Frank Lampard’s Chelsea FC Return Shows How The Premier League Is No Meritocracy

When Chelsea FC decided it needed to change manager the names linked with the club ranged from former Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino to Real Madrid icon Zinedine Zidane.

Given the outgoing boss Graham Potter’s perceived weakness was his lack of top-level success, it seemed logical whoever was installed in the dugout, even temporarily, would be a known winner or at least an experienced pair of hands.

Few people were expecting the man who was fired by Everton with the club languishing in the relegation places earlier this season, having been fired by Chelsea itself for failing to perform as expected two years before.

But, then again, for Frank Lampard, this has been the way things have tended to go.

The former Chelsea record goalscorer taking his place as the interim boss at Stamford Bridge is just the latest of the many golden opportunities he’s been handed.

The team’s statement announcing the decision inadvertently acknowledged his lack of managerial pedigree and contained no reference to Lampard’s coaching CV.

Its focus, as has been the case for much of his time as a manager, was on his playing days.

‘We are delighted to welcome Frank back to Stamford Bridge. Frank is a Premier League Hall of Famer and a legend at this club,” explained co-controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali in the release.

“As we continue our thorough and exhaustive process for a permanent head coach, we want to provide the club and our fans with a clear and stable plan for the remainder of the season.

“We want to give ourselves every chance of success and Frank has all of the characteristics and qualities we need to drive us to the finish line,” they added.

It’s quite incredible that as he takes control at Stamford Bridge, albeit temporarily, his career as a player still holds such value.

In his first job announcement, as Derby County coach in 2018, his 20-year playing career was cited as Lampard’s main attribute. The Rams boasted how he’d “emerged as one of the greatest and most successful players of his generation” and was a “three-time Chelsea player of the year.”

Three positions later it shouldn’t be his status as a legendary on-field talent doing the heavy lifting in the appointment announcement. The face the following five years have added nothing of note is embarrassing.

It also begs the question; why on earth is he being handed these opportunities?

Residual Legend Status

A major reason why Lampard is being given the reigns at Stamford e is that, as Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer, he holds a great deal of residual goodwill amongst the fanbase.

He might have an underwhelming season and a half as their manager, but according to fan podcaster, Ross Mooring, he already has more support than his predecessor Potter.

“One can argue Lampard’s is a crowd-pleaser of an appointment, but in this case he really does ‘know the club’ and the ins and outs of coaching at Cobham,” Mooring told the BBC.

“He will also walk in the door with more support from the players – new and old – than Graham Potter ever had, even if that reflects badly on some given the mocking leaks after Potter’s sacking.

“From Lampard’s perspective, he is in a win-win situation – if results don’t improve, it was because of the mess he inherited, and if they do it will highlight his strengths as a coach again.

“For everyone else at the club and supporters too, at least we can move on from this episode and concentrate on trying to bring some smiles back to the Bridge this year,” he added.

Everton supporters might challenge Mooring to watch a few of their games from earlier this season to see if he really is the man to bring joy, but it’s hard to blame a fan for failing to look past an ex-players legendary status.

After all, many at Manchester United persisted for years with the view that Ole Gunnar Solkesjaer was somehow the man to lead the Manchester United dressing room. This was despite a poor track record and his only previous experience in English soccer management being at Cardiff City, who he helped get relegated.

But the consistent opportunities handed to Lampard raise other questions about the underlying biases which exist within the game.

When Raheem Called Out Frank

One of the more awkward conversations you can imagine taking place in the Chelsea dressing room will be between Frank Lampard and one of the few people to call really out the easier route to the top he’s been handed; Raheem Sterling.

Back in 2020, when Lampard was in his first spell as Chelsea manager and Sterling was still at Manchester City, the forward appeared on the British current affairs program Newsnight to discuss the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on soccer.

Players at that time were taking a knee before games as an act of solidarity with the protests in the US following the death of George Floyd.

Sterling pointed out that real, consequential change would be for there to be Black people as represented in the managerial positions as they were on the pitch.

“There’s something like 500 players in the Premier League and a third of them are black and we have no representation of us in the hierarchy, no representation of us in the coaching staffs. There’s not a lot of faces that we can relate to and have conversations with,” he pointed out.

To give an example of how some legendary players were given opportunities others weren’t he highlighted Lampard’s rapid ascent in contrast to other players of a similar stature who weren’t white.

“Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. All had great careers, all played for England. At the same time, they’ve all respectfully done their coaching badges to coach at the highest level and the two that haven’t been given the right opportunities are the two Black former players,” said Sterling.

It was a comparison the current Chelsea box resented, at a press conference afterward he called it a “casual comparison.”

“I think opportunities have to be equal for everybody, we all agree on that. But within that, there are the details of how hard you worked,” was Lampard’s response.

“I certainly worked from the start of my career to get this opportunity and there are a million things along the way that knock you, set you back, you fight against,” he added.

It’s undoubted that as a manager at the level he is, Lampard has had to toil.

But the chances he’s been afforded, based on his performance, have not been fairly earned.

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