Frank Lampard exclusive: Everton manager discusses becoming part of the club’s fanbase, away struggles and Alex Iwobi’s rise
Nine months later and a new Frank Lampard is born. During his short time at Goodison Park, he has officially become Everton blue.
Asked by Sky Sports if he feels like an Evertonian, there’s no hesitation. “Oh yeah, without a doubt I do! I would never have dreamed I’d be saying that.”
The 44-year-old admits, after a playing and coaching career based mostly in west London, that he “never expected to become Everton manager” earlier in his career.
As he prepares to return to the area of the world he spent most of his career for a Saturday Night Football trip to Fulham, Lampard is not only Everton manager – but he’s understanding the fan culture too.
After describing the prospect of Anthony Gordon’s goal being disallowed in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, Lampard used the self-deprecating phrase “knowing us” – hinting at the pessimism that hints in the fanbase. The imminent negative moment just as it looks like a corner has been turned.
From celebrating survival to damning defeats, losing key players and being under intense pressure himself, Lampard has endured some of his own moments, despite being new to the club.
“We’ve had some tough periods, even since I’ve been here,” Lampard recalls. “Me and my coaching staff came at a tense moment and we saw everyone come together in a tight-knit way: it was more than football.
“It became more of a community thing and when you’re in that community, it’s important that you don’t just say you feel it and then dip out of it when you leave the training ground and go home.
“From working with the players, the staff, the people upstairs, being closer to the fans and understanding what they want, it’s a club that wears its passion on its sleeve.
“I feel very much a part of it and the phrase ‘knowing us?’ I said it because I think I now understand the Evertonian mindset. I mean it in the most positive way and I want to make that mindset successful and create a period they can be proud of.”
These appear not to be just words. It did not go unnoticed that, while discussing Everton’s fanbase and their relationship with the club, Lampard would often take a glance out onto the Goodison Park stands where this interview is taking place. As if the supporters are never too far away from his thoughts.
“Some of the difficulties that a lot of people have up here have changed my views and aspects on life,” he says while discussing the differences between London and Merseyside. “Alongside that, you find certain stories, people and ways of life – and you see there are some really good people up here.
“Maybe that’s everywhere, but it’s been an eye-opener. I was at Chelsea a long time, as I started to move at the end of my career to Manchester City, New York and Derby as a coach, every place I went to opened my eyes a little bit.
“Some people might think it’s a bad part of the job when you don’t settle, but now I think it’s great that you get to meet fantastic people on the way.”
Perhaps when Lampard does look out at Goodison Park, he ponders how far this club can go under his stewardship. It’s an unusually tight Premier League table at the moment, with seven points separating the foot of the table amd Liverpool in eighth.
First on the list of tasks for Lampard is an improvement in away form, starting at Fulham this weekend, live on Sky Sports. Everton have picked up just two wins in their last 23 top-flight matches on the road. Raucous matchdays at Goodison Park can only take them so far.
Asked to explain this slump on their travels, which Lampard is not wholly responsible for, the Toffees manager feels confident in his own analysis.
“Some of it will be confidence: there was a feeling about us last year that when we went behind on the road, heads went down and we conceded more – which wasn’t good enough,” he says sharply. “There’s definitely a different sense of us – so far – this season.
“It’s having a solid nature about us in areas of the pitch where we are dominant – not dominating games, but when we’re under pressure, we dominate our box and defend well.
“In midfield, we have to compete, have energy, legs and the quality of pass to stay on the ball and hold the game sometimes. Then the clinical nature to take chances.
“I’m listing things in the game, but when you go away from home in this league – you have to be spot on. We’re not spot on, of course we’re not now. But we’re working towards that.”
The energy in midfield that Lampard talks about could fall at Alex Iwobi’s feet. The Nigerian international is enjoying an unforeseen purple patch in a more central role, with the player describing himself as “almost unstoppable” on current form.
“I saw that comment and I loved it because I know he has a huge amount of humility, so it’s not a comment that can be taken in the wrong way,” Iwobi’s manager says.
“When I saw his qualities he had been showing on the wing or at wing-back in my early days here, I thought we could use him more in midfield as the energy and qualities were a big plus for us. He moved in there and I felt straight away that he looked better to me and this season, I started him with a real idea that he would be playing in a more central role.
“I think it suits him being central with the movements and passes he can make where he can go by people both ways in the middle, which is not always the case with midfielders in terms of travelling really quickly and having boundless energy centrally.”
Iwobi’s new-found form in central midfield is certainly a surprise given he barely featured in that role since making his Arsenal debut in that position nearly seven years ago. And while Lampard, a former central midfielder himself and a top-level one too, is doing individual sessions with Iwobi, the Everton manager denies he is simply influencing this player using his own mould.
“Sometimes you have to convince players but this was his preferred role and I can understand why,” Lampard says. “So it’s been a nice joining of my idea with what he wants as well.
“He’s a very intelligent player so sometimes you don’t have to tell him too much. But while it’s my job to coach him through it, and I do have personal moments with him, it’s about the structure of the team and him understanding his role within that. For a player of Alex’s intelligence and quality, it’s down to him.
“For me, these are the rules of football: you need the talent, which he has, you work really hard, you’re a great team-mate and do all the right things and hopefully you can express yourself. Long may it continue with Alex.”
And what about Lampard’s own future, now he is part of the Everton fanbase? The 44-year-old has previously revealed his desire to still be in the dugout when the new 52,800 stadium on Bramley-Moore Dock opens in 2024.
But Chelsea’s cult hero who lost the manager’s job at Stamford Bridge within one out-of-form month knows it’s just too far away to start committing more years on Merseyside.
“This year, we want to find stability and improvements so hopefully we can get into positions we were going into at the back end of last year. That’s real work on and off the pitch and there’s every reason to try and find an identity of where we want to go. When I came in, I could see that was in a difficult place.
“Then next year, who knows? That’s when it becomes too hard to say. The biggest thing is that my bosses and the fans have to be happy with what I’m doing at the club and for me to jump two years ahead would be naïve in this game.
“But I still have that ambition and I want to give the fans a team that they like and are excited to watch and we want to keep going in an upward direction.”
Win at Craven Cottage on Saturday and Everton go level on points with rivals Liverpool for a few hours at least. Given the two Merseyside rivals were separated by 13 places and 53 points last season, that’s an upward trajectory that Lampard can take heart from.
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