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. (More Football News)
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.
Lampard said it was an “easy decision” to come back and that it came as a surprise to him.
“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 was fired by Chelsea only two years ago and replaced as manager by Thomas Tuchel, though this occurred before Chelsea's current ownership fronted by American businessman Todd Boehly.
Now Lampard is back as a short-term fix while Chelsea continues talking to candidates for the job on a full-time basis. Former Barcelona 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.
“Frank is a Premier League hall of famer and a legend at this club,” Boehly and co-owner Behdad Eghbali said.
"As we continue our thorough and exhaustive process for a permanent head coach, we want to provide the club and our fans with a clear and stable plan for the remainder of the season.
“We want to give ourselves every chance of success and Frank has all of the characteristics and qualities we need to drive us to the finish line.”
Lampard, who was 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.
In getting dismissed by Chelsea in January 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.
Lampard's 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 will inherit 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 on the field, though, with the team struggling 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 England midfielder Mason Mount, who was largely frozen out under Potter after being a mainstay 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. Part of the job is to try to manage that situation and feel included.”
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.”