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Frank Lampard interview: A Chelsea vision built on his work ethic
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Last Updated: 18/08/19 7:15am
Results have not gone Frank Lampard's way so far but the new Chelsea boss remains positive about his players and the vision that he has for the club. In this exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Lampard reflects on his first six weeks in the job and explains the thinking that will shape what happens next...
When Dr Geir Jordet completed his PhD on the role of vision, perception and anticipation in elite-level performers, the Norwegian discovered that Frank Lampard had the highest 'visual exploratory frequency' of any player in the Premier League at the time. As detailed in the book Edge, Lampard continually scanned all around him before receiving the ball.
It wasn't luck that he was often in the right place at the right time.
The thought occurs because there are those who might suggest Lampard's famed awareness is being tested right now. The Chelsea job is always going to be a demanding one but taking over with a transfer ban in place and the team's star player sold? Maybe this was a good time to get his head up and realise what he was getting himself into? Not so, he insists.
"Things surprise you in football management every day but the situation has been exactly what I expected," Lampard tells Sky Sports. "I knew about the transfer ban, I knew Eden Hazard had left the club, I knew we were losing two strikers in Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain and I knew we couldn't buy anyone. I knew we had five or six major injuries.
"I knew all that but the last thing I want to be is negative. I want us to be competitive this year and we still have a strong squad. We have to be a bit patient because those other factors are there. But that doesn't mean we can't go out there with that competitive head on and challenge in everything that we do. My job is to focus on the task at hand."
It has not been a quiet start for Lampard. The fixture list threw up a trip to Old Trafford and a Super Cup against Liverpool to kick off his reign. The first resulted in a 4-0 defeat and the second saw Chelsea cruelly beaten in a penalty shootout. "Challenging games," he says. Now he must prepare the players for his first home match in charge against Leicester.
The press conference before that game saw him fielding questions about Tammy Abraham being racially abused on social media. Lampard is disgusted by the fact that his young striker had to endure such treatment and the player's welfare is his clear priority. But Abraham is resilient. He wants to play. Neither this nor results have killed the optimism.
Lampard's anger at Abraham's ordeal clearly expressed to the assembled media, he bounds out of the press conference and into a small meeting room inside the main building at the training ground, only breaking stride briefly to glance at the cricket score on the television.
He is at home here. As you might expect of the club's all-time top scorer, the man who captained Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2012. It was his work at Derby County that encouraged his old club to turn to him this summer but it was what he achieved in those 13 years at Chelsea that have ensured he returns with an air of confidence and conviction.
"There are little things that help," he says. "It's a big club but I know the structure and I know the faces behind the scenes so the familiarity helps in that sense. I didn't feel nervous walking into a big new building on day one. I knew big parts of it. I watched every Chelsea game last year and I had trained with a lot of the academy players previously too."
Of course, Lampard also knows that none of this will matter without wins. "Performances and results will define how long I am here," he adds. But for large parts of the game at Old Trafford and most of the evening in Istanbul, his players delivered a performance. It is the reason why he remains so encouraged by what he has seen from his Chelsea so far.
"It is very easy to be negative after losing 4-0 but there were a lot of good signs during the game against Manchester United," he says. "As for the performance against Liverpool, I think we were the better team against one of the best teams in the world and probably deserved to win on general play. This is something we should be proud of.
"We need to use that. Hopefully, it will give us confidence about what's ahead. What I have felt in the six weeks that I have been here is that the players are a good group and they have a lot of spirit. We saw that against Liverpool in the dressing room and on the pitch. That is what you want to see as a manager because it gives you the chance to work."
The appetite for change at Chelsea is strong. Maurizio Sarri felt the fans' frustration because of a perceived reluctance to trust in the young talent at the club. Lampard has not made the same mistake. As well as Abraham, he has already given opportunities to Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, two young players he had at Derby, in the first two games of the season.
But Lampard appears keen to get the balance right too. It would have been easy for him to discard Jorginho - a player who had a difficult relationship with the supporters for much of his debut campaign - but instead he has embraced him and speaks with genuine warmth about the midfielder. Lampard will change things but he will be doing it his own way.
"I certainly won't be changing things for change's sake," he says. "But where there are ideas that are different, I have to be strong in those and stick to what I believe will take the club forwards on the pitch. The players have to come along with that because we want to be successful and that takes a lot of hard work and being together as a group."
But what is the Lampard idea? He is wary of using the 'philosophy' word. "It's very much a coaching course word," he says. But he is well aware that there is an expectation now that coaches must have a big idea. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher debated this on Super Sunday - disagreeing about the amount of adaptability that the modern coach can show.
"I heard that conversation," says Lampard. "I fall somewhere in the middle of the argument. I think as a manager you do have to have a clear idea of how you want to play. The principle has to be there but it needs to be something that constantly evolves. Having an idea does not have to mean that the actual system has to stay the same.
"The ideas that we work on in training relate to how we react, how we win the ball back, our work ethic and the general principles that are most important to me. The system is what you work on within that and this can change depending on who you are playing against, your own strengths and how your team evolves.
"That is something we are assessing day in and day out so I want us to be flexible on those terms. We have different ways we can play even within games. It needs to be changeable, it needs work on the training ground and it needs buy-in from the players.
"The reason we lost the game against Manchester United was not because of where our line was on the pitch, it was because of individual mistakes in turning the ball over and not following a runner at the right time. Those are the little details that you have to be on top of constantly. We reflect on it, we watch the videos back and we look to improve."
The influences on Lampard's ideas are more wide-ranging than might be expected of a man who is now so associated with one club. As well as his experience at Derby, he cites a season at Manchester City and the time he spent playing Major League Soccer in the United States as a key period in which his thoughts about the game really began to crystallise.
"I always thought I would finish my career at Chelsea but when it was decided I would be moving on because they wanted to make changes in the squad, that obviously opened up a different path for me," he explains. "Looking back, that was positive because I had two big experiences - one in Manchester for a year and another in New York for 18 months.
"I formed a lot of my ideas about how I wanted to manage in those later years of my career because you think more as you get older and you assess more. When I watched football, I would watch managers intently to see the things that are important to them. I have huge respect for Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino now."
Guardiola, in particular, made an impression when Lampard spent two days in Manchester watching his training sessions. But it his own vision that matters now. "You realise the things that are important to you," he adds. "All three of them are incredible managers and I love the way that they work but I want to become my own person."
And yet one influence looms larger than most. The reason for Lampard's high 'visual exploratory frequency' can most likely be explained by the fact that when he was a young boy playing the game, his father Frank Lampard Sr would be in the stands. He would shout one word at his son time and again. Pictures. Pictures. It left its mark.
Now that Lampard has traded the pitch for the dugout, another lesson remains at the forefront of his mind. "The best ethic that my dad ever gave me was that you have to work, work and work to improve in every second that you get and in every training session that you get," he says. "That work ethic is the main thing I will try to instil in this team.
"I like to work hard. I have never had any fears about it. I liked to come to the training ground early in the morning and I don't mind staying late either. It's not a problem for me." Against Leicester at Stamford Bridge this Sunday, he will hope to find some solutions for Chelsea too. Whatever happens, as ever, Frank Lampard is well aware of his situation.