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John Laverty

Frank Lampard's army of fawning hacks from Fleet Street will ultimately do him more harm than good

John Laverty


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All round good egg: Frank Lampard and his wife Christine

All round good egg: Frank Lampard and his wife Christine

© Richard Young/REX Shutterstoc

All round good egg: Frank Lampard and his wife Christine

Chelsea were lacerated by a slick Bayern Munich outfit in the Champions League last week but it wasn't Frank Lampard's fault. God, no!

The master tactician had set up his team brilliantly to cope with the Germans' threat, so if anyone's to blame it's those players who couldn't follow their manager's genius-level, yet simple to follow, guidelines.

As a result, it was men against boys at Stamford Bridge - an appropriate phrase considering the average age of "Frank Lampard's Chelsea" last Tuesday night was a mere 27.18 years.

Indeed, Britain's best-selling paper, The Sun, sympathetically referred to the outclassed heroes as "football fledglings" and "Lampard's rookies", while rival red-top The Mirror adopted a similar tone with "Lampard's young pretenders" following the rookie manager's eighth home defeat this season.

It'll be vastly different in a few months, they told us, after Lamps has replaced the dead wood at his club with genuine world-class players who'll take "Frank Lampard's Chelsea" back to where they belong.

We've all been guilty of toning down criticism, and ramping up the praise a few notches, for people we get on with at a personal level

If only the facts didn't tip this utter garbage into the bin. For instance:

  • The average age of Bayern's starting XI in that quarter-final first leg was, at 26.73 years, even younger than Chelsea's; indeed, the best player on the pitch was the visitors' dazzling 19-year-old Ghana-born wing-back Alphonso Davies.
  • "Lampard's rookies" included nine players who last season managed to achieve, under much-derided former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, what mighty Bayern couldn't: winning a European trophy. (They also qualified for this season's Champions League, having finished third in the Premier League behind Manchester City and Liverpool).
  • Despite his obvious credentials, Lampard's one full season in management saw him propel Derby from sixth place in the Championship to, erm, sixth place in the Championship. Ironically, he landed the Chelsea job through failing to get the Rams back into the big league.

Right. By this stage you'll no doubt have grasped the not-so-subtle sarcasm, and it would be easy to deduce that the writer is no fan of the former Chelsea and England free-scoring midfielder.

Not true: indeed, on the handful of occasions (during his playing days) when I met Christine Bleakley's husband, he was courteous, polite and unfailingly helpful. Articulate and intelligent too, and possessing a beguiling sense of humour; there's very little not to like about Harry Redknapp's nephew.

But that's also the problem; Lamps is a media darling, hugely popular - if not adored - by the most influential 'Fleet Street' football writers.

We've all been guilty of toning down criticism, and ramping up the praise a few notches, for people we get on with at a personal level.

It really pained me, for instance, to be highly critical of former Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton, one of the nicest, most accommodating blokes I've ever met, but ultimately it had to be done; some of the performances, especially in the latter part of his tenure, were utterly dreadful, and it would be unprofessional to suggest otherwise.

With 211 goals in 648 games, and having helped the London club to three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Champions League and Europa League triumph, Lampard has earned the right to be regarded as Chelsea's greatest ever player

The deification of Lampard, however, is embarrassing, on a level with the 'El Tel' adoration we endured in the '80s and '90s and, in the end, will do this latest lovable Essex geezer more harm than good.

Gems like this from The Sun last November don't exactly help: "The Premier League might just have the new Alex Ferguson - but unfortunately for Man United, he is at Chelsea. After just four months as boss, Lamps comes over as a softly-spoken Fergie, demanding more from his team after they battled through the wind and rain to beat a Watford side who would not lie down. Good managers always insist on their teams giving more. Great managers get it."

The headline was 'Fergie Mark II'. The opponents, a struggling team going through a torrid run of 15 top-flight matches without a win. The legacy? More verbal diarrhoea.

With 211goals in 648 games, and having helped the London club to three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Champions League and Europa League triumph, Lampard has earned the right to be regarded as Chelsea's greatest ever player.

He's loved by the fans and will therefore, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United, be afforded more time to succeed than some blow-in boss bereft of any misty-eyed history with the club.

But that doesn't mean the football hacks have to adopt the same approach - and, to be fair to Frank, he hasn't been blithely cultivating it.

A level-headed man who is fully aware that results, and not myopic, fawning sports writers, will keep him in a job, I doubt if Lampard was flattered by the 'Fergie Mark II' headline written in huge, World War III type.

At 41, he's four years younger than the Scot was when United prised him away from Aberdeen in 1986, so there's time for him to become another Alexander Chapman Ferguson.

In the meantime, however, he should concentrate on NOT becoming another Terence Frederick Venables.

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