Crystal Palace look set to shuffle dear old Uncle Roy Hodgson off into retirement this summer (which makes some sense) and then offer his job to Frank Lampard (which doesn’t).
The good news for Lampard, should he take over at Palace, is that he’s got a workable starting XI waiting right there for him.
The bad news is that – apart from a back-up goalkeeper in Jack Butland – that is all he will have.
Of Palace’s 29-man first-team squad as listed on transfermarkt.com, 17 are out of contract at the end of next month.
That those who remain form a functioning XI is really quite good fun: Vicente Guaita, Nathan Ferguson, Cheikhou Kouyate, James Tomkins, Tyrick Mitchell, Eberechi Eze, Luka Milivojevic, Jairo Riedewald, Wilfried Zaha, Jean-Philippe Mateta, Jordan Ayew.
It’s not a terrible team if you’ve only got a squad of 12 to choose from. But it does lay bare the extent of the job that’s required at Palace this summer. This is a full-scale rebuild job of the oldest squad in the division.
For Palace, it would be madness to hand that task to someone as inexperienced as Lampard; Chelsea aren’t going to lend him Mason Mount again, guys.
For Lampard, it would be madness to make his crucial return to Premier League management in such a high-risk role where so very much work is needed.
Palace can point to Lampard’s work with Chelsea’s youngsters – and if they’re lucky they probably will pick up ‘the Next Mason Mount’ – but just like all Lampard’s work at Chelsea, it has been thrown into sharp focus by the improvements since Thomas Tuchel took over. Lampard no doubt played a key role in Mount’s development, but the most important thing about Mason Mount is and always has been that he’s absolutely ridiculously brilliant. It would have been a shite manager indeed who managed not to bring Mount through.
It is also true that Palace have invested heavily in their academy and may see in Lampard a young manager not afraid of bringing through young players. But the hit rate is so low and Palace’s need so instant that any instant fixes found via that route should be treated as a bonus.
Palace need new signings. They will need shrewd acquisitions designed to maximise the buck-bang ratio. They will bring in almost no transfer fees this summer – and any they do will only create another gaping hole in the threadbare squad – but will clear a good chunk of wages.
For the right manager – a seasoned manager, a canny transfer-market operator, a fackin’ wheeler-dealer, and above all a boss not still trying to build up his CV and reputation – it’s a fascinating challenge. For Lampard, it’s an accident waiting to happen.
He simply cannot afford for his next Premier League job to end in failure. He will not get a third chance. Indeed, it speaks to the problem Lampard faces that this Palace job – a terrible fit and a massive, massive trap – might be the best/only top-flight job he has any prospect of being offered for the foreseeable future.
Palace would be absolutely crazy to offer him the job, but he might just have to accept the risk if they do.
And let’s be clear about what will happen to Palace if this goes wrong. They will get relegated. Next year’s Premier League is going to be far, far tougher at the bottom than this one. Norwich and Watford will surely both bounce back to the Premier League stronger than they were two seasons ago and, while nothing can ever be ruled out, Leeds don’t particularly look like they’re about to do a Sheffield United.
Thanks to the Blades, West Brom and Fulham, everyone else has been able to survive by default this season; that won’t be the case next year.
If Lampard takes Palace down after years of often dull but nearly always comfortable lower-mid-table trundling, even his devoted followers in the press pack – and there are many – will struggle to get him another top-flight gig.