As Frank Lampard entered the room as Derby County’s new manager, he did so in the knowledge that Zinedine Zidane had just performed the ultimate mic drop in football management.
Ninety minutes before Lampard spoke in the bowels of Pride Park, Zidane had announced, with visibly distressed Real Madrid president Florentino Perez alongside him, that he would be stepping aside just five days after Kiev where his team had made it three consecutive Champions League titles.
“He certainly quit at a good time,” said Lampard with a smile of the Frenchman. “That’s a lesson for us all.”
Zidane, probably the greatest player born in the 1970s, has now also set the bar at Olympian heights for those big-name stars of his era who are stepping into the management game.
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) May 31, 2018
From a footballing era when players trousered wages beyond the dreams of the man in the street, none of them can actually need the money, but in recent months, a number of English football’s “golden generation” are taking the plunge.
“It’s a drug for people,” said Lampard. “People love football.”
This week has seen Ryan Giggs manage Wales against Mexico and pull off a creditable draw, while Friday, June 1, is the first day of Steven Gerrard’s tenure at Rangers. “I am absolutely desperate to get started,” Gerrard said on Thursday.
These are the days of dreaming, when ambitions are still yet to be jaundiced by the realities of long hard seasons in the Championship in Lampard’s case, the Scottish Premiership for Gerrard or in the midst of qualifying for a major tournament as eventually awaits Giggs.
The odds of a swift return to the punditry sofa, or their business interests – like Giggs’ partnership with former team-mate Gary Neville, Lampard has a significant interest in property development – cannot be too high for any of them.
Conventional wisdom has dictated that great players rarely make adept, successful managers, the idea being that they find it difficult to relate to or motivate lesser talent.
Zidane has certainly bucked that trend, as Johan Cruyff once did, and Pep Guardiola wasn’t too shabby a player, either, but great British players have a distinctly chequered history in management.
Kevin Keegan, Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish began brightly only for their reputations to sink as the disappointments piled on.
Contemporaries like Bryan Robson and the late Ray Wilkins never established themselves as managers once the novelty of having a legend in the dressing room wore off on their players.
Tony Adams was sacked by League One Wycombe, having declared that his players “can’t take a huge amount of information on board”. Each of them is now lost to the game’s frontline.
And the record of England cap centurions, a select club of which both Gerrard and Lampard are members, is truly desperate: Billy Wright, sacked by an ailing Arsenal in 1966; Bobby Charlton, sacked by Second Division Preston in 1975; Bobby Moore sacked by Fourth Division Southend in 1986; Peter Shilton sacked after Plymouth had dropped to the third tier in 1995.
The remainder of the 100 club, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, are either too young or busy being a prospective MLS owner and all-round celebrity superstar to go into the management game.
How might Lampard buck the trend?
As someone with an IQ reportedly well above 150, does he also have the emotional intelligence to improve and harness players at a lower level than he played at?
Perhaps his own career path, in which he took a moderate yet not inconsiderable talent to winning every trophy available to him in club football and being second behind Ronaldinho in 2005’s Balon d’Or, might inspire his charges. Hard work was the key to Lampard’s success, something he espoused during Thursday’s introductory media call.
In working in the Championship, Lampard has a challenge on a different planet to that Zidane took on in January 2016.
England’s second tier is tough and tactical, an attritional grind towards the pot of gold that is the Premier League.
Derby, though Lampard talked excitedly of the club’s history, is unfamiliar territory whereas Zidane had been at the Santiago Bernabeu since 2001, when joining as the world’s most expensive player from Juventus.
For the players in the dressing room he walked into after Rafa Benitez’s sacking, Zidane was an avatar of the club’s standing in world football, and someone who could talk with authority of what it meant to be the best.
Lampard’s players, even the most ambitious of them, might find it difficult to relate to his achievements.
In English football, though, the major clubs still plump for experienced managers. Giggs had no chance when competing with Jose Mourinho to be Manchester United manager, while Arsenal got cold feet on appointing 36-year-old Mikel Arteta before turning instead to Unai Emery, thus passing up the chance to emulate Barcelona’s hire of a 37-year-old Guardiola.
The likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Giggs, though their playing reputations push them to the front of the queue, have instead had to forage for riskier, less gilded appointments.