Reviewing a momentous week in his weekly column, Chelsea fan Giles Smith shares his thoughts on the departure of club legend from the manager’s seat in the dugout, but writes firstly about a record the Blues will hold for quite a lot longer yet…
Nowhere else to start, really, than with the week’s big news: Liverpool’s defeat at home to Burnley last Thursday, which came just hours too late to dominate the agenda-setting conversation in this column last week, but which we can certainly give its full dues now.That result, of course, brought to a damp end Liverpool’s plucky tilt at the record for consecutive undefeated games at home – and with it the rights to claim your ground as English football’s ultimate fortress. Liverpool had reached a commendable 68 matches before the tyres burst and they pulled over in a cloud of steam.
And that means our position stands: a kingly 86 games in a vintage unbeaten streak lasting from 20 March 2004 until 26 October 2008. Furthermore, reviewing all current standings, the maths very strongly implies that our post will remain secure for at least another four years, if anyone else fancies a shot at it. Stamford Bridge, then: still officially the ultimate fortress. Indeed, it seems legitimate to ask: will there ever be another fortress like it?
You know who was a big part of that 86-game undefeated run – indeed, practically an ever-present during it and one of its key engines? Frank Lampard, that’s who. He had a smattering of injuries during the 2007/08 season but otherwise he was there throughout and, of course, substantially responsible for the outcomes that occurred.
And then he became our manager. Now, like many supporters of a football team, I tend to be practically visionary when it comes to spotting the potential for gloom in an otherwise entirely happy and promising set of circumstances. Indeed, particularly where football is concerned, I could reasonably be described as not so much a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person, and more a ‘person who hasn’t even bothered to go to the cupboard for a glass in the first place.’Which is why, on the very day of Lampard’s appointment in 2019, I was already expressing, to fellow fans and any members of my family who would listen, anxiety and misery about the prospect of him losing the job. Because, whether sooner or later, that day was going to come. The number of managers who have left a club - any club - in a cloud of glory, at the time of their choosing, with a brass band playing and ticker tape dropping from the skies while a grateful fan-base applauds and waves, can be counted on the fingers of one mythical hand. The number of managers, on the other hand, who have driven home quietly after a 9.00am meeting in the wake of a month of below-par performances… well, there are simply thousands of those.Like all political careers, all managerial careers end in disappointment. It’s what football and politics have in common, except the people in football tend to be nicer.
So why would you want to see anyone you respect and love get run through that particular human mangle? It was the same when the notion briefly flickered of Gianfranco Zola returning as manager. Don’t get me wrong: I love the thought of a returning hero. Who doesn’t feel cosy at the prospect of stuffing the dug-out with beloved ex-performers: Zola, JT, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Claude Makelele, Michael Essien... get them all in there!And yet you know what’s coming.Sometimes I think ex-footballers should be banned from becoming managers. Certainly all club legends should be. Nothing that’s happened this week has dissuaded me from this line of thought. Reach a certain number of appearances (648, say), or a certain number of goals (211, say), or a certain number of major honours (11, say), including a certain number of league titles (three, for example), and that’s it: sorry, but you are now automatically disqualified from becoming that club’s manager at any point in its future. The history is too great and people’s memories are too precious.On the other hand, if that eminently sensible law had been in place, we wouldn’t have had the 2019/20 season. Here was a club expected to operate at top-four level while being hit by a transfer ban. Despite being a club legend with, behind him, 648 appearances, 211 goals and 11 major honours of which three were league titles, Frank Lampard was undeniably the perfect fit for that job.Fun times duly ensued. Frank was in the dug-out, Jody Morris was alongside him, Academy talents were all over the pitch, and we actually got to be in the ground to see it. Well, until March, anyway.
This season, of course, the job changed. It was already complicated, but it now became complicated in a different way. On reflection, then, maybe we can permit club legends to be managers, but only on the grounds that they continue to be treated like players. Under these terms, a manager who has clearly hit a troublesome patch and is struggling to reach the desired level gets sent out on loan to another club, banks some valuable experience there and then comes back in. Or maybe that’s how it works by default, in fact.Whatever, on Monday the moment duly came. One football correspondent, plangently lamenting Lampard’s removal, noted how he ‘he cares deeply’ for our club and has ‘a passion for the cause.’ Quite right. But it’s not a cause. It’s a football team. And it doesn’t need passion, it needs management. Whisper it, but caring deeply might be the easy bit. I care deeply, too. But you wouldn’t want me in charge of the first team.So, thank you, Frank Lampard, for this season, for last season and for all those other seasons. And welcome, Thomas Tuchel, an experienced manager with exactly no appearances for Chelsea behind him. Whisper it again, but from this particular fan’s point of view, that’s actually rather promising. Or put it another way: I’m not already wincing like I was once already wincing.