So after a week that seemed to drag for a month, multiple interviews by multiple people and interventions via Sky Sports News from prospective candidates it emerged that Frank Lampard is the chosen candidate for Everton moving forward.
The decision has been met with widespread support and no small amount of relief which was something of a surprise to me. It certainly felt 4 weeks earlier that would not be the case, and in honesty, outside a few loyal proponents that did not feel the case last summer.
To some degree it reflects how far the club has fallen, spiralled even, since the relative tranquillity of and security of last summer. In a twist of irony, there is a credible argument that Lampard would have been better suited to the role in the summer, than thrown in mid season with the enormous pressure of a very real relegation fight ahead of the team.
The wider disillusionment with the frankly awful performances served up under Benitez, tied to what appeared to be ludicrous suggestions for appointments from the 2 senior figures of the club (Kenwright with Martinez and Moshiri with Pereira) seemed to raise Lampard’s stock in the eyes of the fanbase, perhaps to levels that are unrealistically high. It will be worth noting this over the coming weeks/months, while I would love him to have a magic wand that fixes all problems, the likelihood is it will not be that straightforward, with jarring intersections of ineptitude increasingly coalescing around the club and affecting the team. The best Lampard can probably do in the short term is bring a period of calm back, and provide a credible roadmap for supporters to believe in.
I will come on to what I believe his strengths are, but there has to be some acknowledgement of the risks. While I don’t think it will take an enormous amount more than 30 points to survive, Everton are getting around 0.5 points per game over quite a long period of time. If Lampard is unable to improve this, Everton are almost certain to be relegated (unless we get very lucky with a 28 point 18th place side). He doesn’t have much experience managing clubs in relegation trouble, or ones where such chaos exists. He has no track record for the immediate situation he has been thrown into. That doesn’t automatically mean he won’t be able to find a solution, but honestly that can be little more than guesswork at this point.
His own managerial career to date has been mixed. 6th with Derby with a heavily backed squad was impressive without being outstanding. 4th with Chelsea in his first season probably fits under the same bracket. It was a very good squad, though he did lose their best player in Eden Hazard and was the only Chelsea manager in the last 20 years who has been unable to being in his own players in the first season. The first season at Chelsea you could credibly give him a 7 for (much like the Derby season) though there is some important context to note (which we will address). The third season, in almost any measure was something of a disaster for Lampard. The club spent big in the summer, well over 200m on fees as well as notable free transfers in terms of Thiago Silva and Malang Saar. Adding that spend to the infrastructure he had crafted in his 1st season should really have seen a title push. His replacement, Thomas Tuchel, delivered that form, 2 points per game and a champions league. Lampard was sacked with 29 points from 19 games (which over a 38 game season would have been less than Ancelotti achieved with Everton). There are caveats, but is has to go down as a very poor return.
The caveats are important too. After defeating Leeds they had 22 points through 11 games and it briefly looked like the promise outlined above may have become a reality. To that point it had largely been a steady climb for Lampard. They were 3rd in the league, 2 points off top and well in the running. Ironically a defeat against Ancelotti’s Everton sparked a dip in form that would see just 7 points picked up from the next 9 games. While it would be easy to blame a somewhat short run of games for a harsh sacking, the reality is that Lampard simply did not integrate the new signings well enough. At the very top table, when working for clubs who do the recruitment for you, your ability to handle the biggest of ego’s and tactically arrange high end talent is a key differentiator. Lampard, at that point anyway, was found badly wanting.
It is curious that a positive of sorts can be taken from this, for Everton, but it is less of an alarm than it might be for elite clubs. Everton are unlikely to go as heavily in a window as Chelsea did with that window, and will certainly struggle to attract the profile or quality of player Lampard’s Chelsea did. It’s not to say it’s not alarming, but it’s more to say it is unlikely to be an obstacle he faces. The flip is, the sort of skills he will be asked to demonstrate at Everton, have been where he has arguably performed best. In organising a team without huge funds, to work closely with younger players and hopefully open pathways to academy graduates. At both Derby and Chelsea he greatly lowered the age profile of both teams, and at least initially maintained performance level doing so. This is not easy, and Lampard should be commended for this. He started a process where Tomori, Abraham, Mount and Reece James (amongst others) were given opportunity and showed real improvement. He may well argue that had he been given more time at either, the benefits would have come down the road.
Underlying data was worrying at Derby (his Derby team overperformed their wider Xg) but at Chelsea in his 1st season they greatly underperformed their Xg. Defensively they were due to concede 37 goals and ended up conceding 54, because the goalkeeper had a historically low save %. His Chelsea side acquired an Xpoints of 73.49 only marginally behind champions Liverpool on 74 and Manchester City on 86. They actually improved upon Sarri’s Chelsea (who acquired 71.5 and they were not massively off Conte’s all conquering Chelsea champions who achieved 76 Xpoints. In truth, underlying numbers show he was probably fortunate to get the Chelsea job but a poor goalkeeper undermined some impressive work in his 1st season.
The big concern for all fans will be the next 18 games. I can see a world where if Lampard is given time, his work on the training ground with improving players will see an uptick in performance in the medium term. I can also see a world, where he is given time. In honesty next season will be almost a free hit (as long as we don’t go near to relegation) and if he is on the top half the season after, I would suggest the majority of fans will be behind him. That gives him 2.5 years where the expectation is to get somewhere close to the points level Ancelotti left us on. Any overperformance beyond that will be very well met by supporters. So I sense he will be given time, but in the immediacy, he needs to find a way to get 15 points from the next 18 games. With players returning to fitness, and a fresh set of ideas, it feels very achievable, but frankly there would have been safer options to perform that specific task.
We have touched upon some of the positives of Lampard, but it is worth perhaps elaborating on some of these. It appears he has given some serious thought to his assistants and coaching team. There is talk of Englands and Chelsea’s assistant managers arriving. This would be a major coup for the club is messers Holland and Barry arrive. That Barry focuses heavily on set pieces will be music to supporters ears. It may seem bold, but if Everton can defend corners betters, it appears almost impossible for the side to be relegated. So he seems serious about the job.
As indicated previously, he has a clear focus on younger players. There are obvious comparisons with Steven Gerrard (who it is worth noting won only 1 trophy from 9 available in Scotland, and was largely in the shadow of Neil Lennon and Celtic) but Gerrard as yet has not had an enormous focus on youth. He has bought ready-made players at Rangers and seems to be doing similar at Aston Villa. It’s not criticism, he may well crack the top 6 doing this, but it is a front-loaded gamble. Lampard has a healthy reputation for his work with younger players. Of the 4 players I mentioned above, there was also Callum Hudsoin Odoi and Christian Pulisic who were developed by him. Like Gerrard, Lampard has a big name and players will likely gravitate to want to work with him, in a way that they may not with even a Greame Potter (never mind a Vitor Pereira). It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does.
There will be obvious question marks as to whether the club is willing or able to build a strategy around this. For the most part the owner seems intent on leaning heavily on agents to feed him players to be signed who may suit themselves but not the club. Even when a DOF came in with a reputation for youth development, this was largely sidelined, for managers who wanted experienced players and agents who wanted to move on more experienced names. There’s no guarantee the owner will put his ego to one side, and his relationship with agents to allow the club to pursue a more strategic and joined up approach to recruitment, but if they were allowed to, the appointment fits what the club should be looking to do.
Lampard looking to recruit coaches from Chelsea who have been either directly or indirectly involved with Chelsea, who are regarded alongside Manchester City as having the best academies in the country is also only a good thing. I was always uneasy at Benitez trying to remodel such aspects of the club, as he has never done so successfully anywhere (indeed he gutted the Liverpool academy to the point no players emerged for over a decade), but those at Chelsea are industry leading in this aspect and seem to have a loyalty and respect for the work of Lampard. If we can bring staff over we should be looking to do so, and the hope will be in the short term that some talented players can be brought in to help supplement our own academy cohort.
When it boils down to it, the club has to look at the work Lampard did with Mount, Hudson Odoi, Pulisic, James, Tomori and Abraham and look to replicate a strategy around this. With the exception of Pulisic, all of the players of this stature are within Everton’s grasp at the point Lampard started working with them. We need to be looking to supply him players of this niche each summer, and positively compounding his ability to coach and improve them.
Perhaps the final, and arguable most important point around Lampard, is he appears to have started on the premise of uniting the supporters. Some of this is down to circumstance, but it makes an enormous difference when there is a feeling of unity across the fanbase. It allowed Ancelotti to get off to a very fast start as manager, and really dogged managers such as Benitez, Allardyce and to a degree Silva who never quite felt like they had done enough to win the fanbase over. As with all football supporters, Evertonian’s want to be led and to feel they can trust in the person who is making that journey. Lampard has at least got a hearing that supporters will look to get behind him.
For all supporters, be they evangelists or in my case slight skeptics, there needs to be some effort made to get behind the team for the remaining games. The biggest danger point for the club is relegation this season, and while there is a rebuild to get back, there is a pathway where it makes some sense if we can get through the next few months. We have a role to play and we need to get behind the players at every opportunity in the way we saw in the initial period under Carlo Ancelotti. That positivity can go a long way to getting us away from the relegation zone, and allowing for a hopefully sanguine end to the season before the rebuilding work starts in earnest.