There's been a few games that have tried to compete with Football Manager's er… managerial dominance over the last decade – FIFA Manager for example – but none have managed it, instead falling by the wayside as Sports Interactive's simulator continues to be the very best. There's good reason for this; Sports Interactive use a vast network of scouts all over the world to obtain accurate data on players and their potential, and the tactical elements are far superior to anything seen anywhere else. Did you know that some real football clubs use the same software used by Football Manager because it's that effective and efficient?
This means that Football Manager has been somewhat effective at predicting the footballing future for a number of players and managers, and with the turmoil taking place at Chelsea this summer, I thought it would be… interesting to see how club legend Frank Lampard may fare at his boyhood team, because club legends that succeed in management are few and far between. Gary Neville came back from Valencia with his tail between his legs, Thierry Henry was stumped at AS Monaco, and Steven Gerrard is yet to restore Rangers to their former glory. Frank Lampard had an impressive first season at Derby County, leading them to the playoff final, but managing Chelsea will be a whole different beast.
Before Lampard's arrival, Maurizio Sarri sold Eden Hazard to Real Madrid then buggered off himself to Juventus. There's one question on everyone's mind though; will Lampard be able to handle the pressures of Premier League management, at the club that turned him into the man he is today? Chelsea is a club with a long and prestigious history, but how will they cope with ol' Franky Lamps at the helm, in his second-ever season of football management?
In this fictional-but-incredibly realistic footballing world, Lampard and Sarri have swapped jobs. Yes, this means Sarri is now in the Championship managing Derby County. That isn't all that reflective of what's happening in real life, but I didn't want to mess with the database too much. This also means that Allegri is still at Juventus, Hazard has jetted off to Madrid, and Gianfranco Zola is still Lampard's assistant. Anyway, with Lampard now in charge of Chelsea in Football Manager, it's time to see how long he will last in charge of the boys in blue, and whether he will be given the chance to bring them success before being given the boot.
A frugal start
Frank Lampard took over at Chelsea on June 25, 2018, and he didn't make a single signing during the summer transfer window. He sent a few more youth players out temporarily, to increase the total of players out on loan to a whopping 45, but Lampard took one look at the rest of his squad and decided that an out-of-form Higuain and an ageing Giroud were capable of scoring enough goals to win the Premier League. Dubious.
The season didn't get off to a great start. Playing a 4-1-4-1 DM Wide formation, Chelsea's first game of the campaign was a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City in which Danny-goddamned-Drinkwater scored the only Chelsea goal, saw the team concede the Community Shield, followed then by only winning one of their first five league games; a 2-0 win over Wolves. It isn't a dream start for Lampard, although how much of that is a result of the failure to make any new signings remains to be seen. Chelsea did, however, top their Europa League group with Eintracht Frankfurt, Sporting Lisbon, and Vorskla which set up a match against Zenit St. Petersburg in the first knockout round – success abroad can often make up for shortcomings at home, so this is a small positive in an otherwise troubled beginning.
Back to the league and, by Christmas, Chelsea had failed to beat a single big team. Draws against Spurs, Arsenal, and City alongside losses to both United and Liverpool meant that Lampard had led Chelsea to just eighth place, leaving the club languishing behind the expected top five, Fulham and Leicester. By this point, it's worth noting that Sarri has driven Derby County in second place in the Championship only behind Sheffield Wednesday, while Eden Hazard has scored 11 goals in 15 games in the league, and is Real's top scorer by almost double.
Essentially, it's as you'd expect; Hazard is going to be Real's star player next season, while not many are predicting Chelsea to make the top four. While Chelsea are infamous for their high turnover of managers, most actually succeed for a short while – Guus Hiddink aside – before a bad run of form persuades Abramovich to yeet them away from the club and pick the next unlucky soul to be in charge. Lampard's start here goes against the usual grain, because he's fighting an uphill battle to begin with at the club, given their fall from grace in the last couple of years.
A potential saviour?
January rolls around, and I know what you're thinking… surely Lampard has to make a signing or two to get them back on track. He's clearly listening, because he signed one; Wissam Ben Yedder joined the club from Sevilla for just shy of £20m. Exiting the club was Gary Cahill, who went to the other side of London – West Ham – for £1m. £20 million is pocket change for a club like Chelsea, but was Ben Yedder the super signing Lamps was hoping for? Not… really. A shocking January followed for the club, which saw their only win come as a 2-0 over Fulham – the poor form highlighted by a 2-1 loss to Norwich in the FA Cup – and Lampard was on the verge of losing his job by the end of the month. He turned things around in February though, as the club went 10 games unbeaten in all competitions, beating Zenit 7-0 on aggregate, then A.C. Milan 3-0 on aggregate in the next round. During this stupendous run of form, Ben Yedder, the next coming of Hazard for Chelsea fans, scored a mighty one goal – a penalty. He didn't exactly do the business in the assist department either, setting up just six goals in 19 appearances.
While Ben Yedder has been strongly linked to Manchester United in real life this summer – another club in need of some serious upheaval – if his Premier League debut in Football Manager is anything to go by, he wouldn't be the saviour needed for United or any other club. Believe it or not, he's also 28, so his days of being a young star with potential are long gone, and perhaps Lampard should have looked for some more youthful talent in order to build for the future.
April arrived, and it's like Lampard went on holiday, because three consecutive league draws followed by three losses without scoring a single goal meant they had one game left to play in the season, and it was against City. They lost in the Europa League quarter-final to Schalke 04, and hadn't beaten another team in the traditional top six all season. By this point, City had already lost the league to Liverpool though so clearly gave up, as Chelsea won 2-1 through Ross Barkley and Ben Yedder. Hurrah, the boy can score! Elsewhere, Sarri led Derby to the playoffs, but they lost to Reading, while Hazard scored 30 goals and got 15 assists in 57 games. Not bad. And as fair as Football Manager's capacity to reflect the real world, not out of the realms of possibility either.
Some questionable transfers
Lampard survived his first year in charge of Chelsea, but the question of whether he'd be able to build on that first season is a big one. In an interesting summer transfer window, he made the executive decision to offload Christian Pulisic to arch-rivals Arsenal for a jaw-dropping £83m. They bought him from Dortmund for £57m, loaned him back for a season, then sold him on – the American wonderkid never pulled on a Chelsea shirt in his life. They also got rid of fringe players like van Ginkel and Batshuayi to Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon respectively, along with Danny Drinkwater to Besiktas. Hmm…
Higuain joined permanently for £32.5m, they signed Bentaleb from Schalke – the team that eliminated them from Europe last season – for £26m, and in possibly the funniest transfer I've ever seen, Lampard spent £33m on signing Chris Smalling from United to replace the hole left by Gary Cahill last season. Utterly, truly, bonkers, and very much unlike anything that would happen in the real world of football, however daft it may sometimes be. If this happened in real life, and were I a Chelsea fan, I'd be well and truly appalled at the state of affairs because Pulisic is meant to be one of their hottest talents, and a solid replacement for Hazard. You'd like to think that in real life, Lampard would have slightly more sense than this, but that's yet to be seen.
Chelsea's 2019/20 season started somewhat strongly; a 3-2 win over Arsenal was the highlight, and by the end of September, they'd only lost two. An even easier Europa League group this time around saw them finish top once again over FK Rostov, Club Brugge, and Qarabag, while they scraped through the Carabao Cup, first on penalties against Forest Green, then a 3-1 win over Southend. Not quite the formidable opponents Lampard is used to facing, but the draws against Liverpool and United in the league showed promise.
End of a very short era
Then November hit and defeats to Spurs and Wolves, alongside draws against QPR and Huddersfield meant that Frank Lampard's job was in danger. Despite setting up a knockout round game against A.C. Milan again in the next round of the Europa League, Abramovich is known for being a ruthless owner who isn't afraid of chucking managers at the first sign of trouble in an effort to restore Chelsea back to their former glory, so Lampard's future wasn't looking bright. The next three games saw a win against Newcastle followed by a loss to Leicester, and the board decided that a poor result against Everton next could seal his fate. A boring 0-0 meant that after just a season and a half, before Christmas had even come around, Lampard was out of a job while Pulisic was tearing it up at third-placed Arsenal, Sarri had Derby County comfortably in a playoff spot again, and Hazard was scoring for fun in the Spanish capital.
Fast forward to the end of the season and Lampard remains unemployed, while his replacement – the mighty Zinedine Zidane – guided Chelsea to just an eighth-place finish, behind both Bournemouth and Everton. Sarri made the playoffs once more but failed to get Derby promoted, while Hazard and Pulisic were the star players at Real Madrid and Arsenal respectively. While Chelsea fans will be hoping Football Manager is completely wrong on this occasion, it's not too far-fetched of an idea to suggest that Lampard's career will have very few highs compared to the countless lows an inexperienced manager would face at a top tier team.
Ultimately, Lampard was sacked in Football Manager 2019 because he didn't get the desired results that people would expect from a club like Chelsea, but perhaps it boils down to more than that. Perhaps it was his managerial style that got him sacked, or maybe the tactics that proved effective at Derby County were unable to produce the goods in the league above. Almost certainly, part of his failure was reliant on his pathetic transfers, because signing Chris Smalling to be a first-team player for £33m definitely didn't help things whatsoever. With a first season performance like that, would Lampard have even made it to a second year in charge in real life? Probably not, which is to say that Football Manager has probably been more lenient with him than Abramovich will next season. Good luck, Lamps… you'll probably need it.
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