This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio arrives at the only Chelsea legend with an A grade GCSE in Latin. That’ll be Frank Lampard, then.
Who Are Ya?
Mr Frank James Lampard is now 40 years old – how old does that make you feel?! A native of the Essex town of Romford. As the son of a legendary West Ham player, he began his senior career there, making his debut in 1996. It was an up and down time for him, occasionally getting booed by his own fans and because his uncle Harry was manager, he was sometimes subjected to criticism for being the teacher’s pet. So when Harry and his father left the club, Frank went offski ASAP to Chelsea for £11million. It was there that he would establish himself as one of the all-time greats, playing 429 times and netting 147 goals. His late surging runs into the box became the stuff of legend. Played 106 times for England, scoring 29 goals. Ended career with a year at Manchester City and in New York.
After doing a stint of punditry on BT Sport and proving to be rather good at it, being articulate and thoughtful with the sort of self-effacing modesty that people who have been absolutely brilliant have to learn for risk of seeming superior, he went into management at Derby County and has got them to the brink of the play-offs. That doesn’t seem too shabby for your first season in the dugout. Fans seem to have rather taken to him.
An easy man to like, one always has the impression that unlike many in the business, he’d be at home in a wide range of cultural and societal situations. Seems very at ease in his own skin, quick with an open smile and sparkling eyes, but can scowl and furrow his brow with the best of him.
Pitchside he looks best in the beautifully fitted, well-cut dark suit and white open-necked shirt which gives him a 3am paparazzi shot of a movie star coming out of an upmarket casino. Does sometimes don that unpleasant modern grey sportswear which can make anyone look as though they’re going to the garage to buy white cider at midnight.
Ironically for a player called ‘fat’ for many years, he has maintained the low body fat percentage of the professional with an ironing board stomach (or at least one of those ironing boards with the difficult to erect legs).
I have a theory that intelligent footballers become more articulate and cogent once they stop playing football and leave the culture of lowest common denominator dressing-room banter. I may be imagining it but I’m sure this applies to Frank. Although he has always been a good speaker, as his call into James O’Brien on LBC in 2009 to complain about how the split from his partner was being discussed proved. Not many would make such a brave call.
Still has a distinct Essex flavour about his accent. Life is ‘loife’, goals is ‘gowls’, now is ‘nowow’.
Nick Miller, one of the many lovely ex-Football365 luminaries, made this great point on Twitter last year:
‘His interview with the BBC then followed the ‘Serious point, jokey point, no, but honestly, serious point’ format to a tee. Lovely consistency.’
As he’s grown up in the glare of the media, he does seem very comfortable in front of the camera. There’s certainly no need to worry that he’s going to fall back on too many cliches. It feels like he’s been very well media-trained and is always on top of what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.
There was that 9/11 business back when he was lad, but which can easily excused as a youthful indiscretion. There’s also some resentment at his supposed Tory leanings, though in recent years these seem to have been silenced – and understandably so given The State Of Things.
Media Hit or Miss?
Very much a big hit. One imagines he is in high demand for interviews and that his pressers are well-attended. There is a gloss of star quality about him which has seen some interviewers looking a bit gooey-eyed in his presence. Obviously, has struck up long relationships with microphone pointers across his career and this seems likely to influence decisions on whether to conduct overly rigorous questioning and harsh critiques.
Got into a bit of a spat with Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa over the whole Spygate business, which did seem a little pointless and out of which there was little or nothing to be gained. Laughing it off was the best thing to do but perhaps his mis-step was born out of lack of experience at managerial level when up against a man as eccentric as Bielsa. That being said, it was a very unusual situation to be placed in, so that is more than understandable.
Proper Football Man Rating: Royalty
Oh, the boys love Frank. They’d prefer it if he was a massive drinker but he has the best familial lineage that any PFM could wish for. His dad was a great player, he was a great player, he married someone off the telly and is the sort of brainbox they can look up to. OK, he’s written children’s books which seems a bit middle-class and poncy to the PFM who believes books are little more than a TV with subtitles on pause. You literally can’t see anything happening, Jeff.
Taking the Derby job was disappointing because every PFM believes he should already be manager of Chelsea instead of Sarri, who they’d never heard of and who doesn’t know the club or the league. And what sort of name is Mauritius anyway? Why can’t he be called Maurice, Geoff? But then Derby is an old-school club with the echo of Cloughie in the air and that makes every PFM pour another triple and pull unpleasantly at his trousers.
But let’s face it, if being a top, top, top player doesn’t qualify you for a top, top, top job automatically, despite zero experience, then the PFM doesn’t know what does because being known as a great player is, in his world, the only qualification you need in football – or should be if the laptop gurus hadn’t taken over.
