Frank Lampard’s ears prick up when he is told about Jamie Carragher’s column in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph. “Frank Lampard is the right man in the right place at Chelsea,” Carragher wrote. “The immediate challenge he faces is proving it is the right time.”
The Chelsea head coach would have read the article anyway even if it had not been pointed out to him. He is, and it is something that far pre-dates his recent job as television pundit, a voracious consumer of the media and always has been even as a teenager. Lampard admits he has used it as a “motivation” throughout his career.
As he says that, the mind goes back to his withering reaction to Joey Barton’s strong views on England’s failure at the 2006 World Cup when he criticised players, Lampard included, for bringing out autobiographies after the tournament. “I’ll say one thing,” Lampard said at the time. “I read that Joey said he was in Dubai running at six in the morning and that he was wondering if me and Stevie G (Gerrard) were doing the same. When I read that, I was thinking, ‘I was doing that when I was 11 years old’.”
Of course Carragher’s comments are far different, far more constructive and reasoned than Barton sounding off, and Lampard knows that. For a start, Carragher, Lampard’s room-mate with England Under-21s, talks glowingly about the admirable qualities that Lampard has to be a successful manager – he is simply questioning whether he will be given the time to do his “dream job” given Chelsea’s previous approach and the circumstances and demands of suffering a year-long Fifa transfer ban.
“I understand the thinking,” Lampard says, with just a season as a manager with Championship club Derby County to count upon as his experience before Sunday’s Premier League kick-off away to Manchester United. “I understand Jamie Carragher. Anyone can analyse a job like this – a year in management. Anyone can analyse it and say, ‘There’s a ban, it’s going to be difficult’. Anyone can throw those sides of the argument. I respect that.
“The other side is I am confident in myself, I’m confident I can do that job. I see opportunities in this job where the ban is what it is and we have some really good young players and a really good squad with a mixed bag of experience and players in the primes of their career. So I want to prove I can do this job as well as possible. Simple as that.
“If you try and find different angles on the job I’ve been given, you can. I accept that. Some of those are facts. Some are people’s opinions. It’s up to me to put them to the side. Of course you respect people like Jamie Carragher, but just focus on the job and try to do the best I can.”
Carragher’s is not the only opinion Lampard has considered. He has, he readily admits, read all the predictions, the analysis and listened to the airwaves as Chelsea’s prospects this season have been discussed. The 41 year-old knows no-one is tipping them to win the league or even go close. Many believe that after finishing third and winning the Europa League under Maurizio Sarri, they may slip out of the Champions League places and cling to a top-six spot.
“I don’t think you can walk around with your eyes closed,” Lampard says. “You should be aware of these things. They don’t affect my thinking day to day. They make me determined to the job as well as I can. And I don’t mind it.
“When I look back on my career, the early days, the West Ham days, when I came to Chelsea, and some of my England career, it was difficult at times. That’s not just me. I think that’s part of a career in football. At the top where you want to be it is tough and you have to prove people wrong. Even more in the modern day, with social media where everyone has a comment and everyone has really strong opinions. I think it’s normal you will have to break down barriers.
“The only way I ever knew was to get my head down and work… I’m happy with the career I had – 21 years playing – because I felt I gave everything. I could not have done more. I’ll try and do the same as a manager.”
It followed on from Lampard earlier laying out the tenets which underpin his approach to management and, unsurprisingly, the first he mentioned was fitness, “to train as we play”, energy, possession of the ball and being aggressive when his team do not have it.
To do that Lampard needs youth and togetherness – not something Chelsea have readily been associated with in recent years – but, with the ban, the opportune moment has arrived for the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Christian Pulisic, who may have cost £58 million but is still just 20. Frustratingly, James, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, will miss the start of the campaign through injury sustained at the end of last season.
Lampard gave youth a chance at Derby – not least with the on-loan Mount and Tomori – but his most encouraging example was the bold use of a raw talent such as full-back Jayden Bogle.
Quickly moving out David Luiz last week meant Chelsea lost another experienced player, after the sale of Eden Hazard, and another leader in the dressing room, but it was a show of strength by Lampard who is not afraid to be tough even if his natural style is to put his arm around the shoulder of the players he coaches.
“I love them as lads,” he says of the young players. “But I’m expecting them to deliver.”
It is something the youngest manager in the Premier League can relate to more than any other, especially as he is using doubts over whether he will be given the chance to succeed as a motivation. Yet again.
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