Lampard Has No Fear of Player Power Threatening Chelsea Return
To those on the outside it was the thing that drove Chelsea to titles during Frank Lampard’s playing days at the club but also what did for a clutch of their managers. Player power: it was a double-edged sword, one with slightly murky undertones.
In his second coming to Stamford Bridge, as the managerial successor to Maurizio Sarri, Lampard might have been expected to want to control it, even to stamp it out. The truth is different. “I want player power in the dressing room,” Lampard says. “I think players must have personality. We had a strong dressing room, which was part of the success.”
The perception in the old days was that when Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba et al had lost faith in Luiz Felipe Scolari, André Villas-Boas or whoever, all it took was one call to the owner, Roman Abramovich, to trigger a change. Could the current squad not do that to Lampard if things went sour? “They won’t,” he replies. Why not? “Well, we certainly never did.”
Perhaps Abramovich truly is the untouchable iceman, even if his decision to turn to Lampard, the club’s record goalscorer, does contain a frisson of romance. It felt significant to hear Lampard say that he had not spoken to Abramovich at all during the recruitment process, only to his right-hand woman, the director Marina Granovskaia.
Lampard appears keen to embrace the creative tensions that have underscored the Abramovich era and he takes issue with the suggestion that the squad he has inherited lacks the characters of yesteryear. “It’s far too easy to say that from the outside,” Lampard says. “I certainly wouldn’t say there isn’t player power or personality when you talk about players like David Luiz or [César] Azpilicueta; [N’Golo] Kanté, who won the World Cup a year ago; Jorginho coming into the club [last summer]; [Olivier] Giroud, who won the World Cup; Willian.
“Players show their personalities in different ways. You don’t have to have John Terry and Didier Drogba, who were obvious powerful personalities and players. You can have players who might look slight and might have different ways about them that can be powerful. I want them to promote that. I want the players to own it.
“There’s nothing wrong with an open club. The modern club is not the dictatorship of the manager, who sees everything and, if someone speaks differently, [takes it badly]. I don’t have an ego as in [being so naive as to think that] there will not be conversations going on in a club the size of Chelsea. What I can control, I will control and that is driving training every day.”
Lampard’s capacity to relate to his players was a feature of his encouraging managerial debut season at Derby last season and it is hoped his presence will convince Callum Hudson-Odoi to re-sign with Chelsea; the 18-year-old winger has entered the final year on his contract.
Lampard’s sales pitch was direct and headline-grabbing. “I have seen Callum come through and he can be central to this team; he can be central to an England team. So I am going to say: ‘I want to work with him. I want to drive him forward.’ He can show right here, at the club where he came through the academy, that he is going to be an absolute world-class player. I truly believe that.”
There were other layers to it. Given Lampard’s history, it is fair to say there will be plenty of times when he is advanced as a reference point – whether he likes it or not. But the fact is that he has invariably been there and done it; the resonance is there. If Hudson-Odoi was frustrated last season by a perceived lack of opportunity under Sarri, Lampard can tell a similar story from when he was in his late teens at West Ham.
“I wasn’t as good as Callum at that age but I was frustrated because Harry Redknapp didn’t play me,” Lampard says. “I remember seeing Nigel Quashie playing for QPR and I had the hump because I wanted to play for West Ham. Jody Morris was playing for Chelsea. Those things – if you’ve got the right attitude – are good competition. I can say it now at 41 but it was good for me because it drove me on.
“The conversation has changed – too much, too young has gone. It’s the way it is. What becomes even more important is the attitude of the player; how you coach and how you push and drive.”
The Guardian Sport