Frank Lampard has had a stop-start managerial career and Everton have a stop-start managerial history. Will they benefit from this long summer?
Over the course of the second half of last season, a lot of barbs were thrown in the directions of the Everton manager Frank Lampard. This surprised nobody. The suspicion remains that he is the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the Premier League, parachuted into several prestigious positions on the basis of his name and his reputation as a player rather than anything he’d done during his brief and not especially successful managerial career.
But this overlooks a couple of key points. Firstly, it’s fair to say that Lampard’s previous appointments in England have been at clubs in unusual positions. At Derby County, he was tasked with the job of getting the club into the Premier League from a division in which it’s not difficult to smell the desperation of a club seeking to get there off the back of the reckless spending of former owner Mel Morris.
At Chelsea, the feeling that he’d been hired for the feels remained strong, but he did a decent enough job in his first season, while the club was under a transfer embargo, and considering just how trigger-happy Chelsea had been over the years of Roman Abramovich’s ownership, it might well be argued that there’s never too much embarrassment at getting sacked by this particular club.
And there were mitigating circumstances surrounding his arrival at Everton. There was little opportunity to strengthen a dysfunctional squad which had in previous years come to resemble the financial mess that was going on behind the scenes at the club. Everton’s first-team squad had become a patchwork quilt of the failed dreams of his predecessors in the position, a tribute to muddle-headedness and incoherence that so many of the club’s strategies had become under Farhad Moshiri.
And things were about to get worse for both Lampard and Everton. The role of Alisher Usmanov as a ‘sponsor’ of the club always felt shrouded in some degree of mystery on account of the close relationship between the owner of the club and the sponsor. But when Russian tanks rolled over the border into Ukraine in February, the writing was on the wall for that source of ready income. The names of Usmanov’s companies were taken down from the hoardings at Goodison Park and plans for the club’s new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock had to be re-evaluated and refinanced.
The removal of Usmanov might not have been quite as painful for Everton as Abramovich’s was from Stamford Bridge for Chelsea, but it was still almost completely unexpected at the point that Lampard took control of the team. We can only guess what promises made to the new manager had to be rolled back upon or otherwise tempered after that unexpected turn of events.
The task at hand doesn’t seem to have become much easier with the ending of last season. So far, Everton’s incoming transfer window has consisted of the arrival of James Tarkowski on a free transfer from Burnley. A solid signing, of that there can be little doubt, but hardly the sort of arrival that will set pulses racing among the supporters or completely change the face of the team ahead of the new season.
Furthermore, Everton have also lost one of their few players who did actually seem able to bend the direction of a game to their will with the sale of Richarlison to Tottenham Hotspur. The money will have been most welcome from an accounting perspective, but Richarlison has not yet been replaced and the club’s relative inertia in the transfer market has hinted that purse-strings will continue to be more closely guarded than they have been in recent years.
But how many of the woes that have befallen Everton throughout 2022 can really be laid at the feet of Frank Lampard? After all, if he had a remit for the second half of their season, it’s doubtful that it amounted to much more than, ‘PLEASE FOR THE LOVE GOD KEEP US IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE’, and if that was indeed the case, then it’s reasonable to say that he met his objective. Everton remain a Premier League club for the coming season.
In an interview with The Athletic (£), Lampard told Patrick Boyland that, “We’ve made some adjustments in the analysis, sports science and medical departments”, that “If we want to make the club better in the academy, in terms of recruitment, we’re going to need to do a lot and it can’t all be done at once”, and that his vision for what a successful Everton team looks like “starts with having a team with a great work ethic and energy”.
To a point, this all sounds a little like middle-management blandishment. No team is going to get very far without “a great work ethic and energy” while mentioning that “we’ve made some adjustments in the analysis, sports science and medical departments” may make cynics wonder how much attention was being given to them before. But at the same time, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Everton’s policy decisions in recent years – from recruitment to managerial selection and finances – have been such a disaster that Lampard’s first job this summer may well have been to rip a lot of them out and try to rebuild from the ground up.
But pre-season hasn’t exactly started encouragingly. A 2-0 loss to Arsenal in the first match of their American tour could be dismissed as a training exercise in which the result wasn’t overly important, but losing 4-0 to Minnesota United – who are currently fourth in the Western Conference of Major League Soccer – was both a result and a performance from which there were few positives to be taken. With less than two-and-a-half weeks to go before the start of the new Premier League season, this was not a sign that much has improved.
After all the hype and all the false starts, this might be considered the first time that Frank Lampard the manager has had a full and (something approaching) normal pre-season. When he was at Chelsea, the transfer embargo was all-engulfing. At Derby County, there was a form of collective madness going on within the club’s senior management that led to it ending up exactly where it is today. Neither of these jobs were particularly successful, but it can hardly be argued that they were disastrous, either. With Everton’s activity in the transfer market having been low and a whole summer to work on rebuilding the team, this is his opportunity to prove his detractors, who’ve long argued that he has only been hired on the basis of his former status as a player, wrong.
Expectations at Goodison Park will be a little higher than ‘PLEASE FOR THE LOVE GOD KEEP US IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE’ next time around – there’s only so long that a club their size can put up with judging their success by wondering whether there are three teams worse than theirs throughout a season – but they’re unlikely be exceptionally high, and the new season gives their manager a clean slate after a few months that all concerned would probably sooner forget. But if pre-season results don’t turn around soon, there may be a familiar tetchiness about the place before their first league match of the new season.
There’s still time to bring in a couple of replacements, should the finances allow, and he has an experienced coaching squad behind him. The opportunity is there for Frank Lampard, should he have the ability to grasp it. Four years into a stop-start managerial career that hasn’t really gotten going yet, this might just yet be the year in which we find out whether his acolytes or detractors are right. For now, it’s up in the air.