Lots of snippets on the Athletic article on here. So, for those who fancy a bit of light reading, here it is in full:
“The buzz around Chelsea before the new season hadn’t been this upbeat for years. Manager Frank Lampard was ready to build on an impressive first year in the job and the club appeared to be backing him with the biggest transfer splurge in their history.
There was talk of a title challenge and Lampard establishing his reputation as one of the brightest emerging coaches in the game. But all was not what it seemed.
“The moment he goes on a bad run of four-five games, Chelsea will decide to make a change,” a prominent source told The Athletic in August. It was hard to believe but spoken with real meaning.
This revelation came when the summer sun was still shining and a ball had yet to be kicked in anger in the Premier League. But the individual couldn’t have been more sure of what was really going on behind the scenes at Chelsea. He added: “Lampard won’t last long if there is a serious downturn in form, especially after all the money that’s been spent. He’s in a very precarious situation and I can only see it going one way.”
It has taken several months but the gloomy forecast has now come to fruition. Lampard has gone, the players told this morning that training was being moved ahead of their midweek game against Wolves. To many outsiders the speed of the Englishman’s downfall looks like another example of Chelsea being harsh and ruthless — they went top of the table after beating Leeds on December 5.
But this is a scenario long in the making and The Athletic can now for the first time explain what went wrong, including how:
Lampard’s relationship with influential director Marina Granovskaia deteriorated
Ralf Rangnick was offered interim job last week for four months but turned it down
Calls were made in recent weeks to sound out Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann before deal was struck with Thomas Tuchel
Leicester game was tipping point and morning after spent trying to finalise successor
Lampard shook players’ hands and thanked them for efforts under him after Leicester match
Petr Cech involved in talking to new stars’ agents as form dipped
Some players complained about lack of tactical instruction and not being spoken to for months
Desire to re-sign Declan Rice annoyed his bosses
The dressing room felt manager showed no empathy and were hurt by his public criticism
Lampard would have walked out had he been working for any club other than Chelsea
As is usually the case when a manager departs Stamford Bridge, there are many sides to the story.
As 2020 was drawing to a close, Granovskaia had seen and heard enough. Chelsea’s results were in steep decline after one Premier League win in five and the performances of the team were uninspired to say the least. She began calling contacts to discuss possible replacements. The hierarchy had wanted to treat Lampard well and give him time to succeed. Now they felt that wasn’t possible.
“Marina said she was considering her strategy, was actively replanning the managerial situation and would get back to them,” a source reveals. “I think they were surprised about that because it was still so early and the managerial market would be better for Chelsea in the summer.” Cech had a role to play here too naturally in his role as technical and performance advisor, holding informal discussions with agents of key players about Chelsea’s slump in form. He took part in training too, meaning Lampard had the strange situation to manage of support from his long-term friend but knowing the Czech is close to the club’s hierarchy.
To document Lampard’s fall from grace with Granovskaia, one has to go back to the very start. There has always been a school of thought that Lampard was a useful appointment for the club rather than their ideal one following Maurizio Sarri’s departure in 2019.
Chelsea knew 2019-20 would be tough due to being handed a two-window transfer ban, later reduced to one on appeal, by FIFA for breaching regulations over the signings of foreign players under the age of 18.
To the cynics, appointing Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer after just one year’s managerial experience at Championship side Derby was a ploy to keep the fans onside in troubled times.
Lampard knew the risks of accepting such a job so early, yet there was no way he could turn down the club he formed such a strong emotional attachment for during his playing days there between 2001-14.
As one insider explains: “Lampard actually had a very good offer from another lucrative club but this was Chelsea. He wasn’t going to ignore them. But he was on the back foot a little from the start. He’d already told Derby he was leaving so Chelsea had him by the balls when it came to agreeing the contract. He was paid a lot less than other managers they had hired.”
The size of his salary — thought to be around £4 million a year — was not the only thing that didn’t go Lampard’s way during negotiations with Granovskaia. It is commonplace for a coach at any club to make requests for who he wants to be on his backroom staff.
Lampard wanted to avoid the large group Sarri used and have just a few trusted voices around him instead. The former midfielder’s desire for Jody Morris, Joe Edwards and Chris Jones was granted, but the appeal for goalkeeping coach Shay Given to join him from Derby was rejected. On top of that it is understood Lampard was told that loan technical coach Eddie Newton would have to be part of proceedings for continuity.
