rowing up Frank Lampard got used to being called ‘Junior.’ The challenge to emerge from his famous father’s shadow was one of the driving forces in his career.
Now the Chelsea manager finds himself in the role of junior again – albeit in a different context.
In only his third full season in the dugout, he is fast emerging as the greatest threat to managerial heavyweights Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. Throw in Carlo Ancelotti and the apprentice is pitting his wits against four of football’s ultimate masters.
But with respect to Everton, it is Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham who are more clear and present dangers to Lampard’s ambitions, with three managers who have won it all, compared to one who admits he is still learning on the job.
Yet by any measure, he is proving a fast learner.
As a pupil, privately educated at Brentwood School, he says he wanted to please his teachers – and that work ethic and desire to learn stuck with him throughout his career.
While he openly accepts his achievements as a player for Chelsea secured him one of the biggest jobs in world football after just a year in management, he has hardly looked like an imposter in the role.
True he inherited a squad rich in quality last season – even after the departure of his best player in Eden Hazard – but being forced to operate under a transfer ban was a pressure many of his predecessors would have railed against.
As such a fourth-placed finish and FA Cup final was a commendable return – even if similar campaigns would have seen Roman Abramovich show the door to the majority of the managers who have worked under him.
Now, after spending more than £200million on world-class additions, the pressure is truly on and he will be judged on his ability to genuinely mix it with the very best.
“Not many people get a job at Chelsea after one year at Derby,” he said in an honest interview with Eddie Hearn on ‘No Passion, No Point’ this week. “It’s clear playing 13 years at the club helped me get the job, but also, in my own way, I think I deserve it for the years I put in as a player and I’ve taken things on board and I know the club and I’m going to absolutely do my best to do well so I think in that situation I understand the pitfalls.
“I had to put my ego at the door a bit and say I might ruin what might have been achieved in 13 years to a degree because if it doesn’t go well I will be judged harshly and very quickly.”
Eight Premier League games into the season and the signs are encouraging for Chelsea. They sit three points adrift of early leaders Leicester and are 11 games unbeaten in all competitions.
Six new additions have settled in quickly and Lampard has shown himself to be adaptable in tweaking his system without major dips in performance.
He has been adept in identifying weaknesses in his side. The defensive lapses that nearly cost Chelsea Champions League qualification last season look to have been resolved by the astute signings of free agent Thiago Silva and £22million Edouard Mendy, along with Ben Chilwell at £50million.
Hakim Ziyech looks a steal at £33.3million – and has added the game-changing qualities that have been lost since Hazard’s exit.
While Kai Havertz has taken the longest of the new recruits to settle, Lampard’s decision to switch him from No10 to a No8 appeared to be having results until the German tested positive for Covid-19 before this international break.
It is an encouraging sign of Lampard’s ability to solve problems within his team, but also understand the type of player who thrives at Stamford Bridge.
Timo Werner has given Chelsea a cutting edge that was missing in the second half of last season.
On paper there would appear to be fewer and fewer questions over the quality of Chelsea’s squad and whether there is enough depth to mount a title challenge. The greater questions hang over a manager who is yet to prove himself on any stage, let alone the biggest.
He is an emotionally intelligent manager, who has the ability to empathise with young men. He is trying to instil the idea of personal responsibility into players and drive out the blame culture.
There is no desire to be the best player in training, as can be the case with managers who have recently hung up the boots. He is also well aware of the selfishness of a player’s mind, as well as the pitfalls that come with the trappings of success.
He added: “I had a bit of a moment when I realised taking liberties is not going to get me where I want in football and actually it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to have headlines and bad things (written) about you.
“We were fortunate we didn’t have social media, but we were the front page of the News of the World age and that happened and you learned your lesson.”
Lampard certainly did learn, as a record as one of the most decorated players of all time would attest.
Now he is on another learning curve – perhaps the steepest he has had to encounter.
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League.
Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.