was given a hero’s exit as he left the club for Real Madrid this summer.
This is Chelsea, the players are in charge.
Except, now they might not be?
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If Frank Lampard comes in, especially if he has the excellent Jody Morris as his assistant, then how will things proceed with Roman Abramovich? Obviously the easy answer would be that things will proceed as normal and Lampard will have to win trophies quickly or get gone real fast. But can Chelsea treat Frank Lampard like that?
Frank Lampard, hero of the 2005 and 2006 title wins (his goals sealed both triumphs). Frank Lampard, scorer of two of the most absurdly impossible spinning goals against Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Frank Lampard, one of only two Chelsea men to score in a Champions League final. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s greatest ever goalscorer in all of their history with 211 goals.
Before he even takes charge of a training session, Lampard joins the club with an absolute avalanche of goodwill both from the stands and the ownership box. He was one of the players Mourinho made bulletproof, perhaps the most bulletproof. Lampard’s cache was so great that one of the main reasons André Villas-Boas got sacked was that he didn’t play the midfielder in every game.
Lampard is one of Chelsea’s five greatest players ever. Perhaps the greatest ever. And given Didier Drogba has shown no interest in coaching and Petr Cech is becoming the team’s technical director, that leaves only John Terry as an active legend to whom Chelsea could turn to as a coach after Lampard holds the role. So they have to get this right, that is to say, they have to give him time.
Normally you’d say there would be no chance, but with an impending transfer ban limiting new acquisitions and the club’s chief egoist in the rearview mirror, maybe now is the moment Chelsea turn away from The Mourinho Doctrine. Maybe now is when they finally begin trusting their world-class youth academy and give their manager a chance to fail, and grow from that failure (failure being relative here; they won’t get relegated but would likely miss out on Champions League qualification).
Perhaps a few years of trophyless growth in which Lampard learns the ropes and becomes the legendary manager Chelsea fans all want him to become is on the way. Lampard has proven himself a capable manager at Derby, able to upset the odds and be flexible, but he’s not shown that he’s a phenomenal coaching prospect that will take Chelsea on a quantum leap forward on the pitch.
But off the pitch? Off the pitch Lampard could finally be the catalyst Chelsea need to get past the short-termist “managers don’t matter” path that José Mourinho unintentionally set them on back in 2004. By appointing, and then showing loyalty to, a Chelsea legend like Frank Lampard, the Blues could truly reinvent themselves. They could go from the most ruthless win-at-all-costs side to an idealistic club built on their magnificent youth academy.