Steven Gerrard’s path to the Liverpool dugout seems mapped out, but Frank Lampard’s future is far more uncertain as he already had his dream job
If we think about it, we should probably be grateful that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard weren’t named by Premier League clubs within the same week. Their professional life has been feeling inexplicable for too long: central midfielders and club legends at Premier League giants who both moved to MLS, two players who made the last appearances of their playing careers on the same day and started their managerial careers in the first team within For 24 hours the endless can-not-them debate about their place in the English midfield.
Last but not least, we avoided a double avalanche of nostalgia from the noughties and some downright mild studio banter about the coexistence of these two sides. “Haha, people were wondering if we could play in the same English team and now we’re fighting against each other,” says Lampard and everyone holds their breath to get the punch line. “But no, seriously, Steven is a great guy and I wish him all the best.” (Lampard’s “serious point-joke-serious point” interview-answer sandwiches became a legend during his time at Chelsea.)
Indeed, knit together for 15 years, simultaneously figureheads for the rise of the Premier League’s fortune, the coronation of English clubs in the Champions League and the waste of a national team wrestling with their own hardwired psychoses, Lampard and Gerrard are now on diametrically opposed paths.
Gerrard’s on the conveyor belt to Anfield. If that sounds a little sweet, a little too good to be true, his future seems to be written in pencil. Gerrard was a youth coach at Liverpool, spent three and a half years with Rangers and now took a job at Aston Villa which would be an excellent stepping stone to a ticker return to Anfield. Jürgen Klopp’s contract expires in June 2024. Whether Gerrard planned this or not, he has embarked on an eminently sensible path to his dream job.
But the performance of his ex-club in Gerrard’s absence also made it easier for him. Liverpool have had a stable, successful manager for the past six years. Klopp’s time at Anfield was not flawless (his first year and last season both brought headaches) but the clangs and screams of the crisis were largely avoided. If Liverpool had finished 11th in 2020/21 and caused Klopp to demand rest and relaxation, Gerrard might have been appointed early. Instead, he was allowed to plan his path.
For Lampard the opposite. Derby County was a sensible place to start: the decent budgets before the bottom fell, the relationship with Chelsea that gave him glamorous loan commitments, the sleeping giant that kept Lampard relevant. But within a year Lampard’s dream job knocked on the door.
It is reasonable to argue that the job at Chelsea came far too early for Lampard and expected him to cope with the unique pressures of elite club management before he was fully trained as a coach. There is good reason to argue that Chelsea have made a strange leap into the unknown as their “gun-for-hire” manager recruiting model served them particularly well. It is reasonable to argue that Lampard did well at Chelsea (coping with the loss of Eden Hazard, keeping them in the top 4, putting young players in) or poorly (see what his successor did).
But it cannot reasonably be argued that Lampard should have turned down the opportunity to manage Chelsea. He had a deep emotional connection with the club and they turned to him in an emergency. They sold him a holistic vision of a new era on Stamford Bridge with Lampard at its center. If you are offered your dream job, don’t wait long to ask if you would prefer someone with a little more experience.
Lampard will have had many daydreams from his tenure at Chelsea; most of them would have depended on him being in office for more than 18 months. Three and a half years after starting his coaching career, he was called to his life profession and was dismissed.
That is the danger of being over-funded in an industry where your performance is constantly being scrutinized and you have to compete in the biggest clubs against the biggest minds in your profession. It raises two obvious, unanswerable questions: Are you an elite coach by gift or just a former club? And where is the next natural step when you’ve run a Champions League club and a championship club but nothing in between?
English football itself seems to be preoccupied with the same question. Depending on how you squint or who you want to believe, Lampard has interested, applied, declined or declined in favor of someone else for vacancies at Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Newcastle United and England U21; he was certainly connected to all fours. None, some, or all of them could have been natural seizures or embarrassing marriages of inconvenience – that’s not the point. But it gives the impression that Lampard doesn’t know where he belongs and club owners don’t know where he belongs.
As European football continues its nostalgic vibe, this mystery could become commonplace. The environment of the elite clubs – especially those with systemic problems off the field – makes it difficult to evaluate their Ave Maria coaches. The same goes for Andrea Pirlo after Juventus, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and maybe even Xavi at Barcelona. We might conclude that they weren’t good enough for these jobs, but what about any other job?
The next job is always the most important. Gerrard could fail at Villa Park and slip Liverpool’s radar; Lampard could finally get a job in the Premier League, proving that Chelsea’s leap of faith was not based solely on romantic nostalgia. But Gerrard’s linear path to his dream job and Lampard’s disorientation after Chelsea are proof that circumstance and chance can be as important as the ability to create or drain a coaching career.