When Frank Lampard was appointed Chelsea manager in July 2019, many wondered whether this was evidence of a new and previously undetected sentimental streak in the club’s ruthless owner Roman Abramovich.
Lampard, who succeeded the unloved Maurizio Sarri, was a departure from Abramovich’s traditional template of hiring experienced, or at least very successful, managers.
This was the appointment of someone with raw potential who just happened to be a Chelsea legend as the club’s all-time record goalscorer, with a tally of 211, accompanied by 11 major trophies.
It qualified as a gamble, almost a shot in the dark, by Abramovich’s usual strategy. It was certainly a step into the unknown by Chelsea’s standards.
Lampard had been a manager for one season at Derby County, missing out in the Championship play-offs – or as those questioning his credentials for such a huge job pointed out, he had taken the Rams from sixth on arrival to sixth at departure.
Any notions that Abramovich had suddenly got romantic or sentimental, or would offer Lampard mates’ rates based on past history after a poor run of five defeats in eight Premier League games, were swept away in brutal fashion when he was unceremoniously sacked on Monday morning.
Abramovich does not do romance or sentiment. He does reality of a very cold kind and while he would have wanted the perfect ending for a man he respects greatly, Lampard was operating within the same boundaries as all of the Russian’s previous managers.
Chelsea’s statement, while outlining Lampard’s iconic status and even containing rare comment from Abramovich himself, did not mince its words about why the decision had been taken, saying the club had been left “in mid-table without any path to sustained improvement”.
And with that, Lampard was gone. Sacked by lunchtime on Monday.
The initial reaction was that Lampard’s dismissal was ruthless even by Abramovich standards, coming after he manoeuvred Chelsea into fourth place and the Champions League last season utilising youngsters such as Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham as the club operated under a restrictive transfer embargo.
He was also working without Chelsea’s great talisman and biggest talent Eden Hazard after his sale to Real Madrid.
Lampard missed out on the chance of silverware in his first season when favourites Chelsea lost 2-1 to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final but whether this would provided any sort of cushion against his eventual sacking is highly debatable.
There will be widespread sympathy among Chelsea’s supporters for a beloved figure, although their sadness will be framed within the fact so many of Abramovich’s sackings have simply been the signal for a new manager bringing renewed successes.
Lampard’s terms of engagement with Chelsea and Abramovich changed significantly in the summer once that embargo ended and he was handed more than £200m to spend in the transfer market on the back of that first promising season.
He knew the rules. He had lived them long enough as a player and seen enough Chelsea managers go through the revolving door at Stamford Bridge – he played under nine – to know the score.
Abramovich always backs managers but the price on that ticket must be success. If you do not improve, do not at least have Chelsea near the Champions League places, you will be sacked. A glorious past with the club will count for nothing.
These are the rules that claimed Lampard.
The Blues’ squad looked drained of all confidence and they were moving further away from the clubs Abramovich expected Lampard to be challenging after his spending spree.
And yet it all went wrong so quickly.