It had to happen. Sooner or later. Frank Lampard would return to Stamford Bridge as Chelsea Head Coach. It’s happened sooner than many expected. Possibly earlier than he ideally would have wanted. But he’s grasped the opportunity with both hands, is so excited he cannot hide his delight, and has a three year contract to get the Blues playing attractive football.
It’s what the fans want. They yearned for Lampard to return and circumstances have worked in their favour. The registration ban imposed upon the club means the days of them signing established names for big fees are a thing of the past. For the moment at least. There’s every chance this could work in its favour, writes Vernon Grant.
Lampard will blood some of the young players who have been squandered by his predecessors. He said: “What we do have is a strong squad and young players who have potential and talent who in their own way can be huge players at this club. Part of my job will be to develop the great young players that we have here. That’s really important and it’s going to be one of the first jobs I do.
“I want players that, whether you are 18 years of age or 32 years of age, you feel like Chelsea is your club and you’re not just passing through Chelsea with a means to something else. I want people who feel Chelsea is where they want to be.”
For Chelsea to finish third again next season, as they did last, Lampard has his work cut out. Without Eden Hazard, it’s going to be tough for the new boss to have the team finish in the top four come next May. You’d imagine the fans will not turn on him should they miss out on Champions League football the season after next. I certainly hope they don’t.
Some think the biggest threat to his long term future at the Bridge will be the impatience of owner Roman Abramovich. This is the first Englishman the Russian owner has appointed at the club. Will Abramovich be trigger happy once again?
I happen to think, however, that a bigger danger to Frank may be if Abramovich finds someone willing to pay his asking price for the club. Now a resident of Israel, and persona non grata in the UK, the man who purchased the club as a personal insurance policy, is trying to flog it. His problem is finding someone willing and able to pay the vast sum he wants. You’d have to think such sums are only likely to come from the Middle East.
The Young Ones
Frank Lampard takes the talented and trusted Jody Morris with him as his assistant. Morris had left Chelsea to join Frank at Derby. When he did so, Jody pointedly remarked on how nobody at Stamford Bridge paid a visit to watch the youth players in action. Morris had managed the talented under 18’s. At times it felt like a thankless task.
Last September Morris said: “We’ve had managers at Chelsea where they’d be 50 yards away, there’d be a Champions League under 19’s game going on, and the manager’s sat in his office, rather than coming out to watch. It’s very disheartening.
“It’s not my place to go over there and start talking to managers, but some managers aren’t interested – they don’t care about youth. They judge the first team and want to get their own players in.
“The thing about Chelsea is I don’t think there’s an academy in this country that’s better, but it doesn’t look like that on paper because of the amount of players who are not playing in the first team. The players are good enough.”
That claim will now be put to the test. Surely a number of the countless young players Chelsea sent out on loan these past seasons will be recalled and stand a chance of getting a game for the club.
Lampard is the record goalscorer for the club and knows what sort of dressing room he wants now. “I want player power in the dressing room. I think players must have personality. We had a strong dressing room, which was part of the success.
“Players show their personalities in different ways. You don’t have to have John Terry and Didier Drogba, who were obvious powerful personalities and players. You can have players who might look slight and might have different ways about them that can be powerful. I want them to promote that. I want the players to own it. What I can control, I will control and that is driving training every day.”
Within days of Lampard being announced as the team boss, the talented Callum Hudson-Odoi let it be known he expects to sign a new five year contract. The two events have to be connected.
Lampard’s face lights up when talking about the 18 year old who Chelsea fans want to see play on a more regular basis. “I have seen Callum come through and he can be central to this team; he can be central to an England team. So I am going to say: ‘I want to work with him. I want to drive him forward.’ He can show right here, at the club where he came through the academy, that he is going to be an absolute world-class player. I truly believe that.
“I wasn’t as good as Callum at that age but I was frustrated because Harry Redknapp didn’t play me. I had the hump because I wanted to play for West Ham. Jody Morris was playing for Chelsea. Those things – if you’ve got the right attitude – are good competition. I can say it now at 41 but it was good for me because it drove me on.”
What’s that about West Ham, I hear the younger ones among you ask? Has Frank Lampard not always been at Chelsea? Certainly not. I do sometimes wonder what West Ham United supporters of a certain age think when everyone goes on about Chelsea being Frank’s club. After all, his early playing days were at Upton Park. He played 148 games for West Ham. How things might have worked out differently for the Hammers had they kept him and built a side around him. Not sold him to their London rivals for £11 million pounds. What a bargain buy that turned out to be.
Frank has cut his management baby teeth at Derby and did well to get them to the Championship play off side. Now he’s back in the big time. Back where he belongs. He’s a good man. IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) he is left to his own devices, he’ll be fine.