Derby County are braced for a formal approach from Chelsea to speak with Frank Lampard following Maurizio Sarri's departure for Juventus.
The Italian’s exit after a season as head coach should be confirmed in the next 24 hours after agreement was finally reached over compensation to buy out the remaining 12 months on his £5 million-a-year contract. Chelsea had resisted Juve’s attempts to secure the 60-year-old for nothing and could end up raising in excess of that amount, depending on what Sarri achieves with the Serie A champions.
Chelsea will be keen to secure a replacement well before the first senior players return for pre-season training in the first week of July, with Lampard high on their list of candidates.
Although there are understandable reservations over their record goalscorer’s relative lack of managerial experience – he guided Derby to the Championship playoffs in his first year in the job – there is support within the hierarchy to restore him to a club who, as they operate under a Fifa-imposed transfer ban, could be more reliant upon younger personnel for the foreseeable future.
Players such as Tammy Abraham, Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Callum Hudson-Odoi are expected to play a significant role in the senior set-up next season, when the team will return to the Champions League after a year's absence.
Lampard, who has been assisted by Chelsea's former midfielder and Under-18s coach Jody Morris, is seen as a figure who could coax the best from the academy graduates and returning loanees, of whom two, Mount and Tomori, excelled under his management with Derby.
The former England midfielder – who won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, a Champions League and Europa League over a 13-year career at Chelsea – is 12 months into a three-season contract and could be prised away for around £4 million. Chelsea enjoy a fine relationship with Derby, whose chief executive Stephen Pearce left his role as finance director at Stamford Bridge in 2013.
It remains to be seen how Lampard will react to Chelsea’s approach given he will be wary of the relative restrictions under which he would have to work given the transfer ban. Chelsea’s basic requirement of all their head coaches – to qualify for the Champions League – is unlikely to be tempered. Yet the opportunity to take the reins at the club he joined for £11 million from West Ham 18 years ago on Friday would surely still be hard to resist.
Chelsea's options for the role appear to be dwindling. Massimiliano Allegri, whom Sarri is to replace at Juve, has indicated he will take a sabbatical "to recharge the batteries and take my personal life back in hand". Erik ten Hag is apparently committed to Ajax, and Nuno Espirito Santo and Javi Gracia, who have been mentioned in dispatches, would cost considerably more in compensation to extract from Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford respectively.
Laurent Blanc is available but might be considered an uninspiring choice, not least by a supporter-base which, at times, made its frustration at life under Sarri all too obvious. The Italian, who was secured from Napoli, was close to being sacked this year after results deteriorated dramatically following a promising start. Chelsea were surprised and dismayed at the breakdown in the relationship with a vocal section of the club's support who were frustrated at the lack of drive and urgency in much of the football.
An upturn in results – which culminated in a third-place finish and success in the Europa League – left Chelsea reluctant to dismiss their head coach, only for Sarri to make clear his desire to return to Italy, citing family reasons. Juve are expected to confirm his arrival on a three-year deal. – Guardian