The importance of being Frank

The absurdity of the situation Everton found themselves in was only matched by the absurdity of Lampard's oblivious regard for the decisive role he played in putting them there. 
The importance of being Frank

Everton manager Frank Lampard reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Frank Lampard was dressed to go out last Thursday night. Not “out out”, just out. Not quite the architect of the catastrophic abyss Everton Football Club found themselves staring into ahead of the visit of Crystal Palace, Lampard was, at the very least, its interior designer. 

Regardless of his role in the drama, he was dressed like a man who was heading straight down the Cock and Bottle for a few swift halves and a couple of super splits after the game, whatever the outcome. Eschewing both the smart suit and the tracksuit, he confidently sported blue jeans, a cardigan, and a pair of funky trainers.

This was not the uniform of a sideline general, but a confident Londoner. Clothes, we are told, do not make the man, but in the case of Frankie Lamps and the pressure his side was under; they epitomized his almost innocent arrogance.

Afterwards, seemingly oblivious to the hubris of the words flowing from his mouth, he proclaimed keeping Everton up as “right up there, possibly at the top” of his achievements as a manager. 

Given his 'achievements' as a manager to date were at Derby County and Chelsea, the sample size was small, and more than a little tainted. It reminded me of an episode of the American Office, where the lead character Michael Scott rushes to tell his co-workers that their colleague, Meredith, was hit by a car, and he - Michael Scott - saved her life by rushing her to hospital. He fails to mention in the telling that it was in fact he - Michael Scott - that was driving the car that hit her. 

Frankie Lamps was driving the car that hit Everton this season, which was handy, because it meant he was first on the scene to bring them to hospital. That's how it felt on Thursday night. The absurdity of the situation Everton found themselves in was only matched by the absurdity of Lampard's oblivious regard for the decisive role he played in putting them there. 

It was the equivalent of watching a guy invest $10,000 in cryptocurrency and then celebrate wildly when he came out with $9,996.

Still, such is the fickleness of the Toffee mob that they chanted his name as if Everton had won the league. Had this been Brighton or Burnley or Watford, the scenes of unbridled joy would’ve been easily forgiven. Smaller clubs with limited aspirations for whom survival is a victory in and of itself. 

But, Everton? Sitting 16th on the last day of January when they appointed Lampard, signing him to a two and a half year contract, they had Norwich, Newcastle, Watford and Burnley beneath them. Heading into the last round of games yesterday, all you had to do was swap freefalling Leeds for a resurgent Newcastle and the characters were the same. 

Out of the 17 matches under Lampard, Everton won just six, drawing two, and losing an incredible nine. A remarkable managerial achievement, indeed.

With those stats in mind, does anybody realistically see Frank Lampard as the Everton manager in two years? What about Christmas? He has a charm, surely, as exhibited in his singling out of our own Seamus Coleman as “one of the best people I have ever met”. 

Now, we have many fine qualities as a nation, but surely one of our most flagrant shortcomings must be what big suckers we become when someone lauds one of our own. Had Putin himself got Coleman in a playful headlock and said the same thing, we would undoubtedly soften our opinion of the Russian war criminal as “not the worst fella!”. 

Similarly, Lampard's ability to deflect - or deploy the classic tactic of 'bait and switch' - whereby you invite a friendly question only to turn it on the inquisitor - points at a man not short of confidence in his own - admittedly self-assessed - abilities as a gaffer.

Not long after the Goodison pitch invasion and the champagne scenes in the changing rooms, Lampard addressed the media, and continued to ride the wave of relief that came with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s headed winner five minutes from time, while also switching the focus to next season, and why he, the club and its fans need to learning the lessons from a difficult year.

“We have to improve. I have to improve”, he admitted, before sort of explaining why he lost nine of his 17 games as Everton manager; “I didn’t have a pre-season and now I and my staff do. Can we make the squad stronger and more balanced? I believe we can, and there will be things we will look at and it is important that we look at them quickly”.

It was the pre-season that done it, see. When you listen to Lampard, you can’t help but remember Tim Sherwood, the likable Tottenham player turned manager who took charge of Spurs for 26 games during the 2013/2014 season, winning 13 of them (and losing 9). What ultimately undid Sherwood was being entirely unqualified for the job, but what hastened his demise was the impression he gave everybody that he actually believed it too, and so was just happy to be there.

Where Lampard and he differ as managers is that Lampard seems entirely convinced he has earned the right to manage the biggest clubs in the biggest moments. His CV to date is unquestionably bang average (failing to get big-spending Derby County promoted and drowning in the big pool at Chelsea), yet his stock is such that succeeding Rafa Benetiz at a big club like Everton seemed almost beneath him.

With Everton safe and his place in the club's folklore secure, Lampard should resign. In doing so he would guarantee himself nine solid months of good time on the Sky Sports couch before the phone starts ringing for him to come into another club that's just too big to fail that might just fail, only for Frank to help them not fail. 

Next year there’ll be another Everton. West Ham maybe, after David Moyes gets a better job, or Crystal Palace after they stupidly sack Patrick Viera for being French. Enter Frank the Fixer. Dressed for a dubious kind of success. He’ll run you over and take you to the hospital, and you’ll forever remember him for saving your life.

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