They will back him no matter how good or bad he proves to be as a manager. If it all goes wrong it will be the players’ fault, or it will be the board’s fault. All Proper Football Men are experts in one thing only and that is deflecting blame from themselves or their pals, no matter how patently obvious it becomes that it is the their fault for being either useless or so brutal in his philosophy that they alienate everyone within weeks.
This means Frank will always get some good PR on TV and in the press and he need never worry about suffering any of the eye-rolling and dubious notions that someone from abroad always has to. He will always need more time, will always need backing more in the transfer market, will always be let down by misfiring players. Nothing will ever be his fault and he will never be paid enough.
What The People Say
Not only is there much goodwill towards him and respect for what he’s already achieved in the game, I sense there is a lot of hope for Frank to do well in management. He is one of the good guys who is made of the right stuff.
The excellent commentator Darren Fletcher got in touch to give us this lovely insight:
“As a pundit on our team he was articulate, intelligent, took it very seriously and knew the game inside out. A natural in the studio. Great team player and someone who shows everyone around him total respect. He’s a great fella. As a manager facing the media he never ducks a question and always provides a considered and sensible response. Gives the journalists & reporters in the room respect. A great bloke to work with and socialise with. An all-round top man.”
And the excellent pundit Danny Higginbotham sent in this tribute to his work at Derby County:
“Frank has done a wonderful job so far. He’s brought the average age of the squad down and changed the style whilst also getting the results. Improving young players as well, whether through the ranks or on loan at club.”
Amongst the public, he also has plenty of admirers.
‘Privately educated with a high IQ breaking footballing stereotypes.’
‘Managed to change the name of a century-old football club in a matter of moments following his appointment (Frank Lampard’s Derby County) – has to be some kind of record!’
‘No doubt will be Chelsea manager one day. Especially if he gets Derby up. Handled spygate badly, he could have laughed it off like Pulis and Wilder but let it get to him for a few weeks.’
‘Lampard has been a refreshing change as manager from all the seasoned hacks. Always positive, humble and learning on the job – it’s been a good season for us Rams, regardless of what happens on Sunday. Wants us to play football the right way.’
‘Doing very well at Derby and actually showing people he is a lot smarter than he was given credit for. Mishandled spygate but learning. Reckon he will be successful at a higher level (Chelsea) although am dreading the inevitable Lamps vs Stevie G for England manager debate.’
‘As a non-Derby fan I really didn’t want to like him – not least because of the Sky Sports OTT nonsense – but I’m really warming to him. From the outside looking in he looks to be doing all the right things.’
‘When he’s doing punditry he has this relaxed posture, understated expensive wardrobe and slight tan that absolutely oozes wealth (tastefully, mind).’
‘The books he has written are loved by my son. I fully expect his managerial career to be like his playing career, i.e very, very good, but not quite the very best. Will manage England to a World Cup final defeat on pens, written in the stars.’
‘Has clearly listened to his dad & ‘arry about how to properly prepare yourself for club management, surprisingly humble as a manager, wouldn’t be surprised if he went on to great things.’
‘Still looks like a player, even in the dugout.’
‘A footballing Gary Barlow. Mocked and under-appreciated for a long time. Later loved and glowed up.’
‘As a lifelong DCFC fan I was somewhat surprised at the appointment of Lamps, but I think the team have benefited from his experience and the club from his contacts. Overall a strong first season in charge in my opinion – let’s hope he stays and continues to develop.’
‘What will Frank Lampard’s Derby County be known as once he leaves? Surely they can never just return to plain old Derby….’
‘A bit like being able to remember when MTV actually played music, I can remember when he was always referred to as “Frank Lampard Junior”.’
‘Unlike his uncle he strikes me as the kind of footballer/manager you could have a drink with and the conversation wouldn’t be all about football/sport.’
‘Can picture him wearing extra shiny shoes whilst supping a latte behind his desk. A little like a middle management sales clerk from the Home Counties.’
How Long Has He Got?
Even though some Chelsea fans are already wanting him to become their manager, it seems likely that Frank himself knows this far too early in his managerial career. Even though being one of the club’s finest players in recent times will give him a bit of extra capital to ride out the inevitable bumps in the road, it won’t bail you out forever. Doing well in the Championship requires a specific skill set which he might not yet be able to transfer to managing a high-profile top-flight club. If he gets Derby promoted and consolidates well in the Premier League then it would be the time to make a step into the top six. Also, Chelsea do have a very good man at the helm at the moment, a man Frank would surely recognise as being better than his best right now.
At just 40 he has got plenty of time to learn the trade. Certainly has lots of potential and unlike some, he really looks the part. One feels he is learning somewhat from the England boss in being light but serious, inclusive but firm. Even the ‘bounce’ thing he’s been doing with the fans seems a little in homage to lovely Gareth’s conducting of the England fans. Indeed, it would not be the least expected thing to see Frank some year in the future, doing likewise as England coach.
All in all, it feels that we are seeing the early days of a long, successful managerial career of one of the most respected Englishmen in football.