When Roman Abramovich sacked Frank Lampard in January it initially came as a shock, but it was hardly surprising. Abramovich has never been the sentimental type, and so not even Lampard’s status as a genuine club legend was likely to worry him. If Abramovich feels it is time to make a change, he makes it, regardless of standing or reputation. And so Lampard went the same way as many others.
Abramovich moved quickly to secure a replacement for Lampard. Within 24-hours of Lampard’s departure, German coach Thomas Tuchel – himself recently fired by Paris-Saint Germain – had been appointed on an 18-month contract, becoming Abramovich’s fourteenth appointment since he arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2003.
Since acquiring Chelsea, Abramovich has fired the popular Claudio Ranieri, axed the club’s most successful manager José Mourinho twice, sacked successful and popular managers such as Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte in no time at all, and has now booted-out club legend Frank Lampard. Although Chelsea come across like Watford with a bigger bank balance, who would argue with the Russian oligarch’s approach when he’s delivered the most successful period in the club’s history?
Frank Lampard started his managerial career with Derby County, leading them to the Championship play-offs, and returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019 following another managerial departure – Maurizio Sarri – though this one wasn’t a sacking, surprisingly. When Abramovich appointed Lampard to replace Sarri, the club’s hands were tied in the transfer market due to the restraints of the Financial Fair Play rules and so the new manager would need to blood some of the club’s talented youngsters. Who better than a man that delivered so much for the club as a player, and commanded the respect of everyone at Stamford Bridge?
Lampard’s first season in charge went well. He introduced younger players such as Tammy Abraham who finished the season as top scorer, Mason Mount who he’d had on loan at Derby County, and Callum Hudson-Odoi. These youngsters complemented the more experienced players, and Lampard led the club to fourth place in the Premier League and qualification for the Champions League, and to the FA Cup final, though they were disappointingly defeated by Arsenal.
During the summer of 2020, the club’s Financial Fair Play restrictions were lifted, and Abramovic handed Lampard his chequebook, and this was the start of Lampard’s problems. Chelsea spent more than £200million bringing in players such as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, and with that splurge in the transfer market came greater expectations from Abramovich.
When Abramovich sacked Lampard, at first glance it seemed like a harsh decision. The club was still in the Champions League having navigated the group stage and qualified for the last sixteen, and had made it through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. But their Premier League form had been disappointing, and the club was some way off the pace, and it’s here where Abramovich’s concerns lay.
Since Tuchel’s arrival, Chelsea have remained unbeaten. They’ve made it through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they will face Manchester City at Wembley, and impressively dumped Atlético Madrid out of the Champions League to reach the last eight. And most crucially, their Premier League form has improved and they’ve hauled themselves back into contention for Champions League qualification. Given this about-turn in Chelsea’s fortunes, both Abramovich and the club’s support will probably conclude that it’s been a good call.
Each time Abramovich dismisses a manager, the same things are said about his loyalty, the morality of the decision, and how long it will be until such decision-making catches up with the club. But the fact is, Abramovich’s loyalty lies with Chelsea, therefore he has no real truck with moving managers on, no matter who they are, how big a name they are, and what they have delivered. And no one can argue that his approach hasn’t been a success.
During Abramovich’s eighteen years at Stamford Bridge, a manager’s average tenure has been just fifteen months. However, the club has lifted eighteen trophies – an average of one a year – including five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, the Champions League, and the Europa League twice. Chelsea’s support has been relatively quiet when it comes to how Abramovich deals with managers; the club’s trophy count since 2003 tells you why.
You would have thought that if any manager’s dismissal was likely to give rise to any dissent, then it would have been the sacking of Frank Lampard. Yet there was little or none. Maybe that’s because they can see the bigger picture and that Abramovich’s methods have delivered unprecedented success for the club. Or maybe they fear that dissent and criticism may lead to Abramovic considering his continued financial backing. Maybe they’ll have a different view if the trophies were to dry up.
So will Abramovich’s revolving door approach finally catch up with the club? It doesn’t seem likely, at least not in the short-term. But why would he consider a change in direction when it continues to deliver results?
There is no long-term in modern football, and Abramovich is a big reason for that. The chances of a Ferguson or Wenger reigning supreme at a club for a couple of decades are now pretty much close to zero.
And the Abramovich approach has caught on at other clubs. Managers don’t last too long at Watford. Leicester City demonstrated an Abramovic-esque attitude to Claudio Ranieri, booting him out just months after winning the Premier League. Prior to Pep Guardiola’s arrival, Manchester City didn’t hang around when it came to moving managers on. Manchester United are on their fourth permanent manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and Arsenal are heading down a similar path following Arsène Wenger’s retirement. And below the Premier League, clubs like Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest shed managers like peas.
It’s one of the least attractive aspects of the modern game, but it’s something that most are now used to, whether they like it or not.
But back to Stamford Bridge, there is no doubt that Thomas Tuchel is a very good manager. He’s been a great success at every club he has managed, and he’s made a great start to life with Chelsea. However, given Abramovich’s penchant for change, few would probably bet on Tuchel seeing out the four-and-a-half-year contract he signed back in January.