“Newton’s role was seen as being like the one Carlo Cudicini had under Antonio Conte and Gianfranco Zola had with Sarri,” the insider continues. “They were people with a Chelsea connection. But Lampard didn’t think it was necessary given his time at the club as well as the experiences the other three had working at Chelsea. Lampard knew from his time as a player that Chelsea is a political club and there were things he had to take on the chin.”
Notably, Newton was not really involved in the coaching of the team and was very much intentionally kept on the periphery. He went back to working with the loan department before leaving for a job with Trabzonspor in January 2020. Lampard, the club and Newton downplayed suggestions he was forced out and Newton did have managerial ambitions of his own, which were rewarded when he was briefly put in charge of the Turkish club. But it was pretty clear from early on that Newton wasn’t going to have much of a role in Lampard’s set-up so it is believed it was a factor in his decision to leave Chelsea.
But these few examples were just the prelude to the main issues of contention. It is believed tensions behind the scenes really began to emerge during the January transfer window 12 months ago.
Timo Werner was a long-term target with the summer in mind, but with Chelsea’s pursuit of a top-four finish and Champions League qualification in jeopardy, Lampard wanted to recruit there and then, especially as the club had successfully fought to get FIFA’s embargo reduced.
He asked for Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was considering leaving Emirates Stadium at that juncture, and Ajax’s attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech. Neither arrived that month — a deal for the latter was agreed in February but too late to help the 2019-20 campaign.
Lampard’s growing frustration was evident during some tense post-match briefings with the media, which implied criticism of the hierarchy for the lack of new arrivals. One source said he was not happy behind the scenes either and described the bond with Granovskaia as “not being fantastic”.
Another claimed that it was at this juncture that Mauricio Pochettino, who had been fired by Tottenham in November 2019, and RB Leipzig coach Nagelsmann were being mentioned as a potential “plan B”.
But there was no way Lampard could be removed after leading Chelsea to fourth spot and an FA Cup final, albeit losing out on the trophy to rivals Arsenal. Having introduced a number of academy players into the senior set-up, significantly more than any of his predecessors had done before, he deserved credit. Significantly his relationship with owner Roman Abramovich was still considered to be strong.
However, as one insider puts it, things were becoming more tense with Granovskaia and one of the biggest points of contention was the treatment of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea paid a world-record fee for a keeper in 2018 when Kepa joined from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6 million. After a series of high-profile errors, Lampard left him out in favour of Willy Caballero for six games between January and February. The latter also started the FA Cup semi-final, FA Cup final and the must-win Premier League game against Wolves on the final day.
During the close season, things came to a head or as one individual put it: “They clashed over Kepa. Lampard put in a request for a replacement and was told he should try putting his arm around Kepa, to help build his confidence. Lampard was insistent though.”
Kepa was one of a number of senior players who felt that Lampard did not provide him with clear tactical instructions or offer sufficient support as his confidence disintegrated last season. Instead it was left to director Granovskaia and Cech to try to help the club’s record signing through his slump. Communication between the Spaniard and his head coach improved in the early weeks of this campaign, but that change in approach was rendered meaningless by the swift arrival of Edouard Mendy from Rennes to replace him as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper.
Kepa’s displays in the opening two games against Brighton and Liverpool perhaps helped Lampard’s argument that a change was needed.
The busy transfer window, when Chelsea spent in excess of £200 million, provided other angst. Lampard was looking to move defender Antonio Rudiger on, an individual thought to be held in high regard by the Chelsea hierarchy.
Lampard wanted the club to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice and pushed for him again ahead of January. But some at the club had reservations about re-signing the player who was released from the academy as a teenager.
In December The Athletic were told: “He needs to stop pushing for Rice or he’ll lose his job. The hierarchy are very wary about the potential embarrassment of buying back an academy reject at huge expense.”
As far as the market is concerned, there is always speculation about which signing was driven by the manager and what was more of a club purchase. Chelsea have always maintained that a head coach is consulted and gives approval to any new arrival.
That doesn’t stop people who work in the game from giving their interpretation of what took place, including on Chelsea’s last big spree. One insider alleges that of the six to join, only Ben Chilwell was a Lampard target.
His intention from the get-go was to reshape the defence. The plan was not only to acquire Rice, who Lampard felt could be converted into a top centre-back as well as using him as a defensive midfielder, but also to buy James Tarkowski from Burnley. Defenders earmarked to go were Fikayo Tomori, Marcos Alonso and Rudiger. There was even talk that Lampard was open to the idea of captain Cesar Azpilicueta departing.
In the end all four players stayed beyond the summer, which was another major factor in why Rice didn’t come as well as Tarkowski. With the club spending vast sums, money had to be raised to afford their fees too. Granovskaia is also said to have not been too keen on the latter.
