Ahead of our trip to Tottenham this evening, Frank Lampard has been discussing the unique pressures of being in the spotlight and how he sees his role in supporting his players through those difficult moments of scrutiny…
Criticism is nothing new in sport but there is perhaps no brighter spotlight and no lonelier place to be than a footballer under fire. Every single of minute of Premier League football is now televised live in this behind-closed-doors limbo and the analysis is instantaneous, incessant and often incendiary.
Frank Lampard was no stranger to scrutiny himself as a player, particularly as the nephew of then-West Ham manager Harry Redknapp during his rise through the ranks in east London and then again on every subsequent visit back to that corner of the capital.
However, the boss believes the intensity of criticism in the game now has ratcheted up several levels since his playing days, with the advent of social media and its direct visibility to players particularly harmful.
Back in the day, managers had been known to throw away the Monday newspapers before players reported to the training ground; now, the full spectrum of hyper-analysis is available at the swipe of a smartphone screen before the dressing room showers have even been turned on.
‘When I compare it to my days as a player, the criticism levels have definitely ramped up and that’s mainly because of social media and the fact it’s so prevalent and so cutting,’ explains Lampard.
‘It’s very easy to be critical when you’re hidden behind a phone or keyboard and unfortunately that’s very visible to the players as well. It’s a shame that people react so quickly to one performance or one moment.
‘You have to remember that these players are all young men, they’re humans and they can be affected by that which is why I want to protect them and be a source of support and strength for any player that has those moments. That’s a really important part of my role because confidence in football is such a key factor.’
The confidence of Kepa Arrizabalaga has been a frequent talking point in recent months and Lampard has felt compelled to take the Spaniard out of the firing line on occasions given how intense the criticism has been. The boss highlights the goalkeeping position as being one that is particularly difficult to navigate when self-belief is low but he insists Kepa is being given all the support possible.
‘With Kepa, I have felt in the last week or so that the criticism and scrutiny from the outside and how intense it has been has gone beyond where it should be,’ he continued. ‘That’s the modern world we live in so you can’t complain too much but I certainly have to protect the players from that.
‘He’s a young lad working every day to do the right things, to be fit and ready. Sometimes in football, things like form and moments go against you and for a goalkeeper it’s much worse than any other position on the pitch.
‘If there is criticism and coldness from outside, that certainly isn’t what it is here. We want the best for him and my job is to support.’
For this evening’s Carabao Cup clash at Tottenham, Lampard will have to decide between Kepa, Willy Caballero or new signing Edouard Mendy to start between the posts. Despite last season’s trend of Caballero starting in the domestic cup competitions as the number two, our head coach feels the current situation is more fluid.
‘Last season, Willy was playing in the cups and then he got in the team in the league so Kepa played games in the FA Cup so it sort of flipped,’ he added. ‘There’s never an absolute promise and I’ll make a decision as I see it for Tottenham.’
Following the possibility of a loan departure for Ruben Loftus-Cheek being mooted, Lampard also suggested other outgoings could be imminent before the summer transfer window closes next Monday.
‘If it’s right for a player and right for us then that can be possible,’ he said at the prospect of more exits. ‘At the moment the squad is very big but it would have to be the right situation for us.
‘It’s also a slightly uncertain time in terms of what’s going on at the moment - we’re always in the worry of quarantines and isolations, which we had a lot through pre-season. We have to prioritise the squad we’ve got and make sure we’re comfortable with that but there is a possibility that a few players could be moving on if it’s right.’
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