Chelsea in safe hands with returning hero Frank Lampard

One of Lampard’s greatest skills is his effortless communication skills.

Chelsea in safe hands with returning hero Frank Lampard

Victorem.

It’s a word only a footballer with a GCSE in Latin could use in the dressing room but if there’s anyone who doubts whether Frank Lampard will be a success as Maurizio Sarri’s replacement at Stamford Bridge, it’s one they should take into account.

From the moment Lampard, who is probably the only modern player with a qualification in ancient languages by the way, crossed London from east to west in June 2001 he has been a winner; and any suggestion that knack will somehow desert him as a manager in 2019 should be dismissed as quickly as a Leeds United coach.

Chelsea, without Eden Hazard and with a transfer embargo hanging over them, may not be in the best possible shape for the new season but the man who won 13 trophies at the Bridge as a player is still taking over a team which won the Europa League last season and which carries a reservoir of belief from 14 years of almost non-stop success under owner Roman Abramovich.

Lampard’s relationship with the Russian billionaire will be crucial in building a new Chelsea, and in reinvigorating the desire and motivation of an owner who has become increasingly distant in recent seasons.

It’s hard to think of anyone better placed to achieve that aim.

One of Lampard’s greatest skills is his effortless communication skills. He’s able to connect with people, no matter their social status, intelligence levels or age, in a way which simply cannot be taught.

As a journalist you could see it in the mixed zone where he was regularly the most interesting, honest and engaged interviewee, delivering answers with just the right tone, just the right amount of openness. Always listening, always thoughtful.

That rare breed — a footballer who looked you in the eye as he answered.

Those same skills will surely make Lampard the perfect leader and mentor at a club which has an abundance of young talent ready to learn and ready to make an impact in the absence of previous heroes.

Make no mistake, the Chelsea squad of 2019-20 will feel together, united and valued; a vast contrast to the tactics of recent managers whose leadership was categorised by broken relationships.

Such is the speed in which time passes these days, it’s easy to think back to the day Lampard first arrived at Chelsea in 2001 as Claudio Ranieri’s first English signing.

But what many people will not appreciate is just how different the club was in that pre-Abramovich era.

The team trained at Harlington, a site owned by Imperial College near Heathrow, and were regularly asked to leave the field when the college team took precedence.

The dressing rooms were not large enough to accommodate the entire squad and so they changed in small groups, while journalists were still welcome to gather by the side of the pitch and ask for telephone numbers. A major contrast to the way media relations are run these days.

As for Ranieri, he was as mad and enigmatic as he is these days, but Lampard has always been grateful to him.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner some years later he said: “I have a lot of respect for the way he took me from West Ham. It was different there, old school English coaching if you like. That’s not having a dig at them, that’s just how it was — and it worked.

“But when I moved to Chelsea, Ranieri taught me a lot about looking after my body, working on my power. He was a good coach. As a team the only thing people harp on about perhaps is changing the team around to much but I would only ever have positive things to say about him.

I remember he was on my case from day one. At West Ham I ran around willy-nilly trying to score goals and get in the box but it had become predictable. To step up the level and play Chelsea’s passing game I needed to learn when to go, when to get on the ball. He was a little bit similar to Fabio Capello, it must be the Italian way. It helped me.

When you look at the list of managers Lampard has played under it includes the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink, Harry Redknapp, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Capello, and Pep Guardiola, so he has certainly learned from the best.

Lampard playing for Chelsea in 2013
Lampard playing for Chelsea in 2013

And he’s the kind of person who does learn, as he proved not only in Latin lessons but also on the football field and at Derby as a manager.

His first year at Chelsea, for instance, was not without trauma after he and three other team-mates were fined following a drinking session in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the USA, in which they were accused of being disrespectful.

“I hope this is a short, sharp lesson,” Lampard said later. “I have learned more than a few things over the past week as a Chelsea player and the responsibility that goes with it.

“We’ve an obligation and duty to carry the good name of Chelsea Football Club and we feel so disappointed with ourselves if anyone at the club feels let down. Hopefully I’ll be part of the future of Chelsea. I’d stay for the rest of my career if they wanted me to.”

That was a prediction which pretty much came true (save for two short spells at New York and Manchester City before retirement) but now Lampard is back where he belongs and, for those who know him, it would be a major surprise if he failed to win trophies as a manager.

The aura of competency, determination, and skilful psychology which surrounds him suggests there are further glories ahead.

Not everyone always felt that way about him, of course (and West Ham fans have never forgiven him for leaving), but almost everyone in the English media were converted in 2005 when Lampard was named Footballer of the Year as Chelsea were crowned champions under Mourinho.

Lampard was unveiled as the new Chelsea boss on Thursday.
Lampard was unveiled as the new Chelsea boss on Thursday.

His speech on receiving the trophy was so touching, so eloquent, so beautifully and honestly delivered, that some newspapers even opted to print it unabridged.

He included tributes to Mourinho, Ranieri, Abramovich, his parents, his grandad ‘Poppa Bill’ and grandma ‘Nanny Hilda’. But it was the way he closed the speech which left journalists in admiration.

“A lot of the reason I am here is because of my strength, my determination, and character. I would just like to talk about a girl called Lucy,” he said.

“I went to her funeral today, she was 10 years old. She came to the game against Charlton where we lifted the Premiership trophy. She had a tumour on the brain — really she should have died the week before that game. But she was so desperate to come and see that game, to watch us play. The character and strength she showed made me put everything in perspective.

“I would like to dedicate this whole award to her, her family, especially her mother, and I would like to say thanks to everyone tonight.”

That speech tells you everything you need to know about Frank Lampard and why he will be successful as a manager. His ability to connect, to empathise, to be normal, to be determined. Chelsea fans, you are in safe hands.

Victoria est iam vestri (which should mean ‘victory is already yours’ — but you better check with Frank first).

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox