Frank Lampard knows that nostalgia can only take him so far.
It would have been easy, being unveiled as Chelsea head coach on Thursday afternoon, to dip into the well of memories and triumphs from his first 13 years at the club. He could have talked about proving himself under Claudio Ranieri; his triumphs under Jose Mourinho; scoring the goal to win the title at Bolton; the Carlo Ancelotti double; Munich; breaking the goalscoring record at Villa Park, and the rest.
He could have turned it into his own personal episode of ‘Football Legends’, so surrounded was he by photographs and plaques and framed shirts to remind people of the great era he was part of. Petr Cech, now back at the club and sat in the front row for the press conference, could have been brought in as a talking head.
He could have been Chelsea’s own version of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, harking back to the good old days, promising to keep reminding and reminding and reminding the players of what he achieved years ago, hoping that some of those memories would alchemize into lessons, alchemize into coaching, and that somehow the late 1990s would be replayed at Ed Woodward’s Manchester United.
But Frank Lampard did not want to do any of that.
He said that he does not expect the credit from his playing days to last more than “five minutes” with the Chelsea fans, and he would not want it to either. He wants to be judged on how he does as head coach here. If all he cared about was perfectly preserving his reputation, keeping it untouched by time and events, he would not have been giving this press conference in the first place.
Even though he will be working with Cech, Jody Morris and Claude Makelele, Lampard wanted to make clear that he is not simply surrounding himself with his old mates because he knows them.
“It’s a very Chelsea-orientated team, but what I want to make clear is that this is not an old boys’ club,” he said.
“What I am trying to put together with this staff is talent. It’s fresh talent in my eyes. What we are trying to bring in is not just players who played for the club because they played for the club, but we are trying to bring in people that feel the club, but also people with an incredible work ethic.”
So he will not be trying to rebuild the Mourinho team or the Ancelotti team next season because there would be no point. He knows how much football has changed, and how redundant the old blueprints would be now. The Premier League has changed and Chelsea has changed. All of a sudden the Blues now look quite far away from the top.
Lampard was asked whether he could compare the level of this squad with the old teams he played in, and whether he could replicate those successes with these players. He did not want to.
“I don’t like the question to be honest, because to compare across generations is really tough,” he said.
“It is easy to look back at my era and say we won so much. We had seasons where we came second, we came sixth, we won the Champions League one year, but we had some difficult years in the league. It was not always roses. It is no use to compare back to the old days, or to my era.”
This is why he will not be taking on Guardiola and Klopp with the 2004 masterplan, and why he knows there is limited value to happy old anecdotes in a job like this. He even wondered out loud whether he had been right to mention his old teammates as much as he did. He knows that nostalgia is no substitute for fresh thinking, memory no substitute for management.
“It will be easy to ask about my era. How did it used to be? Do you want to set the same standards? And maybe I am at fault for mentioning Drogba and so on. What you won’t hear me saying though is that in my era we used to do this, and we used to do that. I don’t want to be going back in time to what we did before. Or ‘this is how Chelsea should be’.
"For me the football world is moving on really quickly. And I want to be open-minded, I want to be moving with it, doing the things I want to do. Yes, there is a basic standard that we had as a squad from when I was here, but I will not be standing there after every game comparing. I think we need to be moving forward.”
* Jack Pitt-Brooke is a football writer for The Independent.