Frank Lampard’s Chelsea return questioned
When Frank Lampard sat in a corporate box behind Chelsea sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley at the dismal draw with Liverpool on Tuesday, most were just delighted to see the club legend back in the public eye.
Lampard had been out of the limelight since his painful sacking by Everton in January, after less than a year in charge.
He had suffered a similarly unhappy fate when dismissed by Roman Abramovich at Chelsea two years earlier.
But the story of Lampard’s appearance at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, it now appears, ran a little deeper.
It is totally in keeping with the current chaos at Chelsea under co-controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali and the Clearlake group that the man who, at first glance, appeared to be paying a flying visit is now manager.
There have been many extraordinary events during their short time in charge. The spending of £600m on players without signing anyone who could score goals.
The sacking of a Champions League-winning manager in Thomas Tuchel. The sacking of Graham Potter after only 31 games. But the return of Lampard might just be the most eyebrow-raising development of the lot.
Lampard, Chelsea’s all-time record goal scorer, rightly remains a Stamford Bridge hero. On reflection, his 18-month spell as manager was hardly a catastrophe, with a top-four finish and an FA Cup final appearance while operating under a transfer ban.
But if you had said seven days ago that Lampard would be back in charge and preparing Chelsea for the forthcoming Champions League quarter-final against holders Real Madrid, you would have shocked even those who had already condemned the club as utterly dysfunctional.
Lampard’s future in management has been questioned since he was shown the door at Everton, where he remained a well-liked and respected personality with supporters despite leaving them second from bottom of the Premier League.
The big question was not only where would Lampard go next, given that top-end Premier League clubs were unlikely to consider him after two high-profile sackings, but also whether he would have the motivation for another job.
And yet, here come Chelsea with an invitation to their iconic old boy to take charge until the end of the season. You could not make it up – or if you had, no-one would have believed you.
So what is in it for Chelsea in making what, on the surface, appears to be a truly bizarre move?
Chelsea, after the Potter debacle, are determined not to rush into an appointment and will conduct an exhaustive process. They want a manager of proven pedigree after what is now seen as a mistake in appointing former Brighton boss Potter.
Julian Nagelsmann, just sacked by Bayern Munich, and former Spain coach Luis Enrique are under the most serious consideration.
Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is also expected to hold talks.
Chelsea will regard Lampard as someone who can keep them in a holding pattern and will be popular with supporters.
He knows Chelsea and has recent managerial experience, although not exactly good managerial experience. He will have the respect of the squad on playing reputation alone.
It will also buy those working through the mechanics of appointing Potter’s successor time to forensically examine candidates before making a decision as sporting directors Stewart and Winstanley lead the vetting process.
Lampard will know what is expected and will play into that with Chelsea’s fans, who will be desperate for him to succeed. He may even see this short-term deal as a piece of unfinished business at the club. He has nothing to lose.
He may only be holding the fort for Nagelsmann or Enrique, but Lampard might do enough to attract suitors elsewhere once his spell is over and it may also help him decide his future direction in management.
The Premier League is a footnote this season, with Chelsea 11th and out of top-four contention – but they are still in the Champions League and while they are huge underdogs against Real Madrid, this is the club that has made nonsense of logic before.
Lampard’s arrival, however, does increase the impression that Chelsea’s ownership group are going through their first season with no clear structure or plan in place.
Of course, if Lampard does somehow pull off a Champions League win against Carlo Ancelotti, one of his former managers at Chelsea, it will only add another layer to his legend.
A staggering move by the club’s owners would be hailed as a stroke of genius.
It would be a stretch to predict a win against a Real Madrid side who swatted away Liverpool with the minimum of fuss in the last round – but who can say with certainty what will ever happen at Chelsea after this latest astonishing turn of events?— BBC