Football moves fast and it is easy to be forgotten if you don’t keep up. When football managers lose their jobs, more so than when they vacate them voluntarily, they are usually extremely non-committal when answering questions on their next move, because they can’t guarantee there will even be a next move.
What happened with Dean Smith this week could never be characterised as the norm but his sacking at Aston Villa and appointment at Norwich City eight days later is incredibly rare nowadays. It married a number of things perfectly, his suitability to the level of the role, his perceived chances of making an instant impact at a dwindling club previously dismissed as relegation fodder and a willingness to step right back into the fire pit of Premier League football.
It can take as little as a few months for football managers to lose relevance and chairmen can look past the circumstances of a sacking if there is a philosophy to get behind but tactical evolution can render them futile eventually.
Smith didn’t wait for his name to be out of the news. No sooner had debates over the justification for his Villa departure stopped, the conversation turned to whether he was the man to turn things around at Carrow Road. His track record with both Brentford and Villa in the Championship, where, despite his arrival, Norwich are expected to find themselves next season, meant the reaction was almost universally positive.
Frank Lampard is another of the football managers who has not lost his cache, linked with almost every top flight job that has come up since he left Chelsea in January. That is a higher number than usual but getting nowhere near any of them, in part deliberately.
He was reportedly less than convincing in an interview at Crystal Palace in the summer, before Patrick Vieira took to the job at Selhurst Park like a duck to water. Newcastle, newly rich but winless, and Norwich, both cut adrift in the relegation zone, were linked but Lampard pulled the plug himself on each opportunity. Not every job is well suited to ever to every manager but being too picky can become a problem.
Lampard’s managerial career has been besieged by privilege not found by other football managers. As a player, he became known as a hard worker and one of the most professional examples of the elite and that preceded him as, it seemed, did his uncle.
Harry Redknapp, a close ally of Derby County owner Mel Morris, is said to have persuaded him to give Lampard the job in 2018. In the midst of the crazed obsession to achieve Premier League promotion, which ultimately resulted in administration, points deductions and a myriad of issues now being inherited by Lampard’s former England teammate Wayne Rooney, he used his Chelsea connections to secure the loan signings of Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori. Play off final defeat to Smith’s Aston Villa brought his season at Pride Park to and end.
Subsequent events at Derby serve as a counter to the notion that he was better staying there but a return to Chelsea came far too soon. However fortunate he was to walk into a promotion-challenging Championship side, he was there to cut his teeth. It is hard to imagine he would have been hired at Stamford Bridge without his legendary status thanks to being the Blues’ all time top goalscorer.
There was something of a mess to clean up, with Eden Hazard leaving and a transfer ban forcing Chelsea to look to their youth. Lampard’s work with Mount and Tomori had given him a reputation for giving players the chances they needed. There wasn’t much rigorous questioning of that belief but there hasn’t been much of that when it comes to Lampard. Often, he has been waved through when other football managers have been met with barriers.
Once the ban was lifted, Lampard was rewarded for navigating choppy waters and reaching the Champions League in his first season. He spent a hefty sum on new players, including Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. His sacking came about after his first real blip – in keeping with others under Roman Abramovich’s ownership — but that has helped preserve the idea that he is a talented coach who is well suited to another Premier League job.
Oodles of pundits and media personalities talk him up for jobs on the basis that he fell foul of the way things work at Chelsea. But he is yet to take any while his name continues to feature heavily in the discourse, and it is difficult to know what he is waiting for.
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