Photo by Ben Sutherland // CC BY 2.0
One of the biggest stories of last season – apart from the actual football which turned out to be actually rather good – was the Ole Gunnar Solskjær saga. This close season, one of the biggest stories is whether Frank Lampard will return to Stamford Bridge, this time as manager. The footballing annals are littered with examples of former legends going back in a shirt and tie, riding on a tide of bonhomie that rarely rears its head in professional football. But does it ever work out as everyone hopes it will, or does it as the phrase never go back would have us believe, always end up with the tarnishing of hitherto unbesmirched reputations? Let’s have a look.
The heart says yes, the head says…
Football is a passionate game. On the pitch, in the stands, on the forums, and all too often, in the boardrooms as well. Considering just how much money is involved, some of the decisions that are made by reputedly savvy businessmen beggar belief. Whether it is in the knee jerk reactions resulting in premature sackings or a recruitment policy based on who might curry favour with the fans for a few short months. Decisions in all aspects of the game should be made with the brain not the heart. We as fans are as guilty as anyone. When was the last time you bet against your side or for your rivals? When it comes to cold hard decisions, it is always wise to put loyalties and prejudices aside and seek impartial expert advice.
To be fair to the Manchester United board, there were hardly any dissenting voices when they offered the Norwegian the gaffer’s job after he had overseen a remarkable turnaround in the club’s fortunes. It was only afterwards that people began questioning the wisdom of offering him such a long contract, as well as the quality of the opposition in the games that had formed the foundation of that turnaround.
The Lampard case is also not as black and white as it at first appears either. The former Chelsea and England star may not have a managerial CV that would normally put him in line for a top six job. But Chelsea is a strange beast, and these are particularly strange times at the West London club. Their transfer ban plus the fact they have just sold undoubtedly their best player, not to mention their recent track record of hiring and firing managers, does make you wonder who in their right mind would go there if they were given the choice of any of Europe’s heavyweights. Frank Lampard, of course, is not in the position where that is an option. Will he ever get this type of opportunity again? He will also be coming into a club where he will be welcomed with open arms, and with incredibly low – for the type of job it is – expectations placed upon him, by the fans at least.
Chelsea have a history
Of all the clubs that have opted for former players or even managers, none have done it more than Chelsea. Perhaps it is seen as an antidote for a club that has struggled for an identity at times. Hollins, Hoddle, Gullit, Vialli, Di Matteo all managed the side after having previously pulled on the blue jersey. Mourinho came back for a second spell in the dugout. Many of those returns did reap rewards, but almost all of them ended with a sacking, as practically all managerial appointments at the top level of the game do.
Photo by Dagur Brynjólfsson // CC BY 2.0
Another side who have a habit of going back in an attempt to go forward are Nottingham Forest. Martin O’Neill was relieved of his duties last weekend after being unable to draw upon his high standing within the club to win the fans over, mainly down to the style of play as well as the lack of points amassed. If Lampard does get the gig at Stamford Bridge he will be hoping he fares better than Stuart Pierce did in either of his two spells at the Midlands side.
There are times when it does work out. Kenny Dalglish had two spells managing Liverpool. Though neither could be deemed a golden period for the club, he more than held his own in difficult times, and his reputation did not suffer overly as a result, and subsequently became a non-executive director. Kevin Keagan’s time at Newcastle, viewed with the benefit of hindsight was one of relative success, and certainly excitement. George Burley enjoyed his most successful stint as a manager at Ipswich, the club he played 13 seasons for. As a manager, he would guide the Suffolk outfit to a play-off victory and a fifth spot in the Premier League in their first season back in the top flight.
Those successes probably had very little to do with the fact they were returning heroes. In a sport where patience is incredibly lacking, it perhaps gives you a few weeks, or even a couple of months grace if your picture is already hung on fans’ walls, and clubs’ corridors. After that, if results on the pitch aren’t there then no amount of initial goodwill will save you from the fans or chairman’s ire.