Ken Early: Why is there so little criticism out there for Frank Lampard?

Chelsea boss doesn’t seem to like it when the odd pundit questions his coaching credentials

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard with his players after their FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester City. Photo: Tim Keeton/Pool via Getty Images

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard with his players after their FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester City. Photo: Tim Keeton/Pool via Getty Images

 

Chelsea’s 1-0 FA Cup win at Leicester was, by common consensus, one of those games decided by a managerial masterstroke.

Frank Lampard’s triple half-time substitution jolted his team out of their first half stupor, and two of the subs he brought on – Cesar Azpilicueta and Ross Barkley – combined in the move that brought the winning goal.

Indeed, you wonder if that mass substitution could prove to be an important moment in the story of Chelsea under Frank Lampard, and not just because it helped to put the young manager within striking distance of his first trophy as a coach.

This was the move: Mason Mount (21), Reece James (20) and Billy Gilmour (19), with 53 Premier League appearances between them, made way for Azpilicueta (30), Barkley (26) and Mateo Kovacic (also 26), who have played a combined 819 top-division matches in England, Spain, Italy and France.

“You have to give credit to Frank Lampard for making a big, bold decision,” suggested BT Sport’s Jake Humphrey, a sentiment which met with enthusiastic agreement from the pundit, Lampard’s former West Ham, Chelsea and England teammate Joe Cole.

But how big and bold a decision can it ever be to haul off your three most junior players and replace them with seasoned internationals? The actually-bold decision would have been to stick with the young players despite their weak first-half performance. The decision Lampard made was about as conservative as it gets. This is a glimpse of the world inhabited by Frank Lampard. Such is his glittering reputation in the game that he has to work twice as hard to get criticised as some other managers do.

Not good enough

Ross Barkley revealed after the game that Lampard had told the players the first half was “not good enough for the Chelsea badge”. Certainly Billy Gilmour, for example, fell well short of the kind of form he displayed in the previous FA Cup round against Liverpool – although it should perhaps be mentioned that while Gilmour excelled in his preferred deep-lying midfield role against Liverpool, he was playing further forward against Leicester, to make room for N’Golo Kante in the holding role.

In some circumstances, the combination of those tactics, that harsh half-time message and that triple substitution might get the pundits wondering if the manager had been entirely fair with those young players. Nothing to worry about in this case, according to Lampard’s old West Ham and England team-mate, Rio Ferdinand. “He’s setting a standard – there’s a level here that you’ve got to hit, week in week out,” said Ferdinand, explaining that Lampard’s message was “I love my kids, I love bringing in the young players – but anyone can be absolutely punished and dragged off for the good of this team.”

So: even if Lampard were to punish and drag off his young players this would only reaffirm the depth of his love and respect for them. No, it’s not easy to get criticised when you are Frank Lampard, which is just as well, because on the occasions when it has happened he’s seemed to find it rather irritating.

In January Roy Keane mentioned Lampard in a live Sky Sports argument about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s performance at Manchester United. “Frank Lampard has lost eight games yet for some reason he’s doing all right… Maybe it’s because he’s English, I don’t know. Frank’s track record, his CV, he was at Derby and didn’t get promoted, but Frank has got all the answers for Chelsea.”

“I don’t think being English gives you any sort of a bye from criticism, in fact I’ve heard quite a lot when I first got this job of writing me off because I’m young and English and only had a year at Derby,” Lampard retorted later that week.

Then, earlier this month, Lampard’s ears were again pricking up when somebody dropped his name in a much-watched TV discussion. In Raheem Sterling’s recent interview on Newsnight, he talked about a group of four former England players: Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole: “They’ve all respectfully done their coaching badges to coach at the highest level and the two that haven’t been given the right opportunities are the two black former players.”

“I think in the actual case of managers, I think he got it, from my point of view, slightly wrong, because it felt like a very casual comparison,” Lampard responded last week. “Those opportunities have to be equal for everybody, I think we all agree on that. But within that then there are the details of how hard you worked. I certainly worked from the start of my career to try to get this opportunity, and there’s a million things along the way that knock you, set you back, that you fight against.”

Nobody doubts that Lampard has worked hard throughout his long career as a player and his brief one as a coach. At West Ham, he had to work hard to overcome initial suspicions that he owed his breakthrough to favouritism, what with his uncle Harry Redknapp being the manager and his father Frank Sr the assistant manager. He kept working hard at Chelsea, where he became the record scorer, and where his legendary physical resilience saw him set a then-Premier League record of 164 consecutive appearances. Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich became fond enough of Lampard to let him holiday on his yacht in 2005.

But Lampard surely cannot believe that “hard work” explains why 87 out of 92 managers at professional clubs in England are white.

Oligarch-backed clubs

Meanwhile, there was positive administrative news for Lampard to go with the positive results of the last few days, as Uefa announced a temporary Covid-related relaxation of the Financial Fair Play regulations which have acted as a brake on the buying power of oligarch-backed clubs. It may not be a coincidence that Chelsea are the club who are acting with most confidence amid the pandemic uncertainty, spending €92 million on Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner while other clubs seem reluctant to close major deals.

The signing of an expensive central striker in Werner suggests that Lampard is no longer prioritising the development of Tammy Abraham, though you can imagine some pundits saying that this is just Lampard’s way of nurturing Abraham, of showing him the level he must reach.

The Chelsea coach might find it annoying that people lately seem to mention him whenever there is a TV debate that veers onto questions of privilege. But maybe there’s a reason why his name keeps popping into their heads.

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