Perhaps Frank Lampard’s great asset upon his return to Chelsea was that he understood better than most the mentality of this unique club.
Having survived the whirlwind revolution of the Roman Abramovich takeover as a player and thrived on the pressure it created he knew the demands and was under no illusions.
On tour, in Japan, this time last year, he refused to contemplate a season without competing for trophies despite the mitigating factors of a transfer ban and Eden Hazard’s exit.
Frank Lampard’s greatest asset is he understands Chelsea’s mentality better than anyone
The Chelsea boss survived, and thrived, as a player during the Roman Abramovich revolution
Excuses were available but Lampard was determined to set Chelsea’s sights high.
His messaging has remained consistent ever since and, despite an indifferent start and blips along the way, has secured a top four finish.
To add the FA Cup would represent an excellent debut season in charge at Stamford Bridge.
‘In one of our first conversations we had we agreed we couldn’t accept not to fight for the things we wanted to fight for,’ Cesar Azpilicueta told Sportsmail ahead of the final at Wembley Stadium.
As a coach, he has stressed that standards must not slip despite the club’s transfer ban
He’s had young talent at his disposal but has also leant on the experience of his senior pros
‘We knew the circumstances were difficult. We lost Eden, we couldn’t sign new players. But the young players coming through were there because they deserved to be there.’
Azpilicueta describes Lampard’s style as ‘natural’ and ‘respectful’.
He is hands-on around the training sessions but he allows coaches Jody Morris, Joe Edwards and Chris Jones to be closer to the players.
During the lockdown, Tammy Abraham revealed he had received only the occasional text message from the head coach, although Lampard closely managed the situation around N’Golo Kante, who was concerned about health risks and reluctant to return to training.
Morris and Edwards know many of the young players well having worked in the club’s academy.
Jones worked with the first team before he was tempted away to join Lampard and Morris at Derby in 2018.
He takes a backseat approach with players but was involved in the Ngolo Kante situation
Lampard is further removed which has probably helped him cast more authority.
Azpilcueta, Willian and David Luiz were the only survivors from his final season at the club as a player.
Luiz was quickly sold to Arsenal, an early marker from the new boss that there would be no sentiment at play.
Lampard can certainly not be accused of shirking big decisions. He jettisoned Luiz, left out new signing Christian Pulisic and has twice dropped Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.
He has chopped and changed the team with abandon, switching from a back-three to a back-four and various combinations of central defenders, clearly not entirely satisfied with any of the alternatives. Or just plain indecisive.
Lampard is short and concise with the press, with a businesslike approach to media duties
The Chelsea boss is not afraid of big decisions, having dropped £72m Kepa on two occasions
There is depth in the squad, though, which has helped and enabled him to make an impact during matches, especially since the rules changed to five substitutions, most notably at Aston Villa in the first game after restart and at Leicester in the FA Cup.
There have been opportunities for the academy graduates and yet they have not been immune from criticism or, more frequently, public reminders to keep working hard and not to relax and rest on their new, improved contracts.
Since his return from injury, Callum Hudson-Odoi has been regularly cajoled to keep his standards high in training.
Lampard grafted to make it as a player and, although times have changed and wages have soared in order to stop talented youngsters walking out, he will not be impressed if he thinks anyone is behaving like a star before they have achieved anything.
He knows how a winning mentality became second nature to players during Chelsea’s most successful era and considers it vital to replicating that success as a coach.
A top four finish and a possible FA Cup make it an impressive debut season for Lampard
As the season has neared completion, Lampard has come to lean more heavily on his senior players, such as Azpilicueta, Olivier Giroud and Willian.
Like all modern clubs, he has limitless access to the analysis tools and statistical data but, as he said recently, he uses his eyes first.
He has been surrounded by professional football his entire life and, although the game has changed since his father played for West Ham, he trusts his instincts.
Lampard has been businesslike, too, in front of the cameras. His media briefings are short and rarely give anything away.
And he seems to be holding it together in relations with the board aside from the January transfer window when he found it impossible to hide his annoyance at the failure to recruit new players despite fighting to successfully overturn the transfer ban.
In theory, Petr Cech should help him manage upwards, towards Marina Granovskaia and the executive tier because this is where things started to unravel for his predecessors Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri.
After investing in Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, they’ll be expected to challenge next season
Chelsea owner Abramovich will expect Lampard to close the gap on Liverpool and Man City
When the Italians felt the pressure, they turned inwards, reverted to their native tongue and, as one Chelsea insider calls it, ‘circled the wagons’.
Lampard, at least, has insider knowledge of the way Roman’s Empire works. His skills managing upwards will be vital next season because the expectations will be different.
With money invested in Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and more signings expected to follow, he will be expected to move on to more significant prizes than the FA Cup.
He will be expected to close the gap on Liverpool and make a noise in Europe but he has earned the time to work towards the next stage.