Lampard: the latest casualty of the Abramovich eraWikimedia Commons

Last week began with the news of Chelsea manager Frank Lampard being sacked by the board after just 18 months of taking up the job. Lampard, a Chelsea legend with over 640 appearances for the club, was appointed to the role in 2019 on a three-year deal after his first managerial stint at Derby County, a Championship side who had reached the playoff finals under his stewardship, only to be denied promotion to the Premier League after a 1-0 defeat by Fulham. It therefore seemed as though Lampard’s installation as Chelsea manager was a long-term project filled with all the signs of romanticism that the fans needed after a controversial, but ultimately underwhelming, season under Maurizio Sarri – who departed the club for Italian side Juventus, despite winning the Europa League in May 2019.

Lampard’s first season at Derby Country also saw him bring up through the ranks youngsters Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomoro who, on loan from the parent club Chelsea, flourished under Frank’s leadership, allowing the fledgling manager to build up a virtuous reputation for player development. Likewise, Lampard’s first season at Chelsea certainly demonstrated his ability to perform against the odds as, under the constraint of a transfer ban, Chelsea were able to reach the top four of the Premier League and subsequently qualify for the lucrative UEFA Champions League, whilst simultaneously reaching the FA Cup final – only to fall to Arsenal at Wembley. Thus, the romanticism hardened, the future looked bright, and it seemed as though the board were ready to back their former golden boy to guide his club to the top.

“I truly wonder if we will ever again see clubs back their managers despite relative declines in form, and whether any manager will match the reigns of the Premier League’s historic greats.”

However, after the Chelsea board had successfully appealed to have their transfer ban lifted in January 2019, Lampard as manager was ultimately granted free reign to bolster his squad depth and finally regain the competitive edge that the fans so desired. And so, Frank did just that, signing the likes of Hakim Ziyech from Dutch side Ajax, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner from German sides Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig, left-back Chilwell from Leicester, and the experienced Brazilian defender and World Cup winner Thiago Silva from Paris Saint-Germain, followed by goalkeeper Edouard Mendy who seemed to be that final piece necessary for a wholesale renaissance at Stamford Bridge.

But things weren’t cheap, especially for Chelsea club-owner Roman Abramovich, whose trust in Lampard saw the club spend a combined total of over £200 million in one transfer window. And as with all investments, the businessman ultimately expects returns.

Therefore, as the 2020 season kicked off, the height of the club’s expectations was such that Lampard, in merely his second season as Chelsea boss, needed to prove that he was the right man to guide these new signings in order to compete for the big titles.

But things just didn’t seem to click for the side who, by January of the new year, were mid-table after a flurry of disappointing defeats to the likes of Leicester, Manchester City, Arsenal and Wolves. Thus, judgement day came, and the board decided to act almost expeditiously to ensure that the club’s chance of qualifying for the Champions League and gunning for silverware were not placed in jeopardy. And after a 3-1 win at Luton in the FA Cup, Frank’s departure was set in stone, almost poetically, with youngster Mason Mount captaining the club amidst a hattrick from striker Tammy Abraham.

Thus, on the back of victory, Lampard was ultimately replaced by former Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel, who, having reached the Champions League final the season prior, was indefinitely appointed with the remit of instant success. The romanticism henceforth fell to the cold calculations of a board under Roman’s rule, looking to justify their lavish spending and principled faith in an inexperienced manager.

“Frank’s farewell can only point to the nature of such a cut-throat sport that demands only the best.”

This begs the question, then; were the Chelsea board right to sack Lampard? Should they have granted due diligence to a club icon whose valiant efforts, both as player and manager, seems to have been completely disregarded in a world of high-intensity COVID-19 football, where a decline in funds from ticket sales and a fixture almost every three days seem to inherently require immediate signs of success?

I believe the case may have been different if fans were still in the stands, able to back their boss through thick and thin and embrace Lampard as a long-term project who could change the culture not just of the club, but also of the Premier League and its trigger-happy propensity to sack managers at the flick of a switch.

Although ex-players are increasingly taking up roles as managers of their former clubs, as with Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta and Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the speed at which top flight sides hire and fire bosses is certainly impacting the long-term development of certain clubs that are ultimately constructed on short-term growth models.

As for Chelsea, perhaps Lampard was never a long-term project, and there is no doubt that Thomas Tuchel must get Chelsea’s new signings, particularly Werner and Havertz, up to the standards that their price tags indicate. And yet, Tuchel’s appointment on an 18-month deal still suggests a general lack of trust, perhaps even an outright lack of loyalty, by the board who seem to be ready to pounce at the next managerial vacancy should the situation arise.

I truly wonder if we will ever again see clubs back their managers despite relative declines in form, and whether any manager will match the reigns of the Premier League’s historic greats such as Arsène Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, who both share a tenure that remarkably spans over two decades, and who hold a combined total of 16 Premier League titles between them.


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There are, however, signs that loyalty still stands in football; Arsenal have continued to place trust in their manager Mikel Arteta despite a rather disappointing start to the season while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United are in talks of a title race this season, irrespective of their withdrawal from the Champions League. Nevertheless, results always matter in football, and Frank’s farewell can only point to the nature of such a cut-throat sport that demands only the best, both in terms of its managers and its players.