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No sentiment on show as ruthless Chelsea run out of patience with stopgap Lampard

Sam Wallace


Former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Photo: Richard Heathcote/PA

Former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Photo: Richard Heathcote/PA

Former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Photo: Richard Heathcote/PA

Frank Lampard was not the Chelsea manager Marina Granovskaia truly wanted in the summer of 2019, and had there been more experienced options for a club that had spent much of the close season in negotiations to part with Maurizio Sarri then he would never have got the job.

Sacked swiftly last Monday, it had taken much longer to agree the deal with Lampard, in spite of his status as arguably the most celebrated player in Chelsea's history. Behind the scenes the expectations back in the summer of 2019 remained high from Granovskaia's side, despite the transfer embargo that was lifted for last January but still saw no signings for two windows. Lampard believed that circumstances had changed and he could not be judged on the same terms.

Eighteen months on, as results tanked over the Christmas period, and it became clear that his sacking was inevitable, the early suspicions at the Cobham training ground among Lampard and others that he had always been a convenient stopgap at a difficult time were borne out. His popularity had appeased the fans when Chelsea had been unable to refresh the squad, and now, with customary ruthlessness, the club had decided it was time for him to go.

It is said that Chelsea is a political club but in reality those politics are very simple: Granovskaia tells everyone what to do and then they do it. The protégée of Roman Abramovich, who has spent her career running the oligarch's businesses, appointed Lampard when alternatives were scarce. She oversaw last summer's major spending, and she was in the room when he was sacked on Monday. He has not spoken to Abramovich for the duration of his 18 months as manager.

For those who know the process well, one conclusion can be drawn at least. If Granovskaia disliked Lampard she would have delegated the task of his dismissal to someone else, as has been the case with many of his predecessors. But that will be scant consolation to the man heading out the door.

Lampard was sacked because his points-per-game average had fallen well below what Granovskaia felt was acceptable and the club could see no sign that it would be turned around. It was felt that he had been given sufficient time but that the side was slipping out of top four contention. The pair had disagreed over the squad's profile. In the summer, Lampard wanted to sell Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger and Jorginho but Granovskaia refused in spite of a bid from Arsenal for the latter. The club pointed to his request the previous January to sell Olivier Giroud, which was rejected. The French striker went on to score nine more goals that season.

Granovskaia has built a reputation as a successful trader of players, extracting a top price for Eden Hazard, when he had one year left on his deal, as well as for Alvaro Morata and negotiating a lucrative clause that earns Chelsea money every time Romelu Lukaku moves clubs. But on her watch she has also seen Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne leave before their immense potential was realised and Thibaut Courtois run down his contract.

Granovskaia has been very eager to see Kepa Arrizabalaga develop into the player that Chelsea hoped he would be, having spent on him a world record goalkeeper fee of €80 million. As it became evident last season that would not be the case, Lampard pushed for Jan Oblak, the Slovenian at Atletico Madrid. At €100 million he was considered much too expensive. Petr Cech, now Chelsea's technical and performance advisor, and his former coach Christophe Lollichon recommended Edouard Mendy and a compromise was reached.

Lampard wanted to clear out the squad of those older players who would not buy into his methods. Granovkaia wanted less radical change. She used the club's data analysis department led by Scott McLachlan, the head of international scouting and analyst Matt Hallam, to generate realistic prices for transfer targets based on comparables. At Cobham much influence is perceived to be in the hands of those two when it comes to accepting bids for existing players. From the club's perspective that is not the case: they are simply part of the process. All decisions on price for sales and acquisitions are Granovskaia's alone.

It is safe to say that the club's analytical process did not concur with Lampard's view that the club should spend big on West Ham midfielder Declan Rice. It was concluded that the same reasons they allowed him to leave as a teenage academy prospect were still applicable now.

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The Germany international Kai Havertz, who arrived for €85 million in the summer was a long-term target for the club who would have been signed under either Lampard or his successor. So too Malang Sarr, now out on loan. Both were signed with Lampard's acquiescence. One might argue he had no choice. Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech were Lampard's picks.

Lampard left with a strained relationship with former teammate Cech. In public, Lampard talked up the role of the man alongside whom, as a player, he enjoyed such success. In reality, Cech was on the other side of the divide and as a permanent club employee is loyal to Granovskaia. He decided to continue training on an almost daily basis - as a goalkeeper, not a goalkeeper coach. As a 38-year-old retired footballer, his appearance in a game for the under 23s in December caused some surprise.

For the record, Chelsea say that Cech was given game-time in case he was required as cover in the squad in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak and unlike others, he could leave the first team biosecure bubble for a few days to do so. The club has around ten senior goalkeepers under contract, including four out on loan. Whether Cech sees training with the first team goalkeepers as the best use of his time under Lampard's successor Thomas Tuchel remains to be seen.

When performances on the pitch declined, Granovskaia's decision was without a grain of sentiment - which is her way. Yet there are clues in the past that suggest a different mood in private towards Lampard from the club to the public worship he gets from the fans when Stamford Bridge is full. The club's greatest goalscorer, his 13 years at Chelsea were not without some bumps in the relationship with the hierarchy - albeit nothing like the embarrassment his former teammate John Terry occasionally caused.

Lampard's last major playing contract in 2008 was negotiated hard, with reported interest from Inter Milan used as leverage, although that was before Granovskaia was in control at Chelsea. She was in charge when he departed in 2014, ostensibly for Major League Soccer's New York City. There was some consternation at Chelsea when he instead turned up on loan at Manchester City where he played the whole season. His status could be said to have got him the job, just one year into his managerial career, but otherwise he was judged no differently to his predecessors.

When the time comes for Tuchel to leave, he can judge the strength of his relationship with Granovskaia by whether she attends his sacking. He is the third manager Granovskaia has personally selected and as ever she will no doubt be keen that her appointment works out, having seen it go awry with Sarri and now Lampard. Although all parties are aware of the consequences if that is not the case

©Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2021)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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