Pressure. It is a word almost synonymous with Premier League manager and one that Frank Lampard has been considering at the start of the new calendar year.
After a strong autumn in terms of results, December did not yield the number of Premier League points hoped for but the Chelsea boss counters the suggestion this is the first real sticky patch in charge of the team he is having to negotiate, and the idea that pressure is not all round even when results are good.
‘It’s not the first test like this,’ Lampard points out. ‘Last year there were many tests through the season from start to finish. There was when I first started, there was around Christmas last year when we went from seven wins back-to-back to a difficult time, and that’s the nature of the job when you’re coming into a team that’s young and changing.
‘You’re not going to go from zero to 100 so you have to be ready for those times. I think one of my strengths hopefully is never being too excited when we’re going well, I was trying to dampen flames after Leeds for instance when everyone was talking us up, and then my job is to not be too down when we have results go against us.
‘The first person that puts pressure on me is me,’ Lampard emphasises. ‘I do that all the time for good or for bad so that doesn’t change much, but I’m not stupid, I know we need to get results.’
He goes on to explain that in times when it is not going so well on the pitch, there is a need to tweak the things he does. He can’t afford to think he has it cracked or a poor result is nothing to do with his work, but at the same time he has to stick to his guiding principles, conscious that those can be lauded when the team does well but the same things can then be criticised when one goal, however fortuitous, swings a result the wrong way.
‘It’s different from being a player to my job now because the pressure when you’re playing is very individual when it comes to aspects in your game - maybe the opponent you’re up against in a game,’ Lampard explains.
‘The pressure when you’re a manager is very general through the week preparing the team, thinking about selection, understanding expectations, so it’s a different level of pressure and that’s something I had to handle the minute I stepped into management.
‘I enjoy pressure and if I didn’t then I wouldn’t have got back into this or I would walk away at the first chance and that’s never going to be something that I would do. I just take it on, I don’t mind it. That doesn’t mean you’re as happy as always, I’m not as happy right now as I was off the back of Leeds and a 17-game unbeaten run and that’s absolutely normal.
‘It does make me focus absolutely on the job. You learn a lot more in defeat or tough moments. You certainly have to review more and look at yourself more, and look at every tiny percentage around you more. I like doing that because I think that makes you better as a coach and better as a person. Maybe my wife will tell you better how I react to pressure at home.’
Lampard highlights the fact that Chelsea are far from alone in not being able to maintain steady form throughout this unusual campaign, including the sides at the very top of the table.
‘If you look at this season, everybody has had their difficult periods, inconsistency has been rife. I think there are multiple reasons for that. Of course we’re searching for that consistency that took us 17 games unbeaten. We did that for a reason because we were doing the basics well, energy in the team was good, and those have slightly dropped off.
‘Sometimes that’s natural, it’s par for the course when you’re fighting to get to where you want to be. Teams that we’re praising for winning trophies have gone through these periods and more.
‘So it’s head-down time, head down and work and not consider the table too much. We know we’re there or thereabouts but the only thing that will change it in a positive manner is us just going game to game.’