It says much about the impatience of modern-day football that any talk of ‘the sack’ amongst those who follow Chelsea over the Christmas period was in relation to Frank Lampard’s role as head coach - and not the present-bulging bag thrown across Santa’s shoulder.
It was hardly in-keeping with the festive spirit, but then nothing should surprise us anymore when it comes to the cutthroat world of football management.
The Blues’ slump has since accelerated in a short period of time. Chelsea are enduring a mini-crisis after a run of four defeats in six league outings and the murmurs of discontent following a reported £220m summer outlay to bolster the squad are now much louder after spilling over into 2021. Lampard’s men were top after a 3-1 win over Leeds United on December 5, but have since fallen off the pace. Alarm bells are ringing after an insipid 3-1 reversal against Covid-hit Manchester City and the hierarchy at Stamford Bridge haven’t exactly got a reputation for long-term thinking when it comes to the hot-seat.
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In Roman Abramovich, the Blues have an owner who has frequently shown his ruthless streak in the past. The painful sacking of a legend has happened before in the shape of Champions-League winning Roberto Di Matteo, as well as with the re-appointed Jose Mourinho in his second spell at the club.
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And yet, dismissing Lampard, a man who has frequently been voted in the top two in various polls relating to Chelsea’s greatest-ever player, would no doubt hurt most of all. He remains a relative novice in managerial terms and can't back up his defence by pointing to trophies won as a coach like the aforementioned pair, but it is all too easy to yell for a change when results begin to go wrong and there is something quite disturbing about how there seems to be a different name in the firing line every couple of weeks at the moment.
It may look bleak but Lampard need only glance across the city to Arsenal and Mikel Arteta to see how opinion can change within the blink of an eye. One minute, Arteta was the real deal leading his team to FA Cup glory. Then he was out of his depth with his Gunners side set for a relegation battle. A trio of wins later and people are muttering about Europe. It’s frustrating for those with less of a knee-jerk perspective on life, but football moves fast and it’s easy to see why so many players and managers pay little attention to short-term media narratives.
That’s not to say Lampard doesn’t deserve criticism for some weak tactical decisions and failing to find a formula to gel what many perceive to be the best squad in the league. However, getting a large number of new players to settle and develop relationships with the backdrop of a pandemic is not something many coaches have had to contend with in the past.
The problem is that time is a rare commodity and big money brings with it big pressure to perform and reap almost immediate rewards. Lampard doesn't really have it. He has a different mandate this season and his comments in the past couple of weeks show he clearly feels the heat right now.
The Blues boss came out after the City defeat with more fighting talk, pointing to how Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp both took time to develop their clubs into title winners. But as pundits Roy Keane and Graeme Souness stated, Lampard does not have the CV to match two of the world’s great coaches who won trophies elsewhere prior to coming to England. In contrast, ‘Super Frank’ has only had a spell in the Championship at Derby and therefore additional time to prove he can turn his Chelsea from outsiders to serial winners will be more difficult to argue for - and justify.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard
Image credit: Getty Images
Getting underachieving stars like Timo Werner, who has now failed to score in 12 matches, and Kai Havertz to perform to the level they are clearly capable of in the second part of the season will be key to Lampard turning it around. Injuries and issues with the virus have meant he has rarely been able to play a large number of his summer recruits together for a sustained period of time and he surely deserves the opportunity to do that.
Chelsea may be eighth but they are only seven points behind leaders Liverpool, albeit having played a game more. Not so long ago they were basking in the glow of a 17-match unbeaten run and they must believe that by sticking together they can fight their way through a tricky situation and turn the corner.
They finished 33 points behind the Merseysiders last term and this is evidently a much tighter league this time around. There’s still plenty to fight for and Lampard would expect to be given to at least the end of the current campaign to prove he has what it takes to fashion this team into a major force.
Whether he gets that is another matter. The next few matches are going to be critical and Lampard needs a run of wins quickly. The knives are being sharpened and there are reports Chelsea are already looking at alternatives. The panic button has been located and a notoriously impatient hand is hovering over. It should certainly not be pushed on one of the club’s greatest-ever names just yet, but he can ill afford this slump to grow any deeper.
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