Chelsea’s first season under Frank Lampard has been met with mixed feelings of promise and trepidation, some of which has surely waxed and waned amidst the delay of the Premier League season due to coronavirus.
The campaign has been far from perfect—it’s part of Lampard’s charm that he’d have the humility to admit as much—but a thoroughly convincing win over former boss Carlo Ancelotti's Everton in their last EPL fixture served as the latest testament to his credentials at this level.
Before the Blues' 4-0 shellacking of Everton, an FA Cup fifth-round win over Liverpool five days prior meant the west Londoners are still in with a chance of ending this season with silverware. It may not be the trophy they were hoping for, now that their Champions League campaign looks all but over after a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the home leg of their last-16 matchup, but it's a trophy nonetheless.
Ousting the Germans was perhaps always going to be a stretch too far, but progressing from a group that contained Lyon, Valencia, and 2019 semi-finalists Ajax was a grand feat in itself.
Lampard—a Champions League and Europa League winner in 2012 and 2013, respectively— modestly acknowledged Bayern as being “of the levels we want to get to” after the defeat:
Losses to Newcastle United, West Ham, Southampton and Bournemouth this Premier League season are the kind of results Lampard’s critics have fed on to express doubt in his ability. However, the promise shown across the campaign coupled with the fact that his side still sit fourth is cause enough to wait and see if those results improve in 2020-21.
It was a fortuitous sequence of events that saw Lampard appointed at the helm of his former club, at least in hindsight. Maurizio Sarri’s sole season at Stamford Bridge coincided with Lampard’s maiden campaign as a senior manager with Derby County, proving at Pride Park that he had the capacity to stand among his peers.
Making the most of his Premier League connections to loan Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori—both from Chelsea—as well as Liverpool winger Harry Wilson, Lampard guided the Rams to the Championship play-off final at Wembley, where they lost 2-1 to Aston Villa.
Still, it quickly became evident that one of the greatest midfielders to ever emerge from England had a natural knack for management.
Both Mount and Tomori have become senior figures at Chelsea this season, largely out of necessity following the club’s transfer ban last summer, but also due to Lampard’s increasingly obvious eye for spotting talent.
Billy Gilmour is the latest academy graduate to make his move into the first-team ranks and looks a natural under pressure, earning his first Premier League start in the thrashing of Everton.
Lampard gushed about the 18-year-old Scot—already capped 11 times for Scotland’s under-21 team—following that win and told Match of the Day Gilmour “did everything perfectly,” a judgement to which many Chelsea fans would likely nod along:
Reducing the average age in the squad appeared to be a priority for Lampard even in the face of their transfer suspension, an encouraging sign for a number of reasons. Defenders David Luiz, 32, and Gary Cahill—33 at the time of his exit—were permitted to leave the club so that more youthful candidates could take their place, and talisman Eden Hazard’s $112 million transfer to Real Madrid was taken well in stride.
The likes of Tammy Abraham, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tomori and Mount—all aged 22 or younger—have shown signs they could compete at the Premier League standard for years to come, and Lampard may be the man to oversee that development for the long term.
United States star Christian Pulisic, 21, was signed under Sarri’s reign but will get more minutes should 31-year-old Willian leave when his contract expires in June. The agreement to sign Hakim Ziyech from Ajax this summer was a masterstroke by Chelsea in recruitment, and their transfer prospects will benefit greatly should they qualify for next season’s Champions League.
One has to assume Lampard played a significant role in seeking out Ziyech after the Moroccan impressed against Chelsea in November, another likely indicator of his player radar.
The responsible handling of youth is just one example why Lampard is well-suited to the role. His 13 successful years as a player at Stamford Bridge, the connection he has with his players and the supporters all bode well in pursuit of building a prosperous atmosphere on and off the pitch.
Chelsea’s merry-go-round of managers has become a running gag in Premier League circles—Lampard is the 10th man to lead the club since the beginning of 2009—but owner Roman Abramovich has now stumbled upon a manager who’s likely willing—if not downright gleeful—to stick around as long as he’s wanted at Stamford Bridge.
Demands for immediate success have seen more decorated names come and go through the rotating managerial doors, but if afforded the patience to grow in the role, Lampard could unearth a legacy the likes of which Chelsea have long awaited.