Frank Lampard’s Chelsea departure seemed inevitable. A 3-1 win against Luton Town in the FA Cup could not undo the damage of last Tuesday’s 2-0 Premier League loss to Leicester City, and Thomas Tuchel was approached in secret.
While many Chelsea fans will be outraged to see their former midfielder treated this way, there's no denying other managers have been fired in more brutal fashion by Roman Abramovich.
Results had been underwhelming following the £222m trolly dash last summer, yet the Englishman’s savvy management during his first season at Stamford Bridge won't have gone unnoticed by potential suitors. A top-four finish, secured with a youthful squad in the wake of a transfer ban, was genuinely impressive.
Yet Lampard’s ultimate failure at Chelsea leaves him in a bizarre position, with huge gaps in his CV. It had all started on the right track. Derby County seemed a good fit for the retired Premier League legend in the summer of 2018; an environment in which he could gain experience and prove himself worthy of a bigger job later down the line.
Lampard loyalists repeatedly pointed to Derby’s participation in the 2019 Championship Play-Off Final as proof of his readiness to take charge at Chelsea soon after. Yet the Rams’ sixth-place finish in the league that season was no improvement on the year before, and they were deservedly beaten by Aston Villa at Wembley.
There’s no shame in losing a fixture like that as a young coach. In fact, the experience could have been crucial for Lampard’s development at Derby. But his sudden elevation to the Chelsea dugout, in what should have been a significant learning period for a coach, rendered the lessons of the previous season pointless.
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A wise move now might be to apply for jobs back at Championship level, continuing where he left off in a division his experience was more suited to. A second-tier club would have lower expectations, fewer dressing room egos and more patience at boardroom level - conditions young managers often need while they're learning the ropes.
However, Lampard’s 18-month spell at Chelsea is likely to have skewed his expectations. Lampard may not want to drop back down to the Championship if he’s just left a Champions League club. Staying in the Premier League will surely be his aim.
Is there another Premier League team that would take him, though? Certainly none of the other established “Big Six” would fancy giving the failed Blues boss a second bite at the big time. Mid-table clubs tend to favour experience - or at least an up and coming foreign manager - over the past glories of retired players. Meanwhile, no club down the bottom would deem Lampard a good bet as long as the likes of Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce are still working.
If Lampard's not likely to get a top-flight job in England, he would have to go elsewhere. Language barriers, a lack of any sort of track record at the top level, and no discernible playing style would rule out a move to another top European league. Gary Neville, while less experienced than Lampard, found out the hard way that former glories won’t get you far with foreign supporters.
Talk about playing your way out of trouble!An #FACup goal of the weekend contender from Chelsea made it 3-1 against Luton Town 👏Watch live on @BBCOne and @BBCiPlayer#bbcfacup #CHELUT pic.twitter.com/RamcD8PSkoJanuary 24, 2021
The MLS might be an idea. North America would at least represent parity in terms of earning potential, if not prestige. There is growing evidence to suggest the MLS is seen as an route for up-and-coming managers to forge a reputation on the way to a top role in Europe.
Thierry Henry, currently at Montreal, and Phil Neville, the newly-appointed Inter Miami boss, presumably have hopes of landing top jobs in Europe in the next few years. Lampard spent a season at New York City FC as a player and will know a thing or two about the division. That may be an option.
Equally, Scottish football may be enticing. Steven Gerrard has forged a name for himself as one of the most exciting young coaches working in the game at Rangers. The club is on course to win a first title in a decade and, if Gerrard were to be poached by a Premier League club this summer, perhaps Lampard might consider himself a candidate to replace the Liverpudlian. Strong ties between the fan bases of Chelsea and Rangers would probably make him a popular choice on the terraces.
Lampard’s spell at Chelsea has put him in a strange position, but there are options available for a coach who did a genuinely good job in his first campaign at Stamford Bridge despite difficult circumstances. He may just need to recognise that a backwards step might ultimately take his career forward.
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