Duffers on Derby County: Is the Frank Lampard gamble about to pay off for the Rams?
One week shy of a year ago, I was present at the press conference which unveiled Frank Lampard as Derby County’s new manager.
Of course, Lampard was no stranger to anyone in the room irrespective of whether he’d met them in person or not, and the fanfare with which his appointment was greeted by Rams fans as well as the football world in general somewhat overshadowed the fact that Derby owner Mel Morris appeared to have made a very shrewd move in bringing him to the club.
An untried manager at any level is always a risk, whether they’re a former world class player or a non-league journeyman, and that risk element applied to both Lampard and the Rams hierarchy given that immediate failure could have ended Lampard’s managerial career before it had really begun.
So, for Lampard to one year later be leading Derby County out at Wembley to play for a place in the Premier League can only be described as a monumental success for both.
That will be the case whatever the result on Monday. The reality is that nobody seriously expected the Rams to go up this season despite their high profile managerial appointment, so to fall at the last hurdle would come with no shame.
To win, however, would cap a remarkable season that at times saw everything from automatic promotion to mid-table obscurity threaten to be the final outcome, let alone their cