The ink is barely dry on Frank Lampard’s new Everton contract and already attention is turning to the issues mounting in his jam-packed in-tray.
The former England midfielder, Everton’s sixth permanent manager in as many years, inherits an imbalanced, mishmash of a squad that has lost 10 of its last 14 games in all competitions to drop to 16th in the Premier League and just four points outside the relegation zone.
His first game in charge will be against Brentford in the FA Cup on Saturday 5 February before a huge clash away at fellow strugglers Newcastle three days later, followed by a visit from Leeds United who sit three points ahead of the Blues.
First on Lampard’s to-do list however is the transfer window, with the Toffees desperate for some midfield reinforcements before Monday’s deadline.
No pressure, Frank.
The 43-year-old has been out of work since his dismissal by Chelsea 12 months ago after a poor run of form saw the Blues slump to ninth in the table. Lampard had earned plenty of plaudits the previous season for guiding the club to fourth place and an FA Cup final despite operating under a transfer embargo.
Prior to that he spent one season at Derby County, guiding them to a fourth-place finish and spot in the Championship Play-off final, where they were beaten by Aston Villa. Such limited experience means his appointment carries with it a fair degree of risk, but most fans believe he was the best choice from the limited pool of managers the club was targeting.
His arrival brings to an end a chaotic and almost farcical hunt for a new manager. The search was largely played out in public as Everton lurched from one candidate to another, from Roberto Martinez to Fabio Cannavaro, Wayne Rooney to Vitor Pereira, with the latter bizarrely choosing to speak to the media while the interview process was still ongoing.
There appeared to be no coherent plan or vision in place, with an array of different managers and styles linked. The situation was not helped by the fact there is a gaping hole at the heart of the club, with Director of Football Marcel Brands and his scouting team having left in December, before Benitez and his coaching staff were dismissed earlier this month.
It meant Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright led the hunt for the new boss, which given their recent track record did not inspire much confidence. In the end, it came down to Pereira, Lampard and the current interim manager Duncan Ferguson.
Pereira’s possible appointment sparked consternation among the supporters given his average CV and reputation as a journeyman. His association with Kia Joorabchian also raised suspicions among the supporters who felt Moshiri was being too reliant on the controversial adviser. Rumours that the January loan of Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi was forced upon Benitez due to Joorabchian’s influence only poured more fuel on the fire.
There were even reports that Moshiri had overruled the Board in picking the Portuguese manager who was believed to be in the driving seat at one stage, but graffiti daubed over the walls of Goodison Park protesting against his proposed appointment and his car-crash interview on Sky Sports News likely caused Moshiri to have a rethink. In the meantime Everton fans organised a gathering outside Goodison calling for change at the top of the club to try and arrest its worrying slide towards the abyss.
All three candidates were then interviewed for a final time on Friday as the whole process became rather shambolic, much to the delight of rival clubs. Moshiri reportedly flew in for the meetings while former player Tim Cahill was reportedly also involved in the decision-making. The Aussie has come back into the fold — unofficially at least — to help out with the structural review that has been underway since the departure of Brands.
The former midfielder won out in the end to become the latest man charged with reviving Everton’s fortunes.
There is certainly some irony in Lampard pitching up at Goodison Park given it is a name associated with misery for Evertonians.
Frank Lampard senior scored the winner for West Ham against Everton in the 1980 FA Cup semi-final replay – with the Hammers going on to beat Arsenal in the final. His famous dance around the corner flag celebration was repeated 29 years later when Lampard junior scored the winner for Chelsea against Everton in the 2009 FA Cup Final at Wembley.
Let’s hope some of that cup luck will fall our way now Lampard has switched allegiances and is in the royal blue of Everton.
With no Director of Football appointed as yet and key scouting positions still open, Lampard is going to need to rely on his footballing nous to get anything done at the Toffees. The Blues have become (in)famous in recent years for their unclear hierarchy at the club, with Brands going up against Moshiri and Kenwright often when decisions about player transfers needed to be made.
The fractious relationship the club’s leadership have with the very vocal and passionate fanbase is not getting repaired any time soon, but there’s nothing quite like a couple of wins to lift the deathly pall over the Grand Old Lady. One suspects that even if Everton comfortably avoid the drop this season, the hardest part of the season still lies ahead as the leadership look to build the football structure from the foundations up, not unlike the work going on at Bramley-Moore dock for the club’s new home.
Good luck, Frank. You’re gonna need it.