Chelsea is hardly a club you could associate with romance, and certainly not during the Roman Abramovich era.
16 trophies have been brought back to Stamford Bridge in 16 years amid a soap opera of backbiting and turmoil that the writers of 1980s American soap operas might find far-fetched.
On Wednesday night, Chelsea lifted a second Europa League. And just like in 2013, when Rafa Benitez was ignored by fans and his players amid the celebrations in Amsterdam, manager Maurizio Sarri was a peripheral figure.
It was poignant to watch a man who endured such brickbats all season enjoying the moment as he inspected the first winner’s medal in almost thirty years in professional football.
Meanwhile, Rob Green and Gary Cahill, shunned by the Italian all season, took centre stage.
“F**k Sarriball” has been the terrace hit of the season from supporters who have failed to take to a style of football which aimed to invite an opponent on and then hit them on the break. With Jorginho at its apex, it has not made for much excitement, but with a European trophy in the bag and third place behind runaway leaders in Manchester City and Liverpool, this has been a successful season, or at least one of qualified success.
In the aftermath of victory in Baku it was suggested that Sarri was prepared to stay, and turn down the chance to coach Juventus, but the writing was on the wall for a manager who has now decided that a return to Italy is for the best, and a compensation deal with Juve is being worked on.
With Sarri as the latest casualty, jumping before he could be pushed, the Chelsea loyalist has his eye on an old flame who embodies the glory years, a romantic choice, even. If John Terry was “Mr Chelsea”, then Frank Lampard has to be the greatest player in the club’s history, give or take Peter Osgood, Gianfranco Zola or Didier Drogba’s taste for the grand occasions.
“Super Frank, Super Goals” as he rather robotically used to say in that advert for a tabloid newspaper’s football pull-out. Few have been as loved by the fans.
Lampard was a player who made the most of himself. He may not have possessed the raw talent of peers like David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes, but scored more goals than any of them and managed to reinvent himself in his later years.
Chelsea’s Champions League triumph in Munich in 2012 would not have been possible without Lampard’s disciplined performance in midfield, rationing his forward runs.
There have been signs of that appetite for self-improvement in Lampard’s nascent career in football management. Like Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Sol Campbell at Macclesfield Town this season and Zinedine Zidane on a far grander scale, he is the latest example of the equation of star player, bad manager being debunked.
Derby ended up hitting the crossbar by losing in the Championship play-off final , but there were signs that with a young team Lampard was a capable organiser, as assisted by former team-mate Jody Morris, and that semi-final defeat of Leeds suggested someone with the motivational qualities to bring better from his players.
Stop Crying Frank Lampard.
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) May 15, 2019
Their singing of “Stop crying, Frank Lampard” in the Elland Road dressing room certainly suggested a togetherness. And in the aftermath of defeat at Wembley, Lampard expressed his thanks for the opportunity given to him at Derby by owner Mel Morris. “I’ve got a two-year contract and I love working here,” he said. “After my first year and the opportunity this club gave me it’s massively important that everyone understands that is my overriding feeling.”
The temptation of Chelsea, though, may be irresistible.
Lampard would enter the club in a set of circumstances that are both problematic and beneficial.
Chelsea may hope to escape a FIFA transfer ban, but there is the high possibility that whoever is in charge of the first team will have to make do and mend with the players already at the club’s disposal. And, worst of all, will almost certainly have to do without Eden Hazard, whose move to Real Madrid appears to be all over bar the haggling and image rights.
Thankfully, Chelsea is a club that never feels comfortable when down to less than 60 professionals so there will be plenty of others to choose from. With Lampard having good and full use of midfielder Mason Mount and defender Fikayo Tomori on loan at Derby, he is aware of the talent available in the club’s lower ranks.
Certainly, Jody Morris, who worked for four years in the club’s academy, will know those young players back to front.
Chelsea have been the all-conquering club at youth level, winning the FA Youth Cup five times in succession until exiting this season’s competition at the fourth round, and there has been pressure from the back office to push those players. However, with the Abramovich axe always looming, managers like Jose Mourinho, Conte and Sarri have never felt able to risk youngsters; it took Callum Hudson-Odoi being courted by Bayern Munich for Sarri to field the winger.
The transfer ban offers something of a free bet, a period of renewal that has not been available to managers during the last 16 years.
If anyone is to be granted that period of grace, then Lampard, who would be quickly forgiven by fans if things go awry, seems an ideal candidate.
Derby’s situation meanwhile is one of uncertainty, given the fact that owner Morris had to buy out the Pride Park Stadium to fill out a hole in the club’s accounts.
There are definite downsides in turning to such a rookie as Lampard, particularly that this chance might come too early for someone who could end up being a better boss having gained more experience.
That said, Lampard, as someone with outside business interests, might not actually want to be a manager for too long, and could soon be eyeing a role in the boardroom rather than the dressing room.
With the success of Pep Guardiola and Zidane, the idea of a rookie manager with the club in his heart is now very much on trend, even given the problems suffered by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and Rino Gattuso at AC Milan, and they often come with less baggage than experienced campaigners like Conte and Sarri.
It may turn out that Frank Lampard is not the right man to manage Chelsea after all, but this is an optimum time to test that out.