In an exclusive interview originally published in Everton's matchday programme for the closing home game of 2021/22, against Crystal Palace, Frank Lampard talks about the ‘most exciting’ element of his job, the importance of the Club ‘standing up for itself’, a fast-developing connection with supporters, the ‘passion and honesty’ of key figures who attracted him to Goodison Park, a deep appreciation of his employers’ standing in English football, and the personal and flexible principles that guide him every day.
As a greenhorn manager at Derby County, Frank Lampard made a promise to himself.
Yes, he would adhere to a set of fundamental beliefs, formed growing up in a football household and ingrained over a playing career that serves as an enduring testament to the qualities of tenacity, diligence and competitive spirit.
But Lampard would avoid obstinately aligning himself with a single footballing concept. We’ve all seen managers stoke the flames as their teams go up in smoke, doubling down on individual philosophies in the face of spiralling results. Lampard had no wish to join their number.
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them...well I have others”, said the American comedian Groucho Marx.
Marx, apparently, was cracking wise at the expense of flip-flopping politicians, the sort whose supple morals are wedded to prevailing sentiment.
And, sure, nobody made material political or sporting gains by being flighty.
Equally, in football at least, intransigence and inflexibility are enemies of progress.
Lampard divides his own principles into two strands; those that determine on-pitch style sit alongside the culture governing every aspect of the off-field organisation.
“With the football stuff,” he confirms, “sometimes you have to compromise, or change things, because of the players you have.”
In a perfect world, Lampard would instruct his side to hunt down opponents in packs high up the field, send them out to dominate games on the strength of overwhelming possession and shot counts.
It represented a notable deviation, then, when Everton had 22 per cent of the ball in the home game against Chelsea in May.
Lampard’s team won 1-0, shaving a five-point deficit to 17th position and beginning the surge for safety.
“My first job at Derby was so fresh in coaching and managerial terms and the most important things were to always be really open to getting better and to learn from every situation,” says Lampard, who was appointed at Pride Park aged 39.
“To try to stick to your principles but realise that sometimes you are going to mould them and change a little bit, as you go.
“There is nothing wrong with saying you are always evolving and learning.
“Not just because I am a young coach. You should do it all the time.
“In a pure coaching sense, I didn’t have the idea of making Everton a high-pressing, possession team in five minutes.
“It would have been ridiculous of me to think that overnight I could change a style from where we were, to where we want to get to.
“It is a generalisation to say I wanted to high-press and to play possession football against Tottenham [5-0 defeat on 7 March]. I didn’t.
“We had a plan we didn’t execute well enough, which meant we gave our worst performance since I’ve been here.
“My career in coaching has been managing teams that control possession and press higher up the pitch than we are right now.
“But it is an incredible challenge for me to come in and see the players and feel what is good for them, at the moment.
“To work out what protects the players on the pitch, what enhances our strengths, what protects us against what I might see as our weaknesses.
“I can only find out those things by working with the players.
“Coming in mid-season, you have to accelerate that process to get where you want as quickly as possible.
“In this past period of games, we have had a tight-knit block and been more of a transitional team – I have no problem with that and am very pleased with how we are playing.
“And I look forward to – and get excited about – how we can take that forward, in different ways.”
Playing football, recognises Lampard, is an inherently selfish job. Even as part of a collective, the onus is on individual development. Lampard, of course, won multiple honours with Chelsea, but was similarly renowned for a slavish commitment to self-improvement.
“What some players don’t consider so much when they want to coach or manage,” he says, “is that you have to quickly learn the skills to work with people. You don’t need those so much as an individual player.”
The method for relating to various personalities constitutes the nucleus of the “off-the-pitch principles” that Lampard positions on a higher pedestal than the footballing essentials.
“The more you can communicate and… understand the best way to motivate and manage individual situations, and bring people together in one direction, the quicker the football stuff has a chance of going well,” adds Lampard.
There is a tale about a former England manager who grew so frustrated over a player’s inability to master a free-kick delivery in training, he stepped in to provide an example.
It is inconceivable that the naturally magnetic Lampard would clumsily squander the goodwill of his players in similar fashion.
And his own career is sufficiently close in the rear-view mirror that he can easily retreat into lived experiences and feel the attendant emotions.
“The good and bad moments don’t always relate directly to trophies and titles,” says Lampard, and he would know, given the 11 major medals, excluding Community Shields, strewn across his sideboard.
“They relate to how you felt in the squad – and that [confidence and happiness] is what I want to try to create wherever I work.”
