Frank Lampard must have thought he’d blown his shot of being a Premier League manager, at least for the time being.
Indeed, the 41-year-old was forced to watch on as his Derby County side lost the Championship play-off final, the game worth a reported £170m, last month. Just a few weeks later, though, Lampard is on the verge of becoming a top-flight coach.
Not just any top-tier coach either – the Chelsea coach. When Lampard took over at Derby last summer this was the job his trajectory was always meant to carry him to. Not this quickly, though.
More illustrious candidates have been linked with the Chelsea vacancy, but Lampard is the man they want.
On the face of things, Chelsea’s appointment of Lampard is an almighty gamble.
Maurizio Sarri reached the Carabao Cup final, lifted the club back up into the Premier League’s top four and won the Europa League in his one and only season at the club. What more could he have done? Lampard, on the other hand, has just one year of senior management under his belt.
Max Allegri and Luis Enrique would have been more natural fits.
Both men are proven winners at the top level of the game and are available this summer. Nonetheless, Lampard, a bona fide club legend, is the man Chelsea want with official confirmation of his appointment expected in the coming days.
Identity is at the forefront of the reasoning behind Lampard’s hiring. From a footballing point of view, it’s difficult to make a case for the 41-year-old’s appointment. Lampard enjoyed a certain degree of success at Derby County, but not enough to qualify him for the Chelsea job. His appointment goes beyond footballing reasons.
With Chelsea facing a transfer embargo, they will need to get comfortable in their own skin quickly.
Under Sarri, there was a disconnect between what was desired by the club’s support and what was being produced on the pitch. For all that results technically met the objectives set at the start of the season, keeping the Italian would have risked a further widening of that disconnect.
Lampard won’t have options to change Chelsea’s identity over the next year or so with the transfer market closed off to him and so the hiring of the former midfielder is designed to harness the best of the club’s character and personality.
This will be an appointment rooted in the psychology of the sport.
Expectations will be tempered as a result of the situation Chelsea find themselves in right now.
Lampard, given the good favour he already has on side as a club legend, could be the first Chelsea manager of the Roman Abramovich age to be afforded at least some degree of patience. He won’t face the intolerance Sarri did.
At Derby, Lampard gave a platform to young players like Harry Wilson and Mason Mount. Now, he will be charged with bringing through all the youth academy talent that has been overlooked by Chelsea in recent years.
He will work with Mount again at Stamford Bridge, but the likes of Ethan Ampadu and Billy Gilmour, on top Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek who are already first-team figures, will also need to be brought through.
On top of this, Lampard will be expected to deliver a certain brand of football.
Chelsea fans are the most demanding in the country, but deciphering exactly what they want is almost impossible. Sarri was appointed on the notion he would impose a modern, possession-based game on the club, but what he delivered was just a little too modern and a little too possession-based for many at Stamford Bridge.
However, Lampard stands as good a chance of understanding Chelsea’s notoriously difficult support as anyone else. The fundamental aim of any managerial hiring is for coach and club to ultimately reflect one another. Lampard and Chelsea might already have that connection.
There are reasons for Lampard’s appointment, it’s just that none of them have anything to do with football.