Recent years have seen a trend in employing club legends at the helm of big football clubs. The appointments of Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Manchester United, Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, Andrea Pirlo at Juventus, and Frank Lampard at Chelsea all raised eyebrows across the footballing world. After all, hiring former players will always carry the risk of tainting their legacy at the club.
However, for some in that list, things appear to be working well. Solskjaer’s team finally look set to be potential challengers for the Premier League and Arteta’s Arsenal, who endured significant difficulties at the beginning of this season, now appear to be looking upwards rather than down. Pirlo, though facing a number of critics, appears to be gradually improving Juventus with every game. The same cannot be said for Lampard.
Frank Lampard’s sacking as Chelsea’s head coach came as no surprise. After all, this is a club which has employed 13 managers since 2004. Though this policy has turned the club’s hot seat into a constant revolving door, no-one can argue it has not been successful. During this time Chelsea have won everything: 5 premier leagues, 5 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 2 Europa Leagues, and the Holy Grail that is the Champions League. Despite experienced coaches such as José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, and Antonio Conte leaving a trail of silverware at the club, they all faced the same fate. Ruthless? Yes. But successful? Also yes.
In comparison to such greats, Frank Lampard, who had won everything there was to win as a player, was hired with a solitary year’s experience of management with Derby County in the Championship. To say it was a risk is an understatement. Initially, his tenure looked promising. Despite a transfer ban and the loss of Eden Hazard, a player who contributed 38 goals and assists the year before, he led Chelsea to 4th place and an FA Cup final. However, following the expenditure of over £200 million the following summer, the club were languishing in 10th by mid-season. Like many of those who preceded him, Lampard was sacked by Chelsea on January 25th.
But the blame cannot lie at Lampard’s door for taking the job. Despite it being handed to him so early in his career, how could he not accept the role of managing the club he loved? The point is, hiring a club legend will always carry its risks. Luckily for Lampard, his stature at Chelsea as one of the greats means his legacy and reputation among fans remains untainted. This so easily could not have been the case.
Chelsea demand instant success from their managers and are not interested in allowing a coach time to develop. Such clubs do not have the willingness or the patience to allow young coaches to learn on the job. Had he stayed at Derby for another few seasons, leading them to promotion and gaining experience in the Premier League with lower expectations, it would be a matter of when, not if he was offered the role at Stamford Bridge. Take, for example, his successor Thomas Tuchel. An exciting appointment, the German is someone who has a recognisable philosophy which has been perfected throughout his experiences at Mainz, Dortmund, and PSG.
Steven Gerrard has remained at a club with less pressure and lower expectations. Though Rangers are a huge club, they cannot be expected to realistically challenge the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for top honours. However, the Gers now look set to win the Scottish Premier League for the first time since 2011 and have also shown promising signs in Europe. Gerrard has been given the time to develop and form his own philosophy in a less competitive league, something he will, of course, eventually bring to Anfield.
So, should young coaches take such big jobs so early on in their careers? The issue lies in the timing. Though still a relatively young manager, Solskjær has been coaching since 2008, winning a number of titles in his native Norway. Admittedly, his only experience in England before Manchester United had been in a dismal campaign with Cardiff City, which resulted in relegation before his departure. But Manchester United consistently backed their man and as a result, Solskjær’s style, philosophy, and ability as a manager have all improved significantly during his time there. For Arteta, who shadowed Pep Guardiola at Manchester City prior to his arrival at Arsenal, he too is developing while on the job. Despite fears of a lower table finish, the North London club have shown faith in his ability to learn from his mistakes and take the club forward.
In the case of Lampard, it was clear he would one day become Chelsea’s head coach. Unfortunately for him, though many still believe he has shown a willingness to learn which will eventually lead to him becoming a top manager, taking a job with such high expectations so early on in his career cost him. For any manager offered such a huge role so quickly, success depends not just on the ability of the coach but also the patience of those above.