Frank Lampard set to become Chelsea boss: Would risk pay off for Roman Abramovich?
Roman Abramovich’s ruthless approach to ruling Chelsea has always been rooted in brutal reality – so the idea of appointing Frank Lampard as his next manager almost qualifies as the Russian showing a romantic side.
Chelsea have been granted permission to speak to the Derby manager and should a deal be reached it would arguably be the biggest gamble Abramovich has taken since he took over at Stamford Bridge 16 years and 11 managers ago.
Abramovich’s modus operandi when it comes to managerial appointments has been based on experience, quality and success – Avram Grant apart – with not an English manager to be seen, let alone a young and relatively unproven one.
Chelsea have had five Italian managers, two Portuguese, a Brazilian, an Israeli, a Dutchman and a Spaniard in Abramovich’s reign, so the notion of Lampard walking through the door of the club’s Cobham training base is a radical departure on many levels.
And make no mistake, it would not only be a huge gamble for Abramovich, it would be exactly the same for Lampard. This would be high risk for all parties.
Lampard, at just 41, is a Chelsea legend following a career in which he became the club’s all-time record scorer with 211 goals in 13 years, and collected a haul of 11 major trophies including three Premier League titles, the Champions League, Europa League, four FA Cups and two League Cups.
It makes him a populist appointment, someone in tune with the unique operational style and sustained success of Chelsea when it comes to managers, and a personality who would arrive back at Stamford Bridge on a tide of emotional goodwill.
It might be a romantic appointment, but would it be a wise one?
|Lampard’s managerial record at Derby|
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Lampard’s managerial career is limited to one season at Derby County, where he impressively guided the Rams to the play-off final before they lost to Aston Villa at Wembley.
He finished the season in sixth place, the same as his predecessor Gary Rowett, although Lampard’s win ratio of 42.1% from 58 games in all competitions was lower than the 43.1% from the 51 games achieved in 2017-18 by his predecessor.
They both finished 15 points away from the automatic promotion places while Rowett won 75 points from 46 games in his one full season and Lampard picked up 74.
The cold statistics show Lampard took Derby County from sixth to sixth in his sole season, gaining a point less than the manager who went before him.
So this is, for all the romance, a serious punt and alien territory for Abramovich and Chelsea.
That is not to say he would not be successful but there is a greater element of the unknown, a sense of a shot in the dark, compared to Abramovich’s usual appointments.
Lampard is unproven, is in his managerial infancy and has hardly had time to suggest he could be a success in charge of one of the great Premier League and European powerhouses.
The opportunity will arrive a lot sooner than Lampard would have expected.
This eminently sensible, mature and rounded character will know as well as anyone the risks he would be taking in accepting a job that has eaten up and spat out more experienced managers than him – twice in Jose Mourinho’s case.
And, for all the goodwill that will cut him a lot more slack than others, Lampard will know Abramovich is not so sentimental that he will preside over any serious period of underachievement without acting decisively, no matter how glorious his new manager’s past is at Chelsea.
That said, the temptation of a homecoming will tug on the heartstrings, as will a return to his native London.
Lampard would also be operating under the considerable handicap of Chelsea in the post-Eden Hazard era.
The Belgium playmaker has been the ‘X Factor’ superstar and big-match winner in recent years, an operator of genuine world class who leaves a gaping hole in the team after his departure to Real Madrid. He will be almost impossible to replace.
In a previous Chelsea life, Lampard’s CV would not have got him anywhere near this particular manager’s job and if he did not possess such a Stamford Bridge pedigree, that would still be the case.
This, however, is a different Chelsea – a club that could find themselves operating on different terms next season.
And this is why, for all the question marks that would justifiably accompany Lampard’s arrival, there are also reasons why it might just make sense.
Could it be that, after the years of living a contrary lifestyle of success accompanied by instability, Chelsea and Abramovich may be ready to paint a long-term picture and finally nurture the reserves of youth that have spent so long in the wings?
Petr Cech, the goalkeeper who shared so many successes alongside Lampard at Chelsea, is already back at the club as technical and performance advisor.
The 37-year-old is a figure of great stature in the game but these are his first steps away from playing. Cech is also totally unproven so Abramovich is certainly trying a different template at Stamford Bridge.
The owner, a more detached presence since the Home Office denied his visa application in 2018, will still have his finger close enough to the pulse to know there was a serious disconnect between Chelsea’s manager and its supporters last season, making it a largely joyless experience despite the Europa League triumph.
Lampard would at least be an instant fix to low morale given he is a revered and modern figure in tune with what makes Chelsea tick and what satisfies fans who have enjoyed so much success.
Chelsea could also be operating under a two-window transfer ban following an investigation into their signing of foreign under-18 players, although they are currently appealing to the Court Of Arbitration For Sport.
This means they may have to dig deeper into those vast resources of young players, either in the shadows at Stamford Bridge or on loan elsewhere.
This, and the lack of any serious stellar alternatives, increases the attraction of Lampard’s potential.
His work at Derby, alongside another former Chelsea man Jody Morris, was good without being remarkable, but he showed a sure touch in developing young players, especially loan stars such as Liverpool’s Harry Wilson and the Chelsea pair Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori.
Derby played attractive football – although once again it has to be stressed it only got them to sixth place and eventual play-off failure, despite a brave turnaround against Leeds United at Elland Road in the semi-final.
It is understood Chelsea’s young brigade are already excited at the prospect of Lampard as manager, a progressive leader who can relate to their own determination to progress and with their frustrations at the lack of development.
Ruben-Loftus Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi are currently out with long-term injuries but they would surely welcome Lampard’s arrival, as would many others.
Nevertheless, it would still represent a gamble by Abramovich to divert from his tried-and-trusted Chelsea template.
It would also for be a risk for Lampard – but his appointment could be a leap of faith that works for both the club and one of its legends.