December 16, 2019

Football: Frank Lampard might be a novice manager, but he knows how the game works

SINGAPORE – This is London Calling. Is anyone out there listening?

As the Marina Bay Street Circuit echoes to the sound of the world's most powerful internal combustion engines, central London is declared Car Free Sunday as part of the mayor's commitment towards cleaner air.

Almost a billion and a half Singapore dollars says hurrah to F1 on behalf of the tourism industry. Maybe tens of millions of Londoners say thank God someone is thinking of the children in their congested, polluted capital.

But here's the rub. No one told football what is happening there. Close to the time the Grand Prix roars into life, two Premier League games kick off in London. And shortly after the end of the race in Singapore, two more EPL matches start in the city.

All four games bring in visitors from the north. All four will need policing. Fans of all these contests (West Ham v Manchester United, Crystal Palace v Wolves, Arsenal v Aston Villa and Chelsea v Liverpool) will either depend on London transport or find some way around the 20km of central London road closures.

I'm all for letting the children play, and to breathe clean air while playing. But with rain forecast and 130,000 supporters criss-crossing the streets trying to get to the games on time, the portents are not good.

The West End in particular could be a logistics nightmare. Chelsea against Liverpool is a big game by any definition. It is the biggest night of Frank Lampard's short reign as Chelsea manager, and Jurgen Klopp's Reds are on a hot run of 14 consecutive EPL wins, with just one defeat in their last 44.

The pre-match press conferences sounded like a managerial mutual appreciation society. Don't be fooled. Klopp's respect for Lampard starting off his managerial career with a youthful team mirrors the German's own creative work when he launched an even younger set of players at Borussia Dortmund.

Klopp gave Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski their Bundesliga baptisms because he had to find new blood to take down the self-perpetuating might of Bayern Munich.

Lampard is pinning his faith on striker Tammy Abraham, midfielder Mason Mount, defender Fikayo Tomori and, when he recovers from injury, Callum Hudson-Odoi because he has little choice.

Three of them had been loaned out to other clubs, and Hudson-Odoi was considering a move abroad, because of Chelsea's incessant habit of hoovering up young talents but seldom giving them a chance in the first team.

Chelsea operated a buy-to-loan policy that made money out of signing apprentice players and scattering them far and wide around Europe. As many as 40 youngsters could be farmed out at any one time, ostensibly to gain experience.

But, with 15 managerial changes so far during the Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge, the managers were too scared to give youth a try while their immediate job prospects depended on results.

Lampard played under almost all those managers. He was Chelsea's most dependable midfield enforcer, and yet managed to be the club's all-time record goalscorer too. Indeed, in this fixture, he was a feisty competitor who some Liverpool rivals felt it was kick Frankie boy or be kicked by him.

In old English, we called that "a man's game". La

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