Inside Frank Lampard’s final weeks at Chelsea as tensions grew behind the scenes

The knives are long in the Roman Empire but they hurt the most when they come from old friends.

Frank Lampard has always been close to Roman Abramovich. As a player, Lampard was one of a select few to have the Chelsea owner’s number, and use it.

As the club’s manager, he had close friend and former team-mate Petr Cech beside him as technical and performance advisor.

Lampard is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, knows all of the hierarchy well, and is an icon with a large chunk of the fanbase.

It did not save him.

An ever-increasing number of the Blues faithful had turned against him in recent weeks – but they weren’t the only ones.

There have been tensions in the dressing-room, and a fear had developed in the corridors of power that Lampard was simply out of his depth.

Some of Chelsea’s players thought he was saying goodbye when he shook hands with them after last Tuesday’s comprehensive 2-0 defeat at Leicester.

The end did not come until Monday, but it had been brewing for some time.

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After the biggest transfer splurge in club history last summer, Abramovich was expecting a title challenge.

Instead, Chelsea had slipped to ninth at the time of Lampard’s sacking, and he was showing little sign he could turn it around.

In a club so notoriously trigger-happy with their managers, it’s easy for players to lose faith during difficult spells, expecting a change.

And the manner of the defeat at Leicester suggested that was the case. Chelsea looked lost, with most of the team well below their best.

There had been rumblings of discontent from inside the dressing-room for some time.

Cech, in his role as go-between, was warned that Lampard was too distant, that he wasn’t communicating enough, that players needed clearer instructions.

Lampard’s assistant Jody Morris is also understood to have had a difficult relationship with some of the squad.

And the sight of expensive new boys Kai Havertz and Timo Werner on the bench in recent games caused alarm among the top brass.

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Lampard enjoyed an impressive first season in charge, delivering Champions League football and an FA Cup final appearance despite a transfer ban.

But there had been tension with transfer guru Marina Granovskaia since last January, when Lampard wanted big signings made.

Chelsea did go big in the summer. But it was Granovskaia driving those deals, not Lampard, who was on the sidelines when it came to identifying targets.

  • Frank Lampard knew what he was getting himself into – Chelsea's approach is successful

At the same time, Chelsea failed to shift enough dead wood, leaving Lampard with a bloated squad full of new faces and already unhappy fringe players.

Chemistry and team spirit have both been a big issue as a result, with the Covid pandemic making it harder for an already fractured group to form bonds.

Some will say it was brutal. Chelsea were top of the table only last month, and had finished top of their Champions League group.

But even then they had the look of a side running out of steam, with some at the club complaining the players were being worked too hard in training.

And the knives have been out for weeks, with Lampard growing increasingly snappy with journalists, losing trust in those around him, and struggling for allies.

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In their statement announcing his departure, Chelsea described him as a “club legend.”

Abramovich, who is rarely seen at Chelsea these days, even piped up to call him “an important icon” and a “man of great integrity.”

At Stamford Bridge, those things only get you so far.

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