You know it’s a bad decision when even Roman Abramovich feels a little guilty. Since arriving at Chelsea in June 2003, the Russian billionaire has overseen 12 different managers. He had thanked none of them publicly for their services – until now.
"This was a very difficult decision for the club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him. He is a man of great integrity and has the highest of work ethics," Abramovich said about the decision to sack Frank Lampard in a club statement.
"He is an important icon of this great club and his status here remains undiminished. He will always be warmly welcomed back at Stamford Bridge."
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The question hung over Lampard from the moment he was appointed: would he get more time as a club legend? On Monday, the answer was clear. No.
Lampard arrived with the club embroiled in a court case, unable to sign new players. Here was the chance for a project, a chance for Chelsea to finally promote the youth they had spent years hoovering up for little more than profit margins.
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And Lampard did just that. In came Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori. Another youngster was showing even more promise in his carefully managed outings, Billy Gilmour.
Then the transfer ban lifted and Chelsea did what they do best: spend. But despite a £200 million summer outlay, the mood towards Chelsea had shifted. No longer a club of mercenaries, it was a team that - dare we say it - was likeable.
Those foundations will remain, but in different hands. Thomas Tuchel will arrive at Stamford Bridge, himself recently dismissed from PSG. And with Abramovich's hand finding his trusted pistol again, Tuchel will know his gig will be judged solely on results - something that rarely correlates with the unpredictable blossoming of youth.
Chelsea-Trainer Frank Lampard (rechts) mit Timo Werner
Image credit: Getty Images
If Lampard's downfall hadn't quite begun when he accepted the job, it certainly started when he overachieved in his first season. He qualified for the Champions League, reached the FA Cup final, then set about blending his youthful side with some top-tier talent. Initially, it worked. After the goalless draw with Tottenham in late November, they were being spoken about as title contenders with promising youngsters smattered around a Thiago Silva-inspired defence and Hakim Ziyech-inspired attack.
Then Ziyech got injured. Suddenly, the profligacy of Timo Werner and the AWOL displays of Kai Havertz came under scrutiny. 'Has Lampard wasted £200m?' belated his doubters. The slump began.
But that was all it ever was, a slump. Yes, Chelsea are ninth in the Premier League table, but you only need to look at Manchester United and Liverpool to see how a few games can alter perceptions in this most peculiar of seasons. In this condensed campaign, with injuries, Covid chaos, and players on the edge of endurance, snap decisions are ridiculous.
Whatever the murmurings from inside Chelsea - The Athletic's Simon Johnson reported of certain players being unhappy, that his tactical advice was often lacking - Lampard deserved more time. Unhappy players are par for the course, particularly in our increasingly entitled society. A few wins may have dissipated it all.
Tuchel may be a success at Chelsea. It's unavoidable that the Blues' biggest disappointments of the season, Werner and Havertz, are also Germans who forged their reputations in the Bundesliga. But Chelsea were starting to show they were more than just their chequebook.
Lampard returned a club legend. He leaves a club legend. But he wasn't treated as a club legend. A three-paragraph statement from Abramovich doesn't change that. In this apocalyptic world, it's easy to forget about the fans. They deserved to watch this belated project, not have it trampled on before their return. And had they been huddled into Stamford Bridge for the FA Cup win over Luton, they would have made their feelings clear. Lampard deserved more time.
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