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Opinion: Frank Lampard was nothing more than a caretaker for Chelsea and Roman Abramovich but will emerge a better manager for the experience

Frank Lampard has been replaced by Thomas Tuchel after a series of disappointing results
Frank Lampard has been replaced by Thomas Tuchel after a series of disappointing results
Aaron Gales
ANALYST
Modified 17 Feb 2021
Feature
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When Maurizio Sarri decided to leave Chelsea at the end of the 2018-19 season to return to Italy and join Juventus, it left Chelsea with a problem.

Not only were they losing their best player, Eden Hazard, who had starred in the Europa League final victory over Arsenal in his final game for the club, to Real Madrid but they were also facing a transfer embargo that would leave the incoming manager unable to replace him.

Eden Hazard signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 2019
Eden Hazard signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 2019

The backing normally provided by owner Roman Abramovich has always made the role of Chelsea manager an attractive one, even with the club's reputation for hiring and firing managers. However, with the club unable to spend on refreshing the squad, Chelsea found themselves unable to offer the usual attractive package to an incoming manager.

While Chelsea were winning the Europa League under Sarri, their former player Frank Lampard cut his teeth with Derby County, leading them to the 2019 Championship Play-off final.

Although he was unable to secure promotion, missing out to Dean Smith's Aston Villa, Lampard impressed in his first role. He made good use of his contacts to secure the talents of players like Harry Wilson, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori on loan from Liverpool and Chelsea respectively to bolster his squad.

Mason Mount excelled on loan at Derby County under Lampard
Mason Mount excelled on loan at Derby County under Lampard's management

All three young players excelled under Lampard's management and it was this work with young players that attracted the attention of his former club Chelsea to replace Sarri. With Chelsea unable to splash the cash, a renewed focus on developing young players and bringing them through into the first team was going to be key. Lampard's track record at Derby appealed, while his outstanding career at Chelsea as a player made his appointment with the club's fans a popular one.

Lampard was duly confirmed for the role in July 2019.

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With Hazard leaving the club, Lampard had a big task on his hands and despite some ups and downs in his first season it was undoubtedly a success.

Lampard's faith in the club's young talent paid off with players such as Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James all excelling under his leadership as Chelsea finished in the top four, reached the FA Cup final and lost in the UEFA Super Cup final to Liverpool on penalties.

The success of the young players hinted at a possible change of direction for the club going forward with an increased focus on this area.

Unfortunately for Lampard, that approach requires patience, something which Roman Abramovich and Chelsea have notoriously lacked.

With the financial shackles removed, Chelsea spent big in the summer of 2020, with money from Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata transfers burning a hole in their pocket.

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While their transfer business was very impressive on paper, it was always going to be a very difficult challenge for Lampard to integrate those new signings into this team, while balancing the continued development of the young players with the desire to challenge for trophies.

After a good start to the season, Chelsea's form tailed off significantly, with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz struggling in particular. In third place in the Premier League after a 3-1 victory over Leeds United in early December, a run of five defeats in the next eight league games saw Lampard's side slip down the table. His final league game in charge was a disappointing defeat away at Brendan Rodger's Leicester City.

Lampard's sacking was confirmed following an FA Cup win over Championship side Luton Town.

While the announcement took many by surprise, it shouldn't have. Abramovich and Chelsea have always been ruthless in their search for success and they have sacked far more successful and experienced managers than Lampard.

Lampard experienced this first-hand during his time at the club as a player so it wouldn't have come as a great shock to him.

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The swift appointment of Thomas Tuchel, himself recently sacked by Paris Saint Germain, suggested that Chelsea had been planning for this eventuality for some time, and were waiting for the first hint of Lampard struggling to dispense with his services and appoint a more high profile boss once their transfer embargo was lifted.

Thomas Tuchel was appointed to replace Lampard
Thomas Tuchel was appointed to replace Lampard

The decision suggests Lampard, widely considered the greatest player in the club's history, was nothing more than a long-term caretaker. A safe pair of hands, popular with the fanbase, who would keep things ticking over and make do with the young players until normal service resumed and the club could start spending again.

Lampard should emerge unscathed from his experience with the club and will ultimately evolve into a better manager because of it.

He showed promising signs at Derby, did a very good job at Chelsea and was extremely unfortunate to be sacked at the first sign of trouble.

His next club will undoubtedly be getting a wiser and more experienced manager with the potential to achieve great things.

Published 17 Feb 2021, 05:04 IST
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