Will clubs keep making The Frank Lampard Mistake with brilliant players (not coaches)?

John Nicholson
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard watches from the touchline

All those who thought Frank Lampard was obviously not the man to lead Everton to a new dawn were proved right last week as he left his third job in four-and-a-half years.

The problems at Goodison go far, wide and deep and certainly didn’t stop at the manager’s plywood office door. And managers get the sack all the time so he’s not out of the ordinary there. What was out of the ordinary was for two of his first three jobs to be managing top-flight clubs, at least one of which can be called an elite club and another that can fairly be called one of England’s great old clubs.

Last season he took Everton from 16th to 16th. He leaves with them in 19th. It’s not that he’s absolutely no good; he’s just not very good. Unimpressive. That’s okay, everyone has to learn and improve. But don’t invite him to do that in the top flight.

There was absolutely nothing in his CV to say he would be a success at Chelsea or Everton, largely because there was absolutely nothing in his managerial CV. But he was employed anyway.

How galling this must be for those poor saps who are good managers but who don’t enjoy the executive privilege that Lampard has clearly had lavished on him based on nothing other than his reputation as a player. He is, in that sense, emblematic of where we are as a country: a faux meritocracy where your name still gets you further than your talent.

It is as though Everton couldn’t be bothered to look for someone with a decent track record who offered something specific. Like the forever dumb phone-in caller, they just went for someone they’d heard of.

It is such a simple thing to understand; being a great player and being a good manager are two entirely different jobs and require two entirely different skill sets. In fact there is very little cross-over. Why can’t even the most stupid of club officials realise this? Why do hard-headed business people make such terrible football decisions?

It is tempting to think that they simply know sod all about football. That certainly looks to be the case at Everton given they think Sean Dyche or Marcelo Bielsa is a suitable candidate – two entirely different coaches with two entirely different ways of working. It shows lack of planning, lack of vision, lack of insight and even lack of intellect, which is how and why they ended up with Lampard wearing the managerial puffa jacket in the first place.

This is why you go to lower-league clubs. You go to learn. You manage lower down the pyramid to develop a style and a direction and to learn how you go about delivering that vision. You make mistakes, you do good things and you learn the business of management.

Patrick Vieira, currently steering Crystal Palace to a steady mid-table position, has been in management for 10 years in three different countries. Antonio Conte is now in his 19th year of management and spent the first five years learning his trade at Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena before taking over at Juventus.

Roberto De Zerbi has had 10 years’ managerial experience, starting in Italy’s fourth tier before taking over and doing such a good job at Brighton. Eddie Howe has been in management since 2008 and has managed in the fourth tier too. Jesse Marsch has 12 years in five different countries under his belt. When Unai Emery replaced Steven Gerrard they were replacing someone who arrived with three years of management under his belt with someone with 18 years in the game and a string of silverware too. Is it any wonder it’s gone a lot better since he arrived?

Graham Potter had been in management for 11 years before being appointed Chelsea manager and even he seems to have needed time to adjust to the position. Lampard had been a manager for a year.

Marco Silva has got Fulham up to seventh. He’s had his ups and downs over the last 12 years but he’s clearly learned a lot and got better. Steve Cooper has been coaching since 2014, leading England U17 to a World Cup win.

Look at Thomas Frank. He never played professionally but has been in one coaching role or another since the late 90s. He’s got an enormous level of experience to draw on in a way that makes a mockery of Lampard’s managerial CV. Okay, Brentford are run infinitely better than Everton, but they show this addiction to the big name is all too often very misplaced and there are less famous but far better operators are out there.

When you compare Lampard to all of these people, it paints an obvious picture. It positively shouts ‘go away, get some experience lower down the pyramid, and we’ll see how you get on’.

Look at Gary O’Neil, in his first job at Bournemouth and struggling with just four wins in 19 games. It looks like he just doesn’t have the experience of having made right and wrong decisions for a few years to draw wisdom from. Even Mikel Arteta spent three years as assistant to Pep Guardiola before going into management and then it took him a couple of years to really get things consistently right and he’s far more talented than Lampard, as this season has proven.

This isn’t to say that 25 years of experience inevitably means you’ll be a better manager than one with three. It is certainly possible to get stuck in a rut and become stale; just ask David Moyes. But in the top flight, most managers have had between 10 and 20 years of experience, have got plenty of learning, but are not so old and wizened as to have lost their passion for the game and are stuck in out-moded ideas that don’t work anymore.

Lampard was a fantastic player but isn’t a fantastic manager, but will other CEOs of clubs be tempted by his playing CV? Almost certainly, even though it’s obvious that after failing in at least two of his first three jobs and arguably not even making par in the third, he should get down to the dusty end of football’s fretboard, get experience at developing his art, perhaps winning a couple of promotions with different clubs, before getting offered another sizable job.

Then he should do well in that gig for a few years before ever going near an elite club again. That’s what many others do, why not Lampard? You were a special footballer but, to repeat the fact, that’s not a qualification for top management.

He is not entitled to think he deserves ‘better’ and hopefully he doesn’t. He needs to develop a style, a style that a club and their fans know they will be getting before they employ him. Right now, he has no style or anything definably ‘Lampardy’ and offers little beyond name recognition.

Perhaps the reason Lampard has been given these jobs is because so much of the English media uncritically fawns over Frank, presenting him in such a positive light and club’s owners can’t see past that to the truth. Something must explain the stupidity.

How many times does Lampard have to fail before the glitter gets washed off his name and potential employers see him for what he actually is as a manager right now: nothing special?

READ: Latest Lampard nonsense includes worst attempt yet at absolving him of any Everton blame