It’s no secret that I’m not Frank Lampard’s biggest fan. I don’t really have anything against the guy, he’s an average manager who lucked into a job that’s above his level with no proof that he could do the job. What was mad was the media spending the past two years insisting that Lampard was a good manager who was just struggling, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was constantly in over his head and getting lucky. Even though reality told a completely different story.
Frank Lampard is not a better manager than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Whether you think Solskjaer is great, good, average, or bad is irrelevant. Whatever he is he’s better than Lampard.
What Lampard isn’t is this bad. This season he’s been the victim of circumstance and but moreso he’s been the victim of Chelsea’s the Director of Football worries about the future of the club, not the manager policy.
Everyone likes to say that Lampard was dealt a tough hand last season and did really well with it. The reality is he was dealt a MUCH tougher hand this season.
Lampard took over Chelsea with the club needing to be rebuilt and facing a transfer ban. It was the latter that made everyone think he had a difficult job.
In reality the transfer ban was the most overblown narrative out there. It really didn’t effect the team and probably helped them. Most transfer fees are wasted money, a lot of transfers don’t work. Not being able to make them made Lampard’s job easier. Not to mention none of Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Kurt Zouma, or Reece James were with Chelsea the season before, so they had a ton of new blood in the squad anyway.
The transfer ban gave Lampard a chance to bed in some youngsters and form the core of his team. The next step would be supplementing those youngsters with more quality and depth in needed areas. Build the foundation, then build the walls and floor plan, and run the wiring before bringing in the fancy furniture.
Then a whole confluence of events went down, changing everything and really screwing Frankie.
Long term the transfer ban was always a good thing for Chelsea. It gave them a window off where they could rest their books and clear things up. This would give them a lot more flexibility the following year. Essentially – if they wanted to – they could spend two years worth of transfer money in one year. To make matters even better they also got a nice influx of £50 million thanks to a brilliant loan to buy agreement for Alvaro Morata.
Then COVID happened. Suddenly no one had money while Chelsea were sitting on a large pile of it. Agreements that had been made between certain players and certain clubs could no longer be honored and those players were now available.
Jurgen Klopp’s #1 target was Timo Werner. Werner’s preferred destination was Liverpool. Everyone knew it was a done deal. Until suddenly it wasn’t. Kai Havertz was heading to Bayern Munich until suddenly he wasn’t. These were two of the best up and coming talents in European football. Chelsea saw an opportunity and they moved for it. It was really smart.
They did this because their manager doesn’t really control their transfer bussiness. That’s Marina Granovskaia’s area. She’s the one that looks out for the future of the club. Chelsea don’t really care who their manager is. To them, he’s just the man in charge of coaching the team right now. He doesn’t get much of a say because odds are he’s not going to be there long. Only Jose Mourinho lasts more than two years at Stamford Bridge.
So when two of the best players prospects in Europe suddenly become available, you swoop in. It doesn’t matter if your current manager can’t get the best out of them because you could just replace him and hope someone else can. But even more importantly, long term this was a great move for the club. With Pulisic, Werner, Havertz, Abraham, and Ziyech you have five players competing for three spots. Perfect.
Four of those guys are under the age of 25. Ziyech is right in his prime at 27 but you also have 20 year old Callum Hudson-Odoi knocking on the door. That front three is now set for the next five years. You don’t have to worry about it next summer or the summer after. You can focus on the other areas. Great!
But maybe not great for Frank Lampard. His team were third in non-penalty expected goals last season. The attack wasn’t their problem. They were undone by horrible goaltending, a midfield that couldn’t stop counter attacks, and awful defending on set pieces. If you’re the manager and you want to improve on last season, this is where your priorities are – or at least should be.
But what happens when two generational talents suddenly become available. The manager’s priority probably doesn’t change – he needs the results now – but the club’s certainly does! Grab those players, solidify your attack for the next half decade, the midfield and defense can wait until next year. After all you don’t really care who your manager is anyway.
This isn’t to say that Lampard had no say on these signings. He most certainly signed off on them (he called Werner to pitch him on signing for Chelsea) but then again what manager wouldn’t? They’re generational talents!
It’s just that by doing this, Chelsea’s actual needs got pushed aside. They ultimately signed a goalkeeper but not until the very end of the transfer window. When it finally came time to sign Lampard’s big target Declan Rice, the club either ran out of time or money.
To run back the analogy from before, instead of laying out the floor plan and taking measurements, Chelsea just went out and bought the luxury furniture (and announced to the world that they were now competing with all the other nice houses), without taking into account what rooms it fit into. Now they’ve got a lot of nice pieces lying around and no idea where to fit it all. It’s ultimately going to cost Lampard his job.
But if you’re Chelsea, who cares? Lampard will go and someone else will come in. The good news is you still have these generational talents in your squad. The next guy will simply benefit from the club actually signing the midfielders and defenders that they need – until they kick him to the curb too.
(I do realize it’s possible that I’m giving Lampard too much credit here and even he may not have realized that midfield and defense was the priority. It’s more than possible that he has absolutely no plan and never really did.)