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Frank Lampard: The world will be watching as Chelsea look to banish the Blues

Frank Lampard: The world will be watching as Chelsea look to banish the Blues

Chelsea's transfer ban could be a blessing in disguise as the Blues look to their youth.

WHAT a strange position Chelsea find themselves in. On the one hand, there is an extremely strong possibility that they will finish lower in the Premier League table than they did last season. There is likely to be a dogfight even to retain their place in the Champions League. Their best player has left and a transfer ban means they can’t even spend the money generated by his sale. And yet there is a sense of optimism about Stamford Bridge, the sense that the transfer ban might actually, in the medium-long term, turn out to have been for the good of the club.

Eden Hazard, of course, will be missed. Chelsea are fortunate they’d already completed the signing of Cristian Pulisic to replace him before the transfer ban came into effect but it would be unfair to expect too much too soon from a 20-year-old moving to a new country who started only nine league games last season.

But with Hazard goes a measure of expectation. How can Chelsea be expected to compete without their obvious star and with no means of replacing him? Add in Frank Lampard’s return to the club and it’s far from clear what would constitute a good season. Certainly finishing in the top four would be regarded as at the very least a qualified success and it’s entirely possible that falling out of the Champions League but with indications of progress.

Lampard defies convention. Chelsea have often in the past spoken of how this time it will be different, how this time they’ll show patience and give a manager a chance to develop his ideas at the club. But however well-intentioned they – both directors and fans – maybe, it doesn’t take much for dissatisfaction to set in. Maurizio Sarri’s reign ended with a sense of weary relief on both sides after just a year – despite him taking Chelsea to third and to two cup finals, one of them won. But with Lampard, there surely will be a greater sense of indulgence. It’s not just that he is a young coach with just a year of management behind him it’s that he, as much as anybody, embodies the success of the Roman Abramovich era.

The most persistent criticism of Sarri was that his football was dull, that the insistence on possession led to often to a sense of stagnation. Allied to that was a classic Italian conservatism when it came to giving young players their chance. The evidence of pre-season is that Lampard’s football will be free-flowing and that they may place strain on the defence. He will also surely have more faith in Chelsea’s crop of gifted young players. Mason Mount thrived under him for Derby, Callum Hudson-Odoi had – finally – signed his new contract and Andreas Christensen, who at 23 just about still counts as young, can expect more pitch-time.

For years Chelsea have invested in their academy and done little with the results than stock the ranks of various clubs in the Championship and the Netherlands. Managers under persistent threat of the sack have not dared to take a risk on young players. But now Lampard has the perfect conditions to develop for the future. He will be forced at times to rely on youth and he will be doing so in an environment perhaps less pressured than any since Abramovich arrived at the club in 2003.

How Lampard will fare as a manager is another issue. He is eloquent in interviews, which may not mean anything in terms of on-field performance but suggests that the media, like the board and the fans, are likely to be gentler than they were with the perpetual crotchetiness of Sarri. That said, there have been signs of a thin-skinniness that might be a concern should he at any point find himself being criticism or wound up by an opposing coach. His year there was broadly speaking positive, without being spectacularly successful. Certainly, there’s not enough on his CV to have got him the Chelsea job were he not Frank Lampard – but he is, with all that entails, and that is probably his greatest advantage.

He also comes into the job with the great good future that both Manchester United and Arsenal have issues of their own. Even an essentially average season may be enough to take fourth. And that, in this weird new world, would be worse than last season but might somehow feel better.





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Jonathan Wilson
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