LONDON: Frank Lampard was hired as the first English manager of Chelsea in 23 years on Thursday, making a return to the club where he is the all-time record scorer from his trophy-laden 13 years as a player.
The appointment of the 41-year-old Lampard is something of a gamble — he has had just one year in senior management at second-tier Derby last season — and he is walking into a club that is under a year-long transfer embargo and has slipped well behind Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League pecking order.
Chelsea also recently sold its best player, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid.
But it is a sentimental move Lampard and Chelsea just couldn’t resist.
“Everyone knows my love for this club and the history we have shared,” Lampard said after Chelsea announced his widely expected arrival on a three-year contract. “I am here to work hard, bring further success to the club and I cannot wait to get started.”
Lampard is a Chelsea great after scoring 211 goals from central midfield from 2001-14, during which he won every major honor at the club including three Premier League titles and the Champions League. He is associated with some of the best moments in the club’s history, and admired for his work ethic and making the most of his talent.
Lampard left Derby, where he came close to securing promotion to the Premier League in his first season in management, to become Chelsea’s 12th coach in 16 years under Roman Abramovich’s ownership (from 2003). He is the first English coach to manage Chelsea on a full-time basis since Glenn Hoddle in 1996.
As a replacement for Maurizio Sarri, who lasted only one tumultuous year at Chelsea before returning to his homeland in Italy to coach Juventus, Lampard returns to a club that will be in the Champions League and will look to close a gap of 26 points to City, the Premier League champion for a second straight season.
Chelsea finished third in the league, and also won the Europa League.
Lampard will have to contend with an inability to strengthen the squad because Chelsea is subject to a transfer ban covering the two trading periods across the upcoming season.
United States winger Christian Pulisic and Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic have been signed up in advance but they will be the only offseason arrivals at Stamford Bridge, meaning Lampard might have to call upon Chelsea’s talented crop of youth-team players during the early part of his tenure — something previous managers have often been reluctant to do.
“I want to work with those players. I want to dangle the carrot: Can you work hard, can you compete, can you get in the team?” Lampard said in a message to Chelsea’s youngsters, two of which — midfielder Mason Mount and defender Fikayo Tomori — he had on loan at Derby last season.
“I will always have my eye on the academy. I was that young player a long time ago and the one thing you want is the feeling that you can get in the first team, that the road that divides the academy and the main building is a road you can cross.”
In its statement welcoming Lampard, Chelsea praised his “dedication to improvement, versatility and reading of the game.”
“Frank possesses fantastic knowledge and understanding of the club and last season he demonstrated he is one of the most talented young coaches in the game,” said Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia.
“After 13 years with us as a player, where he became a club legend and our record goalscorer, we believe this is the perfect time for him to return and are delighted he has done so.”
The last former Chelsea player to take over as coach was Roberto di Matteo, who won the Champions League and FA Cup in 2012 with Lampard in his squad. He was fired after only eight months in charge.
Lampard’s first two competitive games as Chelsea manager will be at Manchester United, on Aug. 11 in the opening weekend of the Premier League, and Liverpool, in the UEFA Super Cup on Aug. 14 in Istanbul.