February 24, 2024

One year ago today, Frank Lampard was sacked as Everton manager.

It was a development that had become an inevitability after the Blues returned from the World Cup break in dismal form that set the club up for a second consecutive relegation fight.

It was a mark of the chaos engulfing Everton at the time that the premature exit of another Farhad Moshiri manager, one who seven months earlier had led the club to a remarkable survival and whose side had provided hints of real progress just two months before, was not the story of the month but just one chapter in a disastrous start to 2023.

The wider issues running through Everton at the time form important context when reflecting on Lampard’s tenure which, twelve months on, the ECHO’s Joe Thomas, Paul Wheelock and Matt Jones do here.

Joe Thomas – Lampard deserves some credit but impact of Dyche shows why he had to go

It is easy to say, with hindsight, that Lampard should have gone after the terrible week before the World Cup break. There were clear issues in the Bonfire Night defeat to Leicester City and I was surprised by Lampard’s view his side had narrowly lost out to a Youri Tielemans wondergoal and a late second – really they had been outclassed, largely by James Maddison. The double defeat in Bournemouth that followed was horrendous and was a clear cause for reflection on where the club might be heading.

There was still a case for Lampard at that stage though. Putting aside the impact he had on keeping Everton up the previous season, uniting Finch Farm and the fanbase to magnificent effect, one of the reasons the Leicester defeat hurt was because the club was looking up ahead of that game. Just a fortnight earlier there had been the 3-0 win over Crystal Palace that marked the high point of Lampard’s time. Who wasn’t dreaming of a brighter future in the October sunshine after Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Anthony Gordon and Dwight McNeil got in on the goals and Vitalii Mykolenko overlapped to good effect – as Lampard had challenged him to do days earlier? The next week saw a good, battling point at an in-form Fulham – who should have been down to 10-men early in that game due to Aleksander Mitrovic’s reckless tackle on Idrissa Gueye.

A win over Leicester would have moved Everton into the top half, putting them above Liverpool in the process, and it is easy to forget the glimpses of progress that appeared visible at the time. The way Leicester overwhelmed Everton highlighted that big issues remained, however, and they were exposed at Bournemouth. I still feel sorry for supporters who made those journeys down to the south coast to witness the performances their side put in.

In defence of Lampard I think the decision not to sign a backup for Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the summer was problematic and it was clear the club needed attacking reinforcements that did not come in January, which could have helped him significantly.

But for all that, whether he could have built the foundations for progress remains in doubt and the impact Sean Dyche had on the players only brings that further into question. With a bit of luck and support – for example, Jordan Pickford not giving away an early goal at Bournemouth, Everton not conceding in stoppage time at home to Wolves on Boxing Day and an early January arrival to boost the squad – maybe things could have turned out differently.

The real issue those points highlight is the inability to deal with adversity, though, and when you see how Dyche was able to add resilience to the side and also create an attacking threat with the limited resources he had, it is hard to argue that Lampard would have turned things around.

A new manager after Bournemouth would have had time to look at the squad and probably get some points across late December and early January that gave Everton a bit of protection from the bottom three. I can still see why Lampard was given the chance to continue though – it was the Brighton defeat that should have been his final game. While he clung on for a few more it was clear the situation was irretrievable by then.

Lampard deserves credit for halting the relegation death spiral he inherited and his side was showing positive signs as late as the October of last season. He was operating in conditions that made it difficult and still created a feel-good connection for much of his reign. Ultimately, he was probably the figurehead the club’s hierarchy thought they wanted but not the manager the club needed at a time when few would have found a way through the crises engulfing Everton.

Matt Jones – Everton ignored the writing on the wall with Lampard

We all wanted it to work so much and perhaps that’s why it ultimately went on too long.

There was a lot to like about Frank Lampard and plenty to admire about the way he flung himself into life at Everton.

In his first season he accomplished his primary aim of keeping the team afloat in the Premier League. There were some low points – Tottenham and Burnley immediately spring to mind – but the home wins over Newcastle, Chelsea and Manchester United manifested from the raw emotion of Goodison Park at the time, something Lampard can take credit to contributing towards.

Of course, that Crystal Palace comeback – while not a cause for celebration – will live long in the memory, as will the sight of the then Everton boss dancing a jig on top of the executive boxes. It meant a lot to him and after half-a-season of Rafael Benitez, that mattered to the supporters.

But once the feverish backing subsided and the summer rolled into view, giving Lampard time to build a team in his image, the wheels slowly started to come off. By the time the new year rolled around in 2023, the Blues were clattering towards the oblivion.

Lampard showed himself to be incapable of handling the chaos that has long engulfed the club. At times, it was remarkable to see such a colossal figure in English football almost wilt on the sidelines and in press conferences as Everton slipped deeper into the mire. By contrast, his predecessor Sean Dyche has almost basked in the ‘noise’ and channelled it in an effective way.

Lampard did of course contribute to his own downfall. There were frequent flips in ideologies and formations, he fell out with key players – arguably the key player in Abdoulaye Doucoure – and was simply unable to halt the spiral when the going got tough.

His failures were not due to a lack of effort. Evertonians were desperate for Lampard to succeed, having watched the club rattle through manager after manager during Farhad Moshiri’s tenure.

Perhaps that’s why he lasted beyond the infamous Bournemouth double header, that disastrous day against Southampton and the calamitous home loss to Brighton. The writing was on the wall for a long time in hindsight – thankfully the football club read it before it was too late.

Paul Wheelock – Lampard got two more league games than he sadly deserved

While Farhad Moshiri can be criticised for many things during his tenure at Everton, on each occasion he has had to sack a manager, he got it right. Bar from maybe Marco Silva, the rest who bit the bullet under Moshiri could have no complaints. And that, sadly, includes Frank Lampard.

Evertonians wanted him to succeed. How could they not after he helped unify a fan base that, quite righty, was sick to death of what was going on at their club. Of all the bad decisions Moshiri has made, hiring Rafa Benitez is right up there with the worst of them. Don’t let anyone kid you – Blues fans were willing to give the former Liverpool boss a chance. But while not helped by injuries, by the time Benitez was sacked the mood around Goodison was grim. Lampard played a huge part in lifting that.

Don’t let anyone kid you again – Blues fans do not relish being in relegation battles. They are horrific. But there were moments in the run-in during the 2021-22 season – Manchester United at home, Chelsea at home, Leicester City away and, of course, Crystal Palace at home – that will live long in the memory. Lampard deserves huge credit for that.

 

And it was when the next time Everton welcomed Palace to L4 that it felt like the Chelsea legend’s Goodison Park stint truly had lift-off. His side were brilliant that October Saturday afternoon as they swept aside the Eagles 3-0 with the best football of his reign. But within the space of three weeks the wheels had well and truly come off and, while it’s easy to say in hindsight, Lampard should have gone after those back-to-back humiliations at Bournemouth. With all due respect to the Cherries, an Everton manager cannot be losing 7-1 on aggregate there.

Still, it was understandable why the club’s then-board did not want to oversee another managerial dismissal. But they made a mistake by giving Lampard two more league games than was necessary – the shocking 4-1 home loss to Brighton & Hove Albion should have been the end. Instead, the Blues tossed away potentially six crucial points in the dreadful defeats to Southampton and West Ham United.

Fortunately, Sean Dyche was able to remedy the damage done and, as harsh this sounds, it was immediately clear that the former Burnley boss was on a different level to Lampard as a manager.

Ironically set to be Moshiri’s final and perhaps best appointment, Dyche was and remains exactly what Everton need.

 

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