In a wild season of comings and goings at Chelsea, Frank Lampard’s out-of-the-blue return to Stamford Bridge is among the most improbable of the lot.
Lampard, Chelsea’s record scorer and one of its greatest ever players, was hired as interim manager until the end of the season on Thursday to give the club time to find a permanent replacement for the fired Graham Potter.
It will be Lampard’s second spell as Chelsea manager — he was fired in January 2021 after 18 months in charge and replaced by Thomas Tuchel — and said it was an “easy decision” to come back.
“This is my club,” he said at a hastily arranged news conference at Chelsea’s training base.
“I’m confident in myself, I have a good understanding in the squad — of course I’ve worked with a lot of them before — but also the training ground, the stadium, the fans, what Chelsea fans want, and I’ll do my utmost to give them what they want.”
Lampard’s first spell coaching Chelsea came before the arrival of the club’s current ownership fronted by American businessman Todd Boehly.
Now Lampard is back seemingly as a short-term fix while Chelsea continues to talk to candidates for the job on a full-time basis. Former Barcelona and Spain coach Luis Enrique was reportedly in London on Wednesday to speak to Chelsea officials while Julian Nagelsmann, who was recently fired by Bayern Munich, has also been linked with the vacancy.
“I want to do the best possible role I can and after that we will see what happens,” the 44-year-old Lampard said. “I am not getting anywhere ahead of myself.”
Boehly and co-owner Behdad Eghbali described Lampard, who scored 211 goals for Chelsea and was captain when the team won the Champions League final in 2012, as a “Premier League hall of famer and a legend at this club.”
“As we continue our thorough and exhaustive process for a permanent head coach,” they said, “we want to provide the club and our fans with a clear and stable plan for the remainder of the season.
“Frank has all of the characteristics and qualities we need to drive us to the finish line.”
Lampard, who has been out of work since getting fired by relegation-threatened Everton in January, will be leading Chelsea into the Champions League quarterfinals and a two-leg meeting with defending champion Real Madrid, coached by former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. Win — and Chelsea is a big underdog — and a semifinal meeting with Tuchel’s Bayern Munich could await.
In getting dismissed by Chelsea in 2021, Lampard was denied a chance to coach the team in the knockout stage of the Champions League that season. Tuchel took over, made the team hard to beat and ended up taking Chelsea to its second European Cup title with a win over Manchester City in the final.
Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League triumph was spearheaded by an interim coach, Roberto Di Matteo, so the club is hoping history is repeated with Lampard.
His first game back at Chelsea will be against Wolverhampton in the Premier League on Saturday. Chelsea is languishing in 11th place, 14 points behind the top four, and unlikely to finish in the qualification spots for the Champions League.
The squad Lampard inherits is very different to the one he left behind, after Chelsea’s spending spree in the last two transfer windows totaling $630 million on 16 players.
The heavy expenditure hasn’t translated into points, though, with the team slow to gel after the arrival of so many new signings and having issues in attack, in particular.
Lampard, a star midfielder for Chelsea from 2001-14, said he’ll start with a “clean slate.” That will be good news to midfielder Mason Mount and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who were largely frozen out under Potter after being mainstays under Lampard and Tuchel.
“I know there’s a lot of talent in the squad and I’m excited to work with that talent and help them,” he said.
“Modern-day football has big squads and I understand that Chelsea might be at the top end of that. I remember being here before and I had lots of difficult decisions with really good players and people who you have to tell you’re not involved this week.”
Lampard will be the fourth manager to lead the team this season, after Tuchel, Potter — who was fired on Sunday — and Bruno Saltor, who took charge of the 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Tuesday.
Lampard was in the stands at Stamford Bridge for the Liverpool game, by which time he’d been approached about returning.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be in this seat again,” he said. “I understand the game and this club I have a big connection with. But, if I’m honest, it wasn’t my thought that one day I’d be back here as Chelsea manager.
“Now I’m here in a different period, a different era. Saying I have ‘unfinished business’ sounds a bit Hollywood. I want to work and I want to help this club as much as I can.”