Learning the art of man-management, motivating and inspiring disparate characters – from 23-year-old Vitalii Mykolenko, adapting to a new club and country 1,700 miles away from the ongoing conflict in his Ukranian homeland, through local-boy-made-good Anthony Gordon and seasoned Fabian Delph, to Paul Clement, the Club’s First-Team coach and seven years his manager’s senior – maintains Lampard, “is one of the most exciting parts of the job, for me”.
“I’ve done the football things all my life,” he continues.
“But I’ve not managed people.
“Once you realise everyone is different, and your role is to make them feel happy and focused in work, and to extract the best from them, it is a really positive challenge.
“Vitalii is going through something I have never come close to experiencing.
“But trying to be a little part of the support for him, the fact you are trying to help someone, can make you feel good.
“Paul Clement has made it so easy for me – I have huge respect for him and have no problem tapping into his experience as a manager and working [as a coach] with Carlo Ancelotti for so long.
“He can help me, sometimes guide me on a decision because of something he says. I have no ego in that respect.
“You have to keep working on those people skills and consistently try to get better.”
Lampard played more games for Jose Mourinho than any other manager, with his tally of appearances under Harry Redknapp not far behind.
You’d never mistake Mourinho and Redknapp for two peas in a pod. But the two men share a fierce loyalty to their players – on condition of absolute commitment in return.
And it is this trait, the unwavering allegiance to the dressing room, Lampard inherits from his former bosses. There is a clip that intermittently surfaces of Redknapp rounding on a supporter who used his West Ham United fans’ forum platform to question 17-year-old Lampard’s first-team promotion.
Sitting next to Lampard, the perceptive Redknapp vowed the player would “go right to the very top”.
“Most of the things I take from my managers have nothing to do with tactics,” begins Lampard, “it is interactions and how they made me feel.
“It is important, if you are going to get people in the best place, to be positive with them.
“In the modern day, I don’t think heavy sticks or negativity work so well.
“But, in terms of not criticising the players, so much, and remaining positive, I have to work with them every day – which is a pleasure – and I want them to understand they have my support.
“I can say a lot of things behind closed doors, but if I talk about them out loud, I want to support them.
“Players do not want to make mistakes or do the wrong things.
“The only thing I would call out, is if people were not doing the basics that should come with what we do – the work ethic and respecting the Club and their teammates.
“But our responsibility is to try to get the team playing as well as it can and that negativity out loud won’t work.”
The force of Lampard’s personality eradicated any risk of falling into the trap of simply imitating Mourinho or Redknapp, or any of the other managerial aristocracy he performed under, including title winners from across the continent in Ancelotti, Claudio Ranieri, Guus Hiddink and Manuel Pellegrini.
“You have to be natural and that actually comes pretty easy to me,” says Lampard.
“I am not striving to be anyone I am not, I don’t have an ego in the sense I have to try to create something I am not.
“That wouldn’t work with how I am.”
How Lampard is chimes with the supporters of his club.
Evertonians immediately took to the man from the south, embracing a kindred spirit in a proud, tough and fearless competitor.
Supporters are particularly invigorated by Lampard’s readiness to fight the Club’s corner.
Again, we can reach back deep in Lampard’s career as a first-in-class midfielder to see an innate refusal to be cowed.
Lampard was 21 and West Ham’s nominated penalty taker when the formidable 31-year-old Paolo Di Canio tried to snatch the ball from the Englishman’s grip.
The younger man stood his ground, before relenting in the interests of the team – and eventually having the final word, striking late for a crackers 5-4 win over Bradford City.
“I definitely have that [strength of character] in me,” says Lampard.
“People who know me well understand my competitive nature.
“In management, you can get very close to the line, because you speak so frequently and, sometimes, after very emotional games.
“You sometimes later think, ‘Maybe I could have structured that slightly differently’.
“But I wouldn’t hold back if I thought there was something affecting the Club that I felt wasn’t quite right.
“I try to be as straight as I can but to not offend people.
“But I have felt, in my short time here, we’ve had decisions not go our way that have been really clear and they have affected us – and I do not want us to be seen as a team that is in any way a soft touch.
“I want Everton to be a club that stands up for itself.
“If anyone has to do that, it is me.
“I try to stay the right side of the line.
“I am not asking for favours from anybody, that would be ridiculous.
“I am not questioning the integrity of anyone.
“At the elite end of football, pressure and situations change all of us and can lead us to make mistakes.
“But, I think, it is very important that when the opportunity comes to show we are a strong club, who will defend ourselves, absolutely I should be the first to do that and everyone should follow.”
Lampard is “thinking every day” about a long-term blueprint for Everton; tentatively designing a core playing model and weighing up potential recruits, with a heavy emphasis on acquiring round pegs for round holes.
Planning for the future is nonetheless taking a back seat to the very immediate task of completing the Club’s dash for safety from a perilous position five points beneath the dreaded perforated line fewer than three weeks ago.
“Because of our situation, the now is so much more important and consumes a lot of time,” says Lampard.
A confirmed football obsessive – “I have to push myself to switch off” – Lampard’s limited free time is devoted exclusively to his family: wife Christine and his four children.
“It is football and family life and that is more than enough for me,” says Lampard, although he has an appointment with a “gritty TV series” when the season is finished.
The television is reserved for football, right now, and Lampard is sharing extensive periods with his circle of staff.
“Working the hours,” insists Lampard, is the only way to achieve improvement and, ultimately, some form of success.
That is why the Everton boss and backroom team are adopting a first-in-last-out mentality at the Club’s Finch Farm training headquarters.
“Everyone who works around the Club should see we are dedicated and set a standard to follow,” says Lampard.
“That comes naturally to me and the staff and gives a really good impression to the players and everyone here – it shows we are all in it together.”
As a child of the ‘80s and someone who played against Everton in an FA Cup final and countless heavyweight Goodison Park ding-dongs, Lampard wasn’t in need of a history lesson when he joined the Club.
He was clued-up on the recent past, too, and acutely aware of the potential power of a united fanbase.
The emotionally intelligent Lampard, therefore, is proving the perfect figurehead for a group of supporters who mobilised in a marvellous, forceful show of togetherness and over-my-dead-body defiance, as the Club’s plight deepened.
“I appreciated the importance of that connection [between manager and supporters],” says Lampard.
“It was evident it was a tough moment when I joined.
“I understand football on a level of what fans want from their teams and managers.
“It varies across clubs. But when I looked at Everton – and reflected on playing against them – I understood the fanbase and this part of the country.
“The fans who come to Goodison are generally from this area – and that is reflected in what they want from their team.
“My first thought was, ‘Can I give them a team they really relate to?’
“We are not there yet, but we are working towards that.
“Secondly, when I speak or represent the Club, which is a huge part of my job, can they see someone who is being honest with them? For good or for bad, that is important.
“I celebrate with them when we win, because unification is a big thing, and am straight about things when we don’t.
“That is what I would want as a fan.
“I’ve tried to do that in all my jobs as a manager. But I certainly realised the importance of it here.”
If Everton chose Lampard from a strong field because the Club’s hierarchy identified in their preferred candidate the requisite energy, ambition, intellect and morals, then why was the feeling reciprocal?
Lampard needed to select wisely, 12 months after leaving Chelsea despite managing a top-four finish in one full season in charge when the Stamford Bridge club were operating under a transfer embargo.
“I couldn’t think after Chelsea, ‘Let me find the perfect one’,” says Lampard. “Those jobs don’t exist – not from the outside, at least.
“When Everton came up… the first thing I thought about was the size and history of the Club, because that was something I grew up with.
“The next things were playing against Everton and at Goodison and understanding what a huge club it is – then there were 100 more details.
“The moment I began speaking to the Chairman [Bill Kenwright] and owner [Farhad Moshiri] and Denise [Barrett-Baxendale, CEO] – and did all the due diligence that is vital as a manager – it became very clear it was a huge opportunity for me.
“And a challenge at the same time – and I really wanted to take on that challenge.”
Everton had won one and drawn three of 14 Premier League matches when Lampard’s appointment was confirmed on the final day of January.
Supporters, then, needed lifting.
“I saw that, yes, with the form and position, at that time, you know there are difficulties [in team and among fans],” says Lampard.
“I read a lot and sensed a lot.
“I spoke to friends who are Evertonians and the general consensus was, ‘There are issues, but also, this is an incredible place – and if we get it right, we can take it in a clear, positive direction’.
“The Chairman and owner and Denise were very personable and open and forward-thinking.
“You can listen to a lot, but what matters are the things you hear when you speak to the people involved and feel their passion and the honesty of where we are and where we want to get to.”
Passion and honesty; two principles Frank Lampard wouldn’t countenance compromising, as the impressive manager sets about proving correct those Everton friends who expounded on the Club’s abiding potential.