Lampard will always be a Chelsea legend, it was just too much too soon
Frank Lampard is a Chelsea legend, of that there is no doubt.
When Frank Lampard was named Derby County manager in May 2018, it raised many eyebrows. How, people asked, could this man who has not managed a single game in senior football, be handed the reins to a side in the Championship with genuine ambitions of reaching the Premier League.
Just over a year on from his appointment as manager of the Rams, he had taken them from a sixth place finish at the end of the 2017/18 season, to a sixth place finish at the end of the 2018/19 season. They would go on to lose the play-off final.
At the time, Derby fans spoke of football played without an enormous amount of tactical cohesion, and a team which didn't appear to know how to defend.
Those same eyebrows were raised when he became Chelsea manager and, 56 games on, the same complaints about the lack of a tactical plan and an inability to defend persisted.
Lampard leaves Chelsea with the club sitting ninth in the Premier League after a summer in which he was given the sort of financial backing rarely afforded to a manager entering his third year of senior management.
Chelsea spent more than £200 million on players like Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy, but while the relatively low expectations of Lampard's first season allowed him to go somewhat under the radar, the influx of top class talent ahead of his second campaign left him no room for manoeuvre.
That is not to denigrate the job Lampard did during his one full season at Chelsea. He finished fourth, qualifying for the Champions League, but the perception was that he had achieved some kind of miracle, when in truth his job had always been much easier than many in the media had painted it to be.
Yes, Chelsea had a transfer ban, but they still managed to sign Mateo Kovacic somehow.
It was also, lest we forget, a squad containing a number of established Premier League players (and winners) like N'Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud and Cesar Azpilicueta, as well as a host of the Premier League's most promising youngsters, like Mason Mount (out of him Lampard - it must be said - got about as much as he could've hoped), Billy Gilmour and Calum Hudson-Odoi.
This is all to say that - yes, Lampard did a decent job last season - but he was working with some incredibly valuable assets. It was not, as many suggested, any kind of alchemy.
Unfortunately for Lampard, once world class recruitments arrived, the pressure and expectations on him changed accordingly, and this is where his fast-tracking was proved to be a mistake.
Frank Lampard leaves Chelsea with the poorest Premier League points per game ratio of any manager in the Roman Abramovich era 😬 pic.twitter.com/z2whtpT0Co
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) January 25, 2021
The days of blood and guts management, during which force of personality were more important than any tactical plan, are long gone, and to succeed at a level anywhere near the top you need something at the very least resembling an established philosophy.
One can still be flexible - the best managers in the world often are - but you need a foundation upon which to build, and Lampard was never afforded the chance to do so.
You may balk at this, and I'm even cringing a little bit writing it, but this is one of the downsides of ending your playing career as an unabashed legend.
People adore you. They believe in you. And they want themselves - and by extension their clubs - to be associated with you. It raises a club's profile and - for Chelsea at least - can placate supporters for a while.
What it also does, however, is cut out the time necessary to develop tactical preferences and, as has become evidently lacking during Lampard's time at Chelsea, a way of dealing sensibly with players performing at a level well below what he provided week-in, week-out during his playing career.
Let's call it the Roy Keane Conundrum.
He was never going to turn down the Chelsea job, and Chelsea were never going to pass up on the opportunity for a relatively pressure-free appointment from a club perspective.
They always knew that there was a good chance he would eventually prove to be out of his depth, as he has been, but they can move on now and look to a future with a more established coach.
For Lampard, a long road of reputational recovery and managerial education awaits, and he must surely be left wondering whether he should've waited until he was offered the job on merit, rather than for his exploits as a player.