Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Frank Lampard's appointment takes Roman Abramovich's Chelsea on a new path
Lampard has signed a three-year contract as Chelsea head coach
Last Updated: 04/07/19 10:02am
Chelsea's appointment of Frank Lampard represents a drastic change of approach by Roman Abramovich. But does it make sense?
Roman Abramovich has never been one for sentimentality. His Chelsea reign is best defined as a ruthless pursuit of success. In 16 years, there have been 14 managerial changes. The short-term approach has yielded 16 major trophies, so it is no great surprise that Maurizio Sarri was allowed to depart despite his Europa League final win over Arsenal. Business as usual.
At the same time, though, it is impossible not to see sentimentality in the decision to appoint Frank Lampard as his successor. The former midfielder showed managerial promise at Derby, reaching the Championship play-off final in his first season in charge, but it is his storied history with Chelsea that has driven his return to Stamford Bridge.
Lampard, of course, holds pride of place in Chelsea's record books. He remains their leading scorer with 211 goals in 648 games. During his glittering 13-year spell at the club, he was the driving force behind 13 trophy wins, including three Premier League titles and the 2012 Champions League triumph. He is adored by fans and knows the club like few others.
Changing times at Chelsea
The appointment of a former player is not entirely new territory for Abramovich. The Russian gave Lampard's former team-mate Roberto Di Matteo the job permanently after he oversaw Chelsea's Champions League success seven years ago. But it certainly represents a departure from recent appointments.
Before Sarri came Antonio Conte, Guus Hiddink, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez. Some proved more popular than others, of course, but all four arrived at Stamford Bridge with a long list of honours in tow. They were established names with the pedigree to drive Chelsea to further success. They were typical Abramovich appointments, in other words.
Lampard, by contrast, is returning to the club with only a single season of managerial experience behind him. Before his appointment at Derby, he had not held an official coaching role at any level. Even Di Matteo, sacked a few months after his appointment in 2012, had worked as Andre Villas-Boas' assistant following spells in charge of MK Dons and West Brom.
Lampard's level of inexperience is therefore unprecedented for a Chelsea manager under Abramovich, but so too is the situation the club now finds itself in. Chelsea, lavish spenders for so much of Abramovich's reign, are facing a two-window transfer ban - albeit subject to an appeal before the court of arbitration for sport.
A different job
It is a different job now. Chelsea spent £129m on new signings last summer to help Sarri overhaul their playing style, but his vision never really came to fruition. Only a few weeks before the victory in Baku, Chelsea fans were making their dissatisfaction clear with chants of "you don't know what you're doing" at Stamford Bridge.
Who better to galvanise the fanbase than a club legend like Lampard? He did not depart on the best terms when he opted to join Manchester City in 2014, but he certainly received a warm reception when he returned to Stamford Bridge with Derby in October. "Forever a blue, forever a legend," read one banner in the Matthew Harding Stand.
His Derby side were unfortunate to lose that night and it is no surprise that Chelsea fans are delighted to see Lampard in their own dugout now. His appointment changes the mood around the club and it should lift the players, too. Lampard is a hugely respected figure in a dressing room which still contains some of his former team-mates.
The squad he inherits no longer contains Eden Hazard, who finally sealed his "dream" move to Real Madrid, but what's certain is that the players who remain will relish playing for him. Lampard's managerial acumen will be tested, but his reputation alone will give him the kind of leeway never afforded to Sarri.
Youth over signings
Lampard can further endear himself to many Chelsea fans by steering the team away from sterile, possession-based football they came to associate with Sarri-ball.
"I want an aggressive team, a hard-working team, a team that are brave on the ball and play exciting football because that is what we all want to watch," Lampard said of his plans for Derby back in October. It is a philosophy which is sure to resonate at Chelsea, where fans are craving a more dynamic and flexible approach.
Lampard also seems an obvious candidate to finally make full use of Chelsea's cohort of young players, something which takes on even more importance in light of their transfer ban. Happily, in defender Fikayo Tomori and playmaker Mason Mount, two of those young players have already shone under his guidance on loan at Derby.
Indeed, Lampard leaned heavily on young players at Pride Park. Harry Wilson, 22, and Jayden Bogle, 18, became key players for him last season and there were opportunities for a string of other academy graduates, too.
"Since Frank Lampard came in, he has made it quite clear he wants a meritocracy," said Darren Wassall, Derby's academy manager, in March. "The lads know there's a pathway there for them."
It's an attitude which is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by Chelsea's power-brokers as they face up to their transfer ban. Mount and Tomori are not the only candidates who could return from loan to push for a first-team place, after all. There is also Tammy Abraham, who scored 26 goals at Aston Villa, and defenders Kurt Zouma and Reece James.
Some of those players are already known to Lampard and so too is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The 23-year-old, like fellow academy graduate Callum Hudson-Odoi, is currently facing a spell out with an Achilles injury, but Lampard has previously said the midfielder "has everything", and the respect is certainly mutual.
"I studied him a lot in the academy with my coaches," said Loftus-Cheek recently. "I aspire to be like that, a midfielder who has the ability to score goals."
Who better to help him achieve that aspiration than the man himself?
It is just another factor behind Chelsea's appointment of Lampard. The decision, like Petr Cech's return to the club as technical and performance adviser, holds a degree of sentimentality not normally associated with Abramovich. But Chelsea are embarking on a new path. The aim is to rediscover their identity.
A version of this article was originally published on June 16
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