Instead, the club moved for Brazil international Thiago Silva, who was given a contract after being released by Paris Saint-Germain. The veteran wasn’t on Lampard’s radar beforehand, but he certainly wasn’t opposed to having someone of his experience and leadership join a group that was lacking in these two areas.
Silva has proved to be a good bit of business, for the short term at least. But with Werner and another expensive summer recruit Kai Havertz struggling to make any impact in English football, it was inevitable this would come under negative scrutiny, raise questions and alarm. The Germany internationals were seen as key acquisitions to help Chelsea challenge Liverpool for the title but scored just five Premier League goals between them in the first three months.
Werner operated more as a left winger rather than left centre-forward while Havertz, mostly due to the impact of contracting COVID-19, ended 2020 with three successive appearances as a substitute. This coincided with Chelsea picking up four points out of 15 before losing 3-1 to Manchester City.
“The problem Lampard had with Marina is obvious but fundamental,” one agent said. “He has a series of huge investments he does not have the ability to maximise, but more than that, he appears to have given up on attempting to maximise them. The public criticism of individuals (most notably after the 3-1 loss to Arsenal) has lost him support too.”
But when a table emerged showing Lampard boasted the joint-worst points-per-game ratio of any Chelsea manager in the Abramovich era, then it was always going to lead to concerns, regardless of what was going on behind the scenes. And as a source told The Athletic after the Manchester City game, Roman became “very, very unhappy”.
And then came the Leicester City game. Chelsea were outclassed by Brendan Rodgers’ side and Abramovich was furious, he’d seen enough. The next morning was spent on calls trying to get a deal for an interim or permanent coach over the line. Lampard’s time was up. In the dressing room after the game, Lampard felt this too. He shook his players’ hands and thanked them for their efforts under him. The mood was sombre.
The calls to Germany started, with former Leipzig coach Rangnick offered the role until the end of the season, the idea being that he moved into a different role at that point. He turned them down due to the short length of the deal.
The hierarchy were determined to bring in a German speaker to bring out the best in Werner and Havertz, talking to former PSG manager Tuchel too and hitting a brick wall in initial discussions with Leipzig about Nagelsmann.
Tuchel was reluctant to come midway through the season initially but was eventually persuaded, having almost taken the Stamford Bridge job before Antonio Conte a few years ago. He felt it was too good a job to turn down. Lampard’s time was up.
One aspect that always gets mentioned whenever a Chelsea manager loses his job is the notion that he “lost the dressing room”. There are suggestions from more than one individual that this was a factor for Lampard too and it was certainly the case in the final weeks.
Before this run of form though, perhaps a note of caution is required. It is inevitable that those connected to individuals who play less regularly are going to have more negative things to say than people associated with first-team regulars.
But in talking to various contacts and people close to even those who do play most weeks, a general theme emerged and if these things were being relayed to The Athletic, you can expect perhaps even more forthright opinions to reach Granovskaia’s ears.
“The problem was, the manager didn’t talk to the players — well only the ones he liked,” one such source explains. “I know of players who weren’t in the team that didn’t hear from him for many months. That’s very frustrating for a player because you don’t know what you have to do to do better, what the manager is thinking. It’s crazy.
“Obviously when Chelsea were on their 17-game unbeaten run (between September and December), the coach is not going to make too many changes. But you still need to talk to people. Players are going to be wary about knocking on the manager’s door themselves because it can be perceived negatively.”
Another added: “It was very weird for me that Lampard’s way of working was to be distant to the players. He was a player until very recently (retired 2016). He should know how to approach players but he seemed to have forgotten.”
And one more said: “The communication of Lampard with the players was not fluent. When I met with one of the players last year I was asking if the manager was telling him things. He said to me: ‘No, but usually he never speaks to the players’. I said I could not understand that because Lampard needs a professional relationship with every player. You need to know players need information and guidance.”
One player told The Athletic that Lampard staying on for the rest of the season would have been a “catastrophe”, with the levels of tension in the dressing room too high to recover from and players comparing his criticism of performances to Jose Mourinho in his final days at the club.
There was also a feeling that as form started to dip that the regular changes to the starting line-up prevented players from building a system and confidence. The squad, for example, could all see how talented Werner is but were horrified to see the confidence drain out of him as he was put in and out of the starting XI.
There were some other flashpoints too. The first indication that all was not well behind the scenes this season came with Marcos Alonso’s show of disrespect by leaving to watch the second half of Chelsea’s 3-3 draw at West Brom after being substituted at half-time. The left-back hasn’t played for the club since. “What happened with Alonso raised a red flag in terms of Lampard being able to control the dressing room,” one source claims.
After having the disadvantage of not being able to buy players in his first year, the arrival of six new members brought a different kind of problem, especially as Chelsea failed to get many fringe players out. The only significant departures were Pedro and Willian but they were out of contract anyway.
Attempts were made to move certain people on, however the impact of COVID-19 on football clubs around the world meant there were few takers. The high wages Chelsea players are on meant only a handful of loan deals (Ross Barkley, Davide Zappacosta, Victor Moses, Tiemoue Bakayoko) took place. It left a bloated squad for Lampard to deal with.
“You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out,” says one contact. “There were too many influential voices outside of the starting XI causing issues. There was a danger of a bit of a divide developing between those playing and those who weren’t. The body language of some told a story. There were those who weren’t putting in the same effort as others in training. Like a disease, you get issues and it spreads. It obviously got a lot worse when Chelsea began losing regularly.”
Lampard certainly had his moments when he let players know in no uncertain terms what he made of their performance. On top of the West Brom game, the 3-0 loss at Sheffield United in July, the FA Cup final reverse to Arsenal a month later and then the Premier League defeat on December 26th to the same opponents were notable occasions where he was described as “losing it”.
But perhaps surprisingly, there are insinuations from players that Lampard didn’t provide them with tactical instructions, that some were just told to simply go out on the pitch and express themselves. One doubts that is a view shared by the man in question.
Players began to grow suspicious of Lampard’s job security when one member of the backroom staff who was not appointed by him told some players: “Don’t worry, this (Lampard) will all be over in a couple of weeks.”
Even the intensity of the training sessions was raised as a point of alarm by the end. At the start and when things were going well, players responded positively to the drills. It was a refreshing change from the repetitive nature of Sarri’s exercises. However, after the impressive victory over Leeds, Chelsea notably looked fatigued in their displays against Everton, Wolves, West Ham, Arsenal and Aston Villa during the rest of December.
By the Fulham game in early January, players were expecting Lampard to be sacked if they didn’t win. A 1-0 victory courtesy of Mason Mount meant that wasn’t the outcome but after the dire showing at Leicester a few days later, the atmosphere in the dressing room, according to one source, “felt like a goodbye”.
Lampard was accused in some quarters of working players too hard, dating back to the preparations in June, ahead of last season getting back underway following the three-month postponement. Indeed, despite Chelsea’s fixture list this season regularly involving matches in midweek as well as the weekend, the 42-year-old was spotted still putting on intense drills. As one individual remarked: “There was a worry that not only were Chelsea players getting exhausted but it would take a toll with people getting more injuries.”
So this all paints a negative picture of Lampard doesn’t it? Hearing and reading this stuff makes it look like Chelsea had no choice but to act. But there are always two sides to any divorce.
To begin with, the job Lampard has done should still be looked on favourably, despite any criticisms that have emerged from the outside. Few experts backed Chelsea to qualify for the Champions League in his first season and yet the club sat in one of the top four positions for most of the schedule.
He led Chelsea to the last 16 of the Champions League for a second time in a row, setting up a knockout game against Atletico Madrid in February after finishing top of their qualifying group.
Lampard’s trust in the academy players should not be underestimated. He is the first manager in Chelsea’s history to use the club’s youth system on a regular and consistent basis. The argument he had no choice in the matter, particularly in the first season, was not entirely accurate. Graduates like Mount and Tammy Abraham have been used consistently over the past 18 months. Many others have been given a chance too — like Reece James, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tomori — although the last two will have wanted more game time in 2020.
In total eight academy players have made their senior debut under Lampard and it is understood he was looking to add even more by giving some others like Lewis Bate an opportunity. Chelsea not only have homegrown individuals with the ability to play for the club for years to come, but have sellable assets that will command good fees in the market should they cash in. Lampard consistently showed faith in Chelsea’s homegrown youth where previous coaches did not – even when his selections of Mount and Abraham were publicly questioned by Mourinho after a 4-0 humiliation against Manchester United to begin the 2019-20 season.
Grumblings of discontent were at a minimum when Lampard was benefitting from his new signings being fit and available for selection. They were playing entertaining football but flair players such as Ziyech and Pulisic rarely performed together due to injury issues.
It has come to light that Lampard’s “dream job” was not always a joy for him. The tense environment and array of personalities with their own interests made things difficult.
Such was the awkwardness of the situation, an individual with a connection to the coaching staff says: “If it had been any other club than Chelsea, Lampard would have walked out in the summer. But obviously his connection with the fans and what Chelsea means to him meant he was always going to try to make things work.
“From what I can tell, he felt it was like pissing against the wind. He experienced difficult relationships with a lot of people and wasn’t always sure who he could trust. He would have a conversation with one person but wasn’t sure what they’d be saying about him afterwards. He found the politics hard, a constant battle.”
Chelsea’s demise as a major force began long before Lampard arrived. An indication of that is the fact they haven’t won a knockout game in the Champions League since reaching the semi-finals in 2014.
Hundreds of millions have been spent on players that no longer represent the club like Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Alvaro Morata. The loss of Chelsea’s best player in Eden Hazard to Real Madrid 18 months ago has yet to be compensated for despite the summer investment.
Chelsea’s title triumph in 2017 is the only time they have competed near the top of the table in the previous five seasons. A negative culture has been allowed to fester. As one source puts it: “When things are going wrong at Chelsea, you will also find there are many people that will be happy to blame anything but their own area. It is something Lampard was trying to change, but it was going to take time. It is a deeply sad problem that has been there for many years.
“When players have been around the place for a long while and get contract extensions, you have to question what are the standards Chelsea are trying to set?”
Fortune was not on his side with COVID-19, which impacted a number of his players, preventing him from having a proper pre-season to work with the new recruits.
Chelsea used his communication skills in their successful pursuit of Havertz, Werner and Ziyech. The Englishman assured the trio that they and he were part of a three-year plan to regain the Premier League title. He worked hard to help Havertz as he struggled to settle too. But Lampard lasted only half of his three-year contract.
Lampard warned everyone, including the hierarchy, that a title bid was unlikely in 2020-21, that the arrivals would require patience to settle into a new league and country.
From the moment he returned to the club as manager in 2019, Lampard felt his toughest battle would be to change attitudes in the dressing room. There were players there who had won trophies before, at Chelsea and elsewhere, but he had noted how during Mourinho’s third season in charge and Conte’s second, as well as Maurizio Sarri’s brief tenure, players had shown a tendency to lose faith in their manager — and in each other — during difficult periods.
His concern was that too many players appeared to slip too easily into crisis mode, where he had seen too many heads drop and bad habits take hold after a bad performance or two. One source suggested that Chelsea had become “a club of self-preservation” rather than one where a powerful team spirit pushes them to greater heights.
As he pointed out last season, this was a team who had not come close to challenging for the Premier League title since the 2016-17 success and had not gone beyond the first knockout stage of the Champions League since 2013-14. There was a need to rebuild the squad, integrating new signings and (importantly) homegrown talent but also to change the culture of the team. He felt he inherited too many players who had failed to show the necessary fighting spirit consistently and were unlikely to change their bad habits. He wanted to rebuild with younger players, but that came with risks and the expectation of setbacks and “pain” as they learned on the job.
There were times when he felt he was making significant progress. In recent weeks he has continually referenced how positive things appeared as recently as December, when they beat Leeds to go top of the Premier League. That was their 16th match unbeaten in all competitions since a 2-0 home defeat by Liverpool on September 20. He felt optimistic about the way the team was evolving, which only increased his sense of alarm and exasperation at the way they succumbed to an individual and collective loss of confidence in the weeks that followed.
As the pressure intensified, Lampard became fixated on improving the collective attitude of his players, desperate for them to take more responsibility on the pitch and to apply themselves better in doing the basics of the job.
And he was worried about the balance of the squad throughout his time in the dugout. “He knew there was a lot of work still to do,” one close confidant explains. “He wanted to get players out because he was worried about the effect it would have on training and the spirit.
“On a bigger note for Lampard, it was about building a culture and a way. It’s been a process and something difficult to hit head on with no new signings last year and modern players at times can be difficult. Chelsea needed freshness in personnel and good people, which the new signings were starting to provide.”
A facet against Lampard was the defensive record last season — they conceded 54 times in the league, which was the worst record in the top half of the Premier League. Only three teams conceded more from set pieces (15). The additions of Chilwell, Silva and Mendy have seen an improvement in both departments despite the recent downturn.
But having seen nine different managers leave during his playing career at Chelsea, Lampard was more aware than anyone of the price that has to be paid if you fall short of Abramovich’s standards.
With Chelsea needing Champions League football next season in order to continue their rebuild, the latest results were putting their chances of securing it at risk, even though other teams around them have also been struggling with inconsistency.
One of his detractors insisted: “I think the job was too big and came too early for him.”
We will now never find out.”