Frank Lampard has tried very hard to make himself seem a natural fit for the Chelsea job. He has stayed away from anything that would make him look like a competition winner, very deliberately avoiding the term “dream job” in his first ever press conference as manager of the Stamford Bridge club. He wants to be taken seriously.
And yet sitting in the Old Trafford dugout on Sunday, watching his team slump to a heavy 4-0 defeat on opening weekend of the new season, it was impossible for Lampard not to look somewhat out of his depth. If the magnitude of the job he has taken on wasn’t apparent to him previously, it certainly is now.
Of course, it would be foolish to draw too many conclusions from Chelsea’s loss to Manchester United. This was just one game, after all, and the final result was harsh on Lampard’s side given how well they played for large spells of the match. On another day Chelsea would have been one or two up by the time Marcus Rashford scored United’s first from the spot.
Nonetheless, Sunday felt like a significant moment for Lampard in the early days of his fledgling managerial career at Chelsea. For both the former midfielder and his opposite number on the day, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the opening game had the potential to set the tone for the season ahead.
The Stamford Bridge club have attempted to underline the ways in which they have changed this summer. In the past they have been the toxic epitome of modern football, going through no fewer than 13 managers in the Roman Abramovich era. They spent big on transfers despite building one of the best youth academies in the country.
Now, however, Chelsea have committed to a long term project in Lampard. They are providing a pathway into the first time for some of their young players. Mason Mount, for instance, made the starting lineup on Sunday. Tammy Abraham started up front. Whether by design or as a consequence of the transfer embargo placed on them over the summer, Chelsea are making an effort to change their ways.
They have, however, been here before. This certainly isn’t the first time that the Blues have committed to a long term project. Andre Villas-Boas was hired to change the culture around the club and impose a new, more modern style of play. The Portuguese coach was gone within months. Maurizio Sarri was appointed to do something similar. He lasted only one season.
Chelsea, both in terms of their operation and their fanbase, are not a club renowned for affording managers patience. This is a club that has grown accustomed to winning over the past decade-and-a-half, so what level of patience will Lampard be truly afforded if the opening day defeat to Man Utd is just the start of a difficult beginning?
Things don’t get much easier for the Blues this week, with Lampard taking his team to Istanbul to take on European champions Liverpool in the European Super Cup before returning home to face a Leicester City side predicted by many to be on the brink of the top six this season. It’s not that absurd to suggest Chelsea could come out of their first three games of the season still looking for a win.
Maybe one of the reasons Lampard was so quick to dismiss hints of this being his “dream job” is the sheer scale of the task at hand. This is not Antonio Conte taking on a team that won the title just one year previously. This is not Avram Grant being handed a side good enough to coast to a Champions League final. This is something much more fundamental and Lampard faces his first real test – earning the patience to have a fair crack at pulling it off.