LONDON: Frank Lampard has accepted the challenge of taking over Chelsea just one year into his managerial career as the return of the club’s record goalscorer to Stamford Bridge was confirmed yesterday. Chelsea’s latest managerial search following Maurizio Sarri’s move to Juventus has seen a change of tack, with sentiment backed over a stellar coaching CV.
In response to Sarri’s sour relationship with the Chelsea support, Roman Abramovich has turned to a fans’ favorite to ease the Londoners through what could be a difficult season of transition. That decision is a risky one for both. Lampard lacks experience and could see his burgeoning reputation as a coach burned at a club where no manager has lasted long under Abramovich. However, his appointment hints at a change of approach by the Blues.
Lampard’s one campaign at Derby led the Rams to the brink of a return to the Premier League, only to fall short in the Championship play-off final against Aston Villa. But his season in England’s second tier showed a willingness and ability to develop young players, including some of Chelsea’s academy products, that made him a perfect fit for the current state of affairs at Stamford Bridge.
Midfield goal machine
As a player, Lampard joined Chelsea just before the wave of Abramovich investment swept the club into its most successful era. He scored an incredible 211 goals from midfield and won three Premier League titles, the Champions League and Europa League among a 13-trophy haul. Yet Chelsea are no longer the Premier League’s big spenders.
Abramovich’s interest has wained since his UK visa was not renewed last year and even the riches of a Russian billionaire have been overtaken by Abu Dhabi’s backing of Manchester City. Indeed, it is unlikely Chelsea will be able to spend anything on new recruits this summer as they serve a two-window transfer ban. And their best player of recent times has also gone after Eden Hazard completed a 100-million euro ($114 million) move to Real Madrid.
The transfer ban, coupled with the loss of Hazard, should temper expectations and presents an opportunity for the kind of culture change the club’s hierarchy have wanted for some time. John Terry, who made his debut in 1998, remains the last Chelsea academy graduate to become a first team regular. Lampard used his Chelsea contacts to take Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount on loan at Derby last season where both excelled.
Other returning loanees such as Tammy Abraham and Reece James are also expected to get their chance as Chelsea plug the gaps in their squad. “The transfer ban is probably not what the club wanted but for us it is exciting,” said Abraham when playing for England at the recent European under-21 championship. “There will never be a better time to play the youngsters. This year is the most important year for us. It is now or never.”
Should Chelsea’s youth finally be given a chance, 19-year-old England international Callum Hudson-Odoi might also be more likely to extend his contract beyond 2020, despite interest from Bayern Munich. Lampard’s assistant, Jody Morris, also has extensive knowledge of the Chelsea youth system, having been a key figure at the club’s academy prior to joining Lampard at Derby last summer.
Petr Cech, another familiar face of Chelsea’s rise under Abramovich, has been appointed the new technical and performance advisor. Chelsea described one of the former goalkeeper’s primary tasks as to “facilitate strong links between our men’s and academy teams.” However, the history of Abramovich’s time in charge suggests patience is not one of his virtues.
Chelsea finished 26 points behind City last season and only stumbled into the top four thanks to the faltering form of Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United. Without Hazard, Lampard and a young squad will need time to rebuild. Whether Abramovich will for once be happy to forgo instant success for a longer term approach remains to be seen. -=- AFP