Even the biggest Frank Lampard apologists cannot clothe Chelsea’s naked emperor

Ian King

The justifications for hiring Frank Lampard as a manager for any reason other than his reputation as a player at any club are diminishing by the day.


As the Chelsea players trudged from the Stamford Bridge turf at the end of another chastening home defeat against a team that the last two decades has taught the club’s fans to expect to beat, you could only wonder what might have been passing through the mind of now-definitely caretaker-manager Frank Lampard. These boos were not part of the plan. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It’s not difficult to imagine how this surprise return to the club played out in his head when it was offered. Walk through the door, sprinkle some of that club DNA all over the dressing room, and pick a team that would listen to him more than they did to that nerd Graham/Harry Potter. Emboldened by his aura, Chelsea go on to win all their remaining games and Lampard is chaired from the Atatürk Olympic Stadium pitch as Chelsea shock football after winning the Champions League. It’s the greatest comeback since Lazarus, and he’s offered the job on a full-time basis.

Except, of course, things haven’t quite worked out that way. Frank Lampard has now managed Chelsea through five games and has lost every single one of them. Elimination from the Champions League against Real Madrid was probably to be expected, but his team failed to score over 180 minutes of football and there were few points over the two legs at which it felt like a genuinely competitive cup tie. Meanwhile in the league, the run that did for Graham Potter has if anything only accelerated towards some sort of abyss.

Chelsea have taken two points from their last six games and have lost all three under their returning Club Legend. It’s not working and everybody knows it. At this stage, the question is whether he’ll even be able to struggle through to the end of this season rather than whether he’ll get the job on a permanent basis. After all, Chelsea supporters watching their team flatline yet again may well have found themselves checking the Premier League table to confirm that they can’t still get relegated.

The answer to this is that it is definitely still technically possible but remains unlikely (for now). Crystal Palace and Wolves are now both within two points of them, and they’ve each won three of their last five games. West Ham and Bournemouth are five and six points below them respectively. It’s certainly not inconceivable that either or both of them also overhaul them over these last five or six matches, especially considering that Chelsea’s last six matches include Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle.

Finishing much lower is getting close to the territory of fantasy, but they could yet end this season as low as 15th in the Premier League, and it would be pretty difficult to argue that their performances over the entire course of the season haven’t merited it.

Of course, what happened at Stamford Bridge this season prior to Lampard’s return can’t be pinned on him. This club has been so badly managed this season that one could be tempted to wonder whether Todd Boehly was sent to Chelsea as a UEFA plant to demonstrate the folly of treating FFP like something that only the little people should concern themselves with.

Lampard arrived to a squad that is hopelessly unbalanced, looks completely demotivated and is almost pathologically unable to put the damn ball in the net. It’s important to bear in mind that more change has been pushed upon this club over the last 14 months or so than any other Premier League has ever had to go through. Other than the fixtures, fittings and fans, this isn’t even really the club that he left at the start of 2021.

But he accepted the position and the buck always stops with the manager, so here we all are. And Lampard hardly helped his own case against Brentford with the team he selected to play, which featured no strikers and, for reasons best known to only the manager himself, Conor Gallagher up front. Yes, that Conor Gallagher. The midfielder.

Gallagher was hoiked off at half-time and replaced by Mykhailo Mudryk, but by this time Chelsea were already a goal down and playing as though they’d been drugged before kick-off. Rob Holding has scored as many goals as Chelsea in April 2023. What on earth did Lampard think he was doing, picking a starting XI without a recognised striker when his team has only scored 30 league goals all season? Did he not think that the 40,000-odd people present might, well, notice this? Truly, the mind boggles.

Are scales finally starting to fall from people’s eyes about Frank Lampard as a manager? Until the start of this season, Lampard’s managerial career had been pretty much defined by getting somewhere close to the minimum acceptable baseline but no further. He got Derby County into a play-off final. He got Chelsea to fourth place in the Premier League. He got Everton clear of relegation with a game to spare. But this season, the wheels have come off. The mask has slipped. The emperor stands before the Premier League denuded and looking baffled at how it came to all this.

Chelsea will get the summer to rebuild. Frank Lampard may get considerably longer. Because this season has been pretty much an unmitigated disaster for him, a true annus horribilis. Over his time this season at Everton and Chelsea he’s been in charge for 29 games in all competitions and has won precisely four, of which one was against Fleetwood Town in the EFL Cup, with none having come in the last six months.

As things stand, the justifications for hiring him as a manager for any reason other than his reputation as a player at any club are diminishing by the day.

It’s reasonable to say that the decision to bring him back isn’t working out, and while the decision to ask him in the first place in itself felt like yet another sign of Chelsea’s ongoing dysfunction, Frank Lampard cannot swerve the fact that the five teams that he’s put out since arriving have been so poorly judged. At this rate, he’ll be doing well just to get through their last six games of the season without the axe falling yet again.

Where he could reasonably go next is just about anybody’s guess. Right now he’s in the running to become the next Steve Bruce, if he isn’t already.