As sudden as Frank Lampard’s departure may seem, his sacking had been “inevitable” for weeks. The 42-year-old himself thought it would be confirmed after last week’s defeat by Leicester City, and even told colleagues as much. He was fortunate not to go after the Christmas draw with Aston Villa. Even as early as the start of December, though, Chelsea had been thinking about potential options. Marina Granovskaia is a huge admirer of Mauricio Pochettino, but it was made known to the club he “didn’t want to wait”.
Eventually, Chelsea stopped waiting to act. The result in the 3-1 FA Cup win over Luton Town was not seen as any kind of reprieve, but mere confirmation of growing problems in the team, due to the sloppy nature of the performance. Lampard was sacked on Sunday night after the game. The bottom line is that the hierarchy didn’t think he could work his way out of it. Hence Roman Abramovich’s reference to “current circumstances”, even as a rare public statement reflects the former midfielder's standing at the club.
So, Thomas Tuchel is to be installed, one of three figures they had been thinking about for some time along with Pochettino and Julian Nagelsmann. The club has noted how Germany is the source of most innovation in the game right now, with Tuchel one of the high priests of the pressing philosophy that has come to dominate. He is naturally seen as ideal for the big-name Bundesliga signings they’ve brought in, who have so struggled under Lampard. Chelsea didn’t want another interim.
Permanent roles have been general club policy for the last few years, affording Lampard more ignominy.
He was not allowed finish the season, in the way Antonio Conte had been in 2017/18, or even Maurizio Sarri in 2018/19.
The failure to get any kind of response out of signings like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz is only part of it, though. Lampard mostly got the job after Sarri because of the amount of upheaval that summer, where it was felt his status – as both a club legend and young manager – might solve a few problems at once. It was partly a marriage of convenience, from an emotional connection.
Some influential figures at the club had actually been concerned by the displays in that first 2019/20 season under the transfer ban, and felt that the narrow fourth place – Chelsea’s relatively low points return among many problematic statistics for Lampard in this time – was the “bare minimum”. Word had gotten back to those figures that many players didn’t like how the manager spoke to them, and there were questions about his man-management. Communication was a problem.
This has come to a head in the last few weeks, which has led to Lampard’s job coming to an end.
Sources say one influential dressing-room voice was “fed up” of the manager by Christmas. The nature of the fall-out with Antonio Rudiger also raised eyebrows, and Lampard had a few fraught discussions with Granovskaia over that situation as well as struggling goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabelaga.
The problems went deeper than that, though.
Both senior players and new signings were constantly “baffled” by the tactics, or the apparent lack of them. It often seemed to them as if the manager didn’t know what he wanted to do with the team, and had little idea how to fit these new stars in.
It should be noted that some opposition managers in the Premier League thought the same. They didn’t think Chelsea were that difficult to prepare against. Players like Werner or Havertz weren’t usually in positions where they would “really hurt you”.
Lampard had ultimately given little indication he knew how to fix this. That is evidenced by the chopping and changing, the drastic dropping of players, and then sudden returns. The inconsistent use of Callum Hudson-Odoi has been a case in point.
Lampard hasn’t really progressed or learned on the job. Of course, he was supposed to be the manager to help the young players progress and learn. That is always the peril of taking a job like this, as well as – on the other side – appointing an inexperienced manager. The wonder is whether he will come to regret taking it so soon, although few would blame him in the circumstances. Many just blame him for what has happened since, although it is the subject of considerable debate outside the club.
Self-serving as some of Lampard’s public comments on the summer expenditure were, there was a truth in that they had become a “burden” for him. It dramatically changed the squad, and the nature of the job. He was no longer just overseeing a young generation of homegrown talent, a nice image that always felt exaggerated and short-term at a club like this.
The brutal reality is Lampard knew more than anyone what this Chelsea were about. He knew the owner better than most players. He knew the demands, something he constantly referenced.
He just couldn’t live up to them in the short-term, and looked like he needed to still develop as a coach in the long-term. Chelsea were never going to invest in the uncertainty of that.
It should be noted that those same young players still “adored” him. There was a split in the dressing room in that regard, although it did not translate into any actual conflict or arguments. There were just different views on the manager.
Chelsea have now come to a view that had been building for some time.
The decision seems sudden. The thinking behind isn’t. It had been growing for some time.
Lampard was somewhat fortunate to get so much time, given the machinations in place. He might well have been fortunate to get the job in the first place, given his lack of experience, which is where so many problems have come from.