Frank Lampard returns to Chelsea in charge of Everton with no clear way forward for his career.
A couple of years ago, it looked as if Lampard had pulled off an improbable success and would go on to prove himself. He had negotiated a season hit by a transfer embargo at Chelsea and managed to secure Champions League football.
In a season when it was supposed he would look to bring through youngsters and lay the foundations for a rebuild, he launched the careers of several at Stamford Bridge and also earned the chance to invest heavily once their recruitment ban was lifted.
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Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Andreas Christensen were given the chance to show their worth in Lampard’s first season. While only Mount appears to have a long-term future with the club, they have all improved at a fair clip and will be performers in Europe’s top clubs for the foreseeable future.
Christian Pulisic arrived and settled in well, and there were more than enough reasons for optimism.
Owner Roman Abramovich must have felt similarly, because he then delivered Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Malang Sarr in a transfer window that would ultimately prove a wise one.
Under Thomas Tuchel, all but Sarr have been worthy of a first team place.
The comparison with Tuchel’s fortunes are instructive. Lampard failed to build a cohesive team with his superstars, whereas the German was able to win the Champions League. He suffered the usual Chelsea wobble the following season when - as is tradition - the players appear to um-and-ah about whether they really fancy this whole football lark. But despite any misgivings, Tuchel has kept his side roughly where they deserve to be, trailing arguably the two best, and certainly two of the three best, sides in Europe. Despite the lack of certainty present at Stamford Bridge as Abramovich’s unworkable ownership situation is resolved, the club are in third place and something disastrous would have to occur for them to lose that spot.
Lampard took over Everton when they were also in trouble, following the dismissal of Rafael Benitez at the end of January this year. Taking over from Benitez is usually something of a hospital pass, given his appetite for workmanlike, unimaginative players, and the crushing effect he tends to have on squad morale. But Lampard has shown he can reinvigorate players when needed, and did so both at Derby County and then his former side Chelsea. That gift appears to have left him now.
This failure poses a problem for the ex-City midfielder. At Derby he was not required to show any sophisticated tactics - the Championship is no longer a cloggers’ league but it is not top-flight football. At Chelsea when he was given the chance to compete with the best he could not. And now when he had to firefight against a potential relegation battle, he has only served to draw them further down the league. It was hardly an enviable task, but some managers don’t come back from one disappointing end to a managerial tenure. Lampard almost certainly has to contend with two.

Derby County manager Wayne Rooney

Image credit: Getty Images

Reports have suggested that Wayne Rooney will take over this summer if Lampard is to be replaced. Rooney’s determination and dignity in dealing with the collapse of Derby County has managed that of Lampard, who also struggled with the financial shortcomings of the club. He, like Lampard, boasts international experience, has won the Champions League and Premier League, and plenty of England caps. His name carries more into management because of his playing days, but we are yet to see how much that can do when it comes to the very best, or the most demanding jobs in football.
If Everton are relegated and another former Derby man takes over to rebuild, then in some small way football has come full circle. Lampard will face a difficult task to break out in a new direction to reconfigure his own future.
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