This was supposed to be tantamount to a free hit for Frank Lampard. These opportunities don’t come around very often. After being sacked as a result of a disastrous start to the season at Everton, Lampard was re-hired by the club he illuminated as a player for a second spell as Chelsea manager. The appointment was on an interim basis this time, but that actually seemed to play into Lampard’s hands. Taking over the club in disarray and with a clear end date making a sacking near-impossible, this felt like the ideal assignment for the ex-midfielder. So why has it been such a disaster?
More than any other club, Chelsea have had large-scale success with temporary managers. Roberto Di Matteo won the Champions League as an interim boss while Rafa Benitez lifted the Europa League. Guus Hiddink enjoyed his 2009 spell so much, winning the FA Cup, that he returned again in 2015. During that second tenure he set a record for the longest unbeaten streak by a newly-hired Premier League manager, going 12 games without defeat.
But this has proven one return too many for Lampard, who has failed to stand on the shoulders of the trophy-winning giants who have taken the interim post before him. While Lampard put up a 52.4% win percentage in his first tenure, his current total stands at 10% with one game of the season remaining. Chelsea have mustered a single win under him against one draw and eight defeats.
Of course Lampard was not given a stable dressing room to work with. In fact, if reports were to be believed, the dressing room was insufficient to hold the dozens of players co-owner Toddd Boehly had seen fit to sign. Those disparate players had been asked to adopt the philosophies of Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter already. Whoever took over was going to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing.
But still, there’s players of worldwide renown in that overstuffed changing area. Players who won the Champions League at this club not so long ago. Players who have been the toast of European football and chased by clubs far and wide, like Joao Felix. Players like Enzo Fernandez who stormed the World Cup, ending the tournament on the podium lifting the trophy itself. Sceptics could argue that Lampard should have got something, anything out of such a star-studded squad even if cohesion was hard to come by.
Those sceptics get louder with each post Lampard occupies. His efforts in taking Derby County to the play-off final were applauded moderately, though the “taking a club from sixth to sixth” jibes never went away. The start of his second spell at Chelsea impressed, as he steered the club into the Champions League while under a transfer ban. The way his tenure crumbled when the club spent big the following summer harmed him and the fact Tuchel won the Champions League with the squad he left behind hurt him.
Lampard flirted with temporary heroism at Everton, keeping them in the Premier League after they endured a dismal start under Rafa Benitez. But it soon became clear to the Goodison Park hierarchy that the 44-year-old was unlikely to keep them up again this season. He was dismissed in January.
So what now for the soon to be two-time ex-Chelsea manager? His return to Stamford Bridge was not the low-stakes rejuvenation Lampard had hoped. He kept Everton up by being narrowly better than one of their worst ever managers while at Derby and in his first Chelsea spell Lampard basically did the bare minimum. Is there a club out there willing to indulge a manager who doesn’t discernibly improve his teams?
Lampard’s name will always carry weight. It is a sad reality that great players will always be afforded opportunities their managerial records do not warrant. Were he not arguably their greatest modern player, Chelsea would not have looked once at him never mind twice. While Lampard’s achievements in the dugout should see him eating humble pie in the Championship at best, with lower leagues or a move abroad to the likes of the MLS not out of the question, he could well end up back in the Premier League.
It is easy to envision a club staring relegation in the face a few months into the new campaign convincing themselves that Lampard’s great escape at Everton can be repeated. The aura of ‘Lamps’ as a serial winner as a player will be harnessed by a beleaguered chairman desperate to protect his investment. Maybe Lampard will keep the team up. Maybe he won’t. But either way, he probably shouldn’t be there in the first place. No team has benefited from Lampard’s management long-term. It’ll be fascinating to find out the identity of the next team that tries to buck that trend.