A few years ago, it would have taken a brave man or woman to predict that this star name would be associated with the modest and slightly unfashionable Derby County in 2018.
Derby’s manager from last season, Gary Rowett, has travelled an hour or so west along the A50 to Stoke City, after his continuously impressive management skills failed to turn a respectable play-off place into a promotion spot. Instead of the proverbial ‘safe pair of hands’ with the nous and experience that so many claim are required in the Championship, Derby have gone for something of an unknown, at least in managerial terms, by appointing the former West Ham, Chelsea, Man City and England player who accrued over 100 caps, played over 1000 games and scored more than 300 goals from midfield.
Lampard’s appointment has raised eyebrows
Lampard has no managerial experience under his belt just yet and his appointment has raised eyebrows in some quarters. In an interesting symmetry, a fellow former member of Sven and Cappello’s underwhelming Golden Generation, Steven Gerrard, has been appointed at Rangers to similar scepticism.
The former Liverpool player has at least had a little over a year at Liverpool’s U18’s under Jurgen Klopp’s tutelage. While this hardly constitutes a taste of life as an elite club manager, it has at least served as baby steps into the day-in and day-out of management and training. Lampard has had no such baptism just yet, so what has convinced those at the top of Derby’s hierarchy to appoint a man with absolutely no managerial experience in one of the toughest divisions in world football?
One thing that is for certain is that Lampard has pedigree. He was a household name for 20 years and was voted the second best player on the planet in 2005 by both FIFA and voters in the Ballon d’Or. He has not made any secrets of his desire to get back into the game, either having talked openly about missing the day-to-day of training and the dressing room.
A nuanced nature
This same pedigree has seen Gerrard make signings at Rangers that the club would have struggled to complete with a lesser name at the helm: Jamie Murphy opting to stay on rather than return to the Premier League and the imminent arrival of prodigious teenager Ovie Ejaria on loan from Liverpool are perfect points in case. Gerrard, with his pumped-up, guns blazing style, will need to employ someone with a bit more subtlety as his number 2 in his first few jobs, and looks to have done just that this time round with Gary McAllister. Lampard is less likely to need someone who contrasts to his own style, given the more nuanced nature of it.
Lampard was a box-to-box midfielder as Gerrard was, but one cut from a different cloth. He was never blessed with the pace or power of Gerrard, but his career stats are no less impressive; in fact, they are better if you simply judge them by goals and trophies.
The lack of pace in Lampard meant he played a more intelligent game, based on positioning and timing. He would rarely beat a man or break defensive lines with the ball at his feet, but he would time his runs into the box and use his positional sense to keep the team on top of the opposition tactically. It is perhaps this aspect of the game that Derby hope he will bring to the team.
Frank was the anti-Gerrard
Under Rowett, they were disciplined and organised but lacked the nous required to beat a quick and skilful Fulham over two legs. Lampard was also a player without obvious qualities to be considered world-class when he was younger, but earned that status, in some reckoning at least, by being disciplined and intelligent. He was arguably the anti-Gerrard in that sense, the other side of the same coin, and England managers came and went as they tried to work out a formula in which they could both play and be effective. No one ever really succeeded.
It said a lot that Frank Lampard was one of few players who came back from England’s 2010 World Cup campaign with his reputation undamaged. He ‘scored’ the goal that should have brought England level against Germany in the round of sixteen. An out-of-depth Gareth Barry had been brought in to try and placate England fans with a Lampard-Gerrard midfield axis and did not escape scrutiny in the same way. Gerrard too came under fire, perhaps rightly.
Accolades aside, Lampard has much more experience to draw from when deciding the kind of manager he will be. While Gerrard worked under seven managers at Liverpool, Lampard worked under 13 different head coaches at Chelsea alone; there is also his time at West Ham, Swansea, Man City and New York to consider as well. It is certainly fair to say that Lampard’s managerial training was broader, if less stable, than Gerrard’s. This, it should be assumed, is why Derby have taken a punt.
But is Frank Lampard ready for the challenge?
Expectations are different. Both represent high-profile positions to walk straight into as first managerial jobs. While Gerrard will be asked to get Rangers back into contention at the top of the SPL, the expectation on Lampard will be that Derby finishes the season in and around the play-off places. Hardly an easy feat with three hitherto long-serving Premier League teams parachuting down (with such payments backing them) to bolster competition, and Villa and Middlesbrough hoping to mount similar but more successful challenges again, any prospective financial issues notwithstanding.
Lampard is a man obsessed with football. While he doesn’t make the most inspiring pundit, he is clearly intuitive and concise. He will need more inspiration if he is to be a great coach, but this is a man who talks glowingly in his autobiography of being willing to run through walls for José Mourinho. If he can get Derby’s players on his side as firmly as that, it is hard to see them not being in promotional contention.
Perhaps there is hope, then? Perhaps.