‘Business as usual is not losing’: Frank Lampard learns the one true philosophy of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea

Miguel Delaney
·5-min read
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (AFP via Getty Images)
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (AFP via Getty Images)

As far back as early December, when results weren’t yet too bad, Frank Lampard made a public comment that rankled with the Chelsea hierarchy.

“It is a long season and these people talking about us winning the league and having the best squad, it is ridiculous,” the now former manager said.

The problem for Lampard was that some of “these people” talking about it were in the Chelsea boardroom, and that these comments came after only the second league defeat of the season, away to Everton.

The belief then, as now, is that the team should be capable of a title challenge this season. “The summer business wasn’t the activity of a club who were happy to accept top four,” were the words of one Stamford Bridge figure.

The club certainly weren’t happy to accept the worst points record of any coach in Roman Abramovich’s time as owner. That is why Lampard is gone, along with the belief that confidence within the squad was gone.

The FA Cup tie against Luton proved Lampard’s lastAFP
The FA Cup tie against Luton proved Lampard’s lastAFP

His December comments might have been mere face-saving or expectation management, but you can never change expectations within Chelsea, or save your job once the “death march” starts. No previous manager has turned it around. Not Jose Mourinho, not Carlo Ancelotti, not Antonio Conte, certainly not Lampard.

If the 42-year-old was sincere in what he said, he was going off an extremely temporary idea of the job. What might have been true in the summer of 2019 was never going to be true for long, especially not after the high-spending summer of 2020. Neither Abramovich nor the club hierarchy were ever changing vision, in the way some around Lampard idealised. Chelsea were never going to transform into a long-term project. Abramovich may have been re-energised by the promotion of so many academy players at long last, but it also strengthened his will to win.

“He has very high standards of performance, basically,” former executive Paul Smith told The Independent in September. “‘Failure isn’t an option’ would probably be his mantra. He doesn’t like seeing anything but success. He’s quite a taskmaster. You get enough rope.”

The feeling is Lampard got enough time, and enough investment. He knew as well as anyone the demands at Chelsea - it was conspicuous his comments about Andre Villas-Boas maybe being “too young” for a job that was “too soon” did the rounds on Monday - and he now knows from bitter experience.

It is because of that high turnover of manager and apparently higher level of impatience that Chelsea are often portrayed as like a continental club imposed on the Premier League. The truth is they are separate even to that. The very distinctive ownership of Abramovich makes them close to unique in football terms as regards how they’re run. Some say it's highly sophisticated.

Another description, in the words of one source, is that other Premier League and Champions League clubs view them as “a bit weird”. The influence of Abramovich adds a dynamic that is certainly alien to most in football, and that some say is more akin to “a royal court”.

Some who have worked with the club describe it as "a viper’s nest”, with so much potential for politicking.

That is of course a description that used to be thrown at the playing squad during Lampard's prime. It isn’t really accurate these days, and the fact the current group seemed so much less hardened than his teams was something that rankled Lampard, and that he would regularly complain about.

This squad don’t have the same heft. But they still complain to agents, and agents complain to the hierarchy. Granovskaia was not one of the voices most enthusiastic about appointing Lampard, and had some fraught discussions with him about certain signings.

It is also somewhat ironic - not least given the friendly pundits who unquestioningly supported Lampard on TV - that the presence of former teammates wasn’t enough to persuade Chelsea to keep him. Petr Cech, Claude Makelele and Andriy Shevchenko are among those who Abramovich will seek advice from.

Many might question the apparent contradiction between Abramovich and the club being so encouraged by the promotion of youth last season, and the short-termism of this season. That is to overlook the brutal reality that everything at Chelsea is secondary to results. They will override any other ideas, from supposed visions about a philosophy or identity to the romance of former players as managers.

There might be another contradiction in that, since it has long been argued that a commitment to something deeper might bring even greater successes. The issue is that the only true philosophy at Chelsea is to win. “Business as usual is not losing,” as one figure said.

Lampard’s popularity as a player wasn’t enough to save himReuters
Lampard’s popularity as a player wasn’t enough to save himReuters

Lampard now understands that to an even deeper degree, along with so many of his predecessors.

There's also the reality that the Chelsea hierarchy see the idea of "time" in this situation as moot. Whatever about short-term results, they just didn't have faith Lampard would succeed in the long-term either. This is absolutely key.

It has caused another potential issue with the fans, who would doubtless have loudly sung their support for a club hero had Stamford Bridge been full.

It still wouldn’t have made a difference to the club. Many had seen the same - or worse - when Mourinho left in 2007 and again in 2015. The atmosphere was rancorous, particularly the first time.

It was calmed and then raised, however, in the way Chelsea know best: quickly winning trophies. It is why managers will always be dispensable.

They have the clout to persevere and succeed through the departure of anyone. They will always be around the top. There will always be enough managers around that can eventually take them back to it.

It is what they do. It is the Chelsea way under Abramovich. That is the true identity of the club in the modern era, and is greater than any other individual, no matter how storied.

To expect anything else is ridiculous.

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