In the end, the decision was taken out of Chelsea’s hands. Maurizio Sarri’s future looked uncertain throughout the second half of last season, but a third-place finish in the Premier League and a Europa League triumph made it difficult for the club’s hierarchy to fire the Italian – even if they were still unsure whether he was the right man to lead them into the 2019/20 campaign.
However, Juventus’ hunt for a successor to Max Allegri meant the Blues did not have to act. The Serie A champions paid a £5m compensation fee to appoint the ex-Napoli head coach at the start of this week, leaving Chelsea looking for another boss in a summer in which, as things stand, they will be unable to sign any new players.
That two-window transfer ban, which could yet be delayed or overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, complicates Chelsea’s search. Allegri, for instance, would in many ways be an ideal candidate, but the job currently on offer at Stamford Bridge is not as appealing as it would have been in the past. The upcoming campaign would have been a tough one even if Eden Hazard had remained for the final year of his contract; instead, the Belgium international’s move to Real Madrid leaves Chelsea severely short of proven world-class talent.
Watford’s Javi Gracia and Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo have both been mentioned with regards to the vacancy, but the overwhelming favourite to be the next Chelsea manager is Frank Lampard. The club’s record goalscorer is also arguably the best player in its history, and while Sarri was largely unpopular with the Stamford Bridge faithful, the ex-England international has had his name sung at games even after he departed for Manchester City in 2014.
In that light, it is easy to see why Lampard is under consideration. Part of the success of Pep Guardiola and, in particular, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp is their ability to unite their clubs as one and pull everyone in the same direction. Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool supporters would not swap their team’s current bosses for anyone, and that is testament not just to their coaching expertise, but also their willingness and ability to create a bond between the pitch and the terraces.
All three men, however, had significant experience elsewhere before joining City, Spurs and Liverpool. Guardiola had won league titles at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and Klopp had done the same during a seven-year spell at the helm of Borussia Dortmund. Pochettino is yet to win a senior trophy in his managerial career, but he had managed Southampton and Espanyol prior to moving to White Hart Lane in 2014.
Lampard has significantly less experience to draw on, having completed just a single season as a head coach. The former midfielder did a fine job in guiding Derby County to within 90 minutes of the Premier League, even if questions were rightly asked of some of his decisions in last month’s Championship play-off against Aston Villa. There is also an argument that the Rams overachieved last term, with Expected Goals suggesting that their results exceeded their performance levels.
Yet while it would be churlish to deny that Lampard did well in 2018/19, it is another matter entirely as to whether he is ready to take charge of Chelsea. Some observers have suggested that he should reject Chelsea’s overtures and continue learning his trade at Derby, but Lampard would be foolish to turn down the opportunity to lead the club dearest to his heart. There is no guarantee that the job would come up again, particularly if Derby suffered a slump in his second season at Pride Park.
Yet from the club’s perspective, appointing Lampard would be a major risk. After the honeymoon period wore off, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggled hugely at Manchester United – and he actually had more managerial experience than Lampard before moving to Old Trafford, albeit in a less competitive environment in the Norwegian top flight. Appointing a club legend would certainly bring Chelsea closer together, but whether it will be enough for them to secure a top-four finish in 2019/20 is doubtful.
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