Ahead of the Carabao Cup clash against his former boss José Mourinho last month, Frank Lampard – Derby County manager – referred to himself as ‘‘a baby in managerial terms’’.
The fact that Lampard became a father for the first time only days before the tie is a witty but, I think, unintended irony.
Lampard was of course heaping praise on his former master Mourinho – who is certainly not a managerial ‘baby’ – with whom he enjoyed so much success at Chelsea.
What followed was rather less romantic.
A Derby victory against a star-studded Manchester United XI with a combined value of £335 million was certainly not in Mourinho’s script. But it did prove how the times are indeed changing.
Mourinho is becoming less of a father, and more of a grandfather figure with a waning influence in the managerial world, and it would be naïve to view Lampard as a baby.
In his pre-match press conference, Lampard noted how he did not think Mourinho should alter his style, because ‘‘that’s what he is’’. Lampard, I would posit, was being polite and supportive of a man who has formed an integral part of his footballing career.
Nonetheless, the current state of Manchester United is proving that Lampard – the plucky baby – should rather have told the ageing father-figure Mourinho that his fashion is no longer trendy.
‘‘Respect, respect, respect’’ was the call from Mourinho as he recently stormed out of a press conference having reeled off the admittedly impressive number of titles he has won.
Is that not remarkably similar to the line an ageing parent or grandparent would give in response to a younger family member answering back or attempting to prove them wrong?
This is Mourinho’s issue: what he has achieved deserves respect, but what he is currently achieving does not. Quietly stagnating but refusing to acknowledge it because your track record is phenomenal is not admirable.
This issue recalls United’s exit from the Champions League last season at the hands of Sevilla. Mourinho undertook one of his classic tactics – secure a 0-0 draw away from home before taking the tie in the home leg. All went to plan as United secured the goalless draw in Spain. And then the Spanish side won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
The backlash was volatile, with the performance in Spain criticised as overly defensive and unambitious. Mourinho’s complacency was finally shown up in front of 75,000 Mancunians.
Fast-forward to this season, and key man and club-record signing Paul Pogba has been indiscreetly calling-out his manager, saying the side need to ‘‘attack, attack, attack’’ when playing at Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s way of just about finding a way to win a match is no longer enough for the 21st century football fan. This is exacerbated by the existence of the free-flowing and goal-filled football of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
‘‘Yes, grandad, I appreciate that is what it was like then, but you do realise it’s not quite like that anymore?’’
A league title tends to be a given in Mourinho’s second season managing a club – he had achieved it on every occasion before taking the United job – but not last season. A staggering nineteen points separated Guardiola’s Manchester City from Mourinho’s side. If ever there was a sign that Mourinho needs to change his ways, that was it.
And baby Lampard? Well, he is fast becoming a man, as the next generation of former players – including Steven Gerrard and Gareth Southgate – begin to take centre stage. Mourinho, who proudly sits on the back of my phone case, needs to adjust. Sadly, for him, you can’t repeat the past, especially when you have lost the dressing-room, as it seems he has.
Image: Aleksandr Osipov via Flickr