Frank Lampard does not need a history lesson to remind him of the pressures that come with playing for, and managing, Chelsea. Thirteen years as a player at Stamford Bridge and one season in the manager’s dugout make him well qualified to understand the demands that are associated with the club, so he knows that the heat is on this season before a ball has even been kicked.
But for those who don’t know, this is what Lampard knows: No Chelsea manager hired by owner Roman Abramovich has survived more than two seasons in charge without winning a trophy. Equally, missing out on Champions League qualification has proved to be the end of the road for each manager who has failed to deliver that basic requirement.
Jose Mourinho (twice), Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte all discovered that success at Stamford Bridge does not guarantee survival as manager, with all three sacked within a year of winning the Premier League, while Roberto di Matteo was dismissed just six months after guiding Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2012.
So despite his legendary status as a player at Stamford Bridge — 648 appearances, 211 goals (a club record) and 13 trophies — Lampard knows his past will count for nothing if Chelsea fail to meet Abramovich’s expectations this season. And having spent in excess of £220 million on new signings so far this summer — including Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and free-transfer arrival Thiago Silva — Lampard really does have no margin for error.
In many ways, he had a free pass last season after taking charge with the club under a transfer embargo and unable to replace Eden Hazard following his £100m move to Real Madrid. By guiding Chelsea to a top-four finish and runners-up spot in the FA Cup, while promoting the club’s promising youngsters at the same time, Lampard arguably overachieved. But all that will count for nothing this term. Having invested so much money in new signings, Abramovich will want a significant return, and Lampard knows there will be no hiding place if things don’t meet the Russian’s expectations.
“I’m very aware that a club like Chelsea, even though we had a transfer ban, even though the year was difficult, expectations are going to go up hugely,” Lampard told The High Performance Podcast. “And I just have to accept that as part of the job, and try and go about my job as well as I can. And then if I am having relationships, between managing up [to the board] or managing around me, I have to be as good as I can with those, because they’re really important.”
Managing up is one of the biggest challenges at Chelsea. Marina Granovskaia, the Russian-Canadian director, runs the club for Abramovich on a day-to-day basis, but there is only one boss at Stamford Bridge and he can be incredibly demanding.
In his book “Quiet Leadership,” Ancelotti recalls the moments he described as “red flags,” when Abramovich would react furiously to defeats and sometimes even victories. The morning after a Champions League defeat against Mourinho’s Internazionale, Abramovich turned up at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground to address Ancelotti and his players “demanding answers.” There was a positive response, with Ancelotti’s team going on to win the Premier League and FA Cup double that season.
But after opening the following season with a 6-0 home win against West Bromwich Albion, Ancelotti said, “I was still summoned to Abramovich’s house that night to receive a ‘dressing down,’ as they say in England, for the performance. Another red flag — and only one game into the season.” Ancelotti was sacked at the end of that season, despite securing a runners-up spot in the Premier League behind champions Manchester United.
Lampard knows all of this, having been a key figure in the Chelsea team at the time, so he will be under no illusions as to what lies ahead.
“I’ve seen how the dominoes can fall very quickly,” he said on the podcast. “And I think if you isolate yourself as a manager, I think they fall much quicker.”
Chelsea will not be favourites to win the title when they start their season away to Brighton on Monday, but they will certainly be strong contenders. They have been far busier than their rivals in the transfer market this summer, and their additions have addressed issues in key areas.
Chilwell and Thiago Silva will strengthen the defence, while Havertz, Werner and Ziyech will make Chelsea a formidable attacking unit, alongside the talent they already have in Christian Pulisic, Olivier Giroud, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham. An £18m move for Stade Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy will ensure competition for Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has yet to convince Lampard that he is good enough for a club of Chelsea’s stature.
But even if Arrizabalaga continues to prove an area of concern for Lampard, the Chelsea manager cannot complain about that investment made in his squad this summer. Abramovich has turned back the clock to the days when he would outspend all of Chelsea’s rivals, but that backing comes with a price, and Lampard will have to deliver to ensure he does not suffer the same fate as his illustrious predecessors.