Chelsea fans won’t like it, the media will love it but, for Roman Abramovich, the sacking of Frank Lampard on Monday was just business as usual. The Russian tycoon showed that he hasn’t mellowed with age and that even a club legend like Lampard wasn’t safe from his axe, which has now fallen on 12 managers.
With Thomas Tuchel lined up as a quick replacement, Chelsea’s revolving door policy will be under the spotlight again, with debates already raging around the merits of the decision. However, although Abramovich is frequently bashed for his impatience towards head coaches, it is difficult to argue that the approach hasn’t bred success over the last 18 years.
Most football supporters still crave an Alex Ferguson-eque long term manager. A dynasty builder who weaves their DNA into the fabric of the club and who the fans can revere. Yet despite the successes of the two figureheads of this model, Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the struggles of Manchester United and Arsenal following their departures proves that it does have a serious flaw.
It has taken United nearly a decade to recover from Sir Alex retiring and this is the first season since that they are genuine title challengers again, despite regularly spending huge sums on players. For Arsenal, Champions League qualifiers in all but one of Wenger’s campaigns, they haven’t finished higher than fifth since he left and this season looks to be no different.
For chop-and-change-Chelsea, the highs may not last long but neither do the lows. Never was this more apparent than between 2014 and 2017 when they recorded consecutive league finishes of first, tenth and then first again. Any manager who takes charge at Stamford Bridge knows that they are never more than a few poor results from the sack, regardless of sentiment or status, with Roberto di Matteo receiving his P45 a few months after winning the Champions League.
The consequence of this approach is that standards at Chelsea remain impossibly high and, coupled with their transfer expenditure, virtually guarantees regular silverware. In short, either you win or you’re out. It works though and with five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two Europa League titles and a Champions League, the Roman Abramovich era has been, by far, the most successful in the history of the club.
Chelsea fans will understandably be angry and upset at this decision. Lampard is arguably the best player in the history of the club and played a huge role in winning most of those trophies. Despite coming through West Ham’s academy, he is effectively one of their own and not even John Terry would command such goodwill from a fanbase who were desperate for him to succeed.
However, looking at this season unemotionally, performances simply haven’t been good enough after a huge transfer outlay of over £200m in the summer. The former England star has made a number of odd selection choices and tactical decisions. Indeed, after 18 months at the club, it still wasn’t totally apparent which style of football he was trying to play.
He continued to ignore Callum Hudson-Odoi despite convincing him to stay at the club, following interest from Bayern Munich. This is despite the young winger impressing in the limited chances he did receive. Furthermore, Lampard persisted in asking his wide players to provide crosses, yet often didn’t play Olivier Giroud, the Chelsea forward best equipped to thrive on such an approach.
That Lampard had the lowest points-per-game ratio of any permanent manager during the Roman Abramovich era can be partially mitigated by the transfer ban which hindered the club during the 2019/20 season. However, after spending such a monumental sum on some of the best young players in Europe, the Chelsea hierarchy won’t have expected that ratio to actually worsen this campaign, which it has by 0.2 points per game.
This isn’t the end of Lampard as a manager. He did enough during his spell as Derby boss and during his first season at Chelsea to show that he does have a future in the dugout. Like Brendan Rodgers when he left Liverpool, his best bet now is to take an ‘easier’ job and try to rebuild his reputation.
At just 42 years of age, he could conceivably have another 20-30 years in management and has plenty of time to learn, adapt and improve. It’s not even beyond the realms of possibility that, should he develop sufficiently, he could one day return to Chelsea. After all, Roman Abramovich did employ Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink more than once.
For the time being though, Chelsea will move on with another young coach, Thomas Tuchel. The German has already won league titles, reached a Champions League final and managed huge stars with big egos. If Tuchel gets off to a winning start and The Blues rise up the table, anger at Lampard’s treatment will soon dissipate. If he doesn’t then he will inevitably follow Lampard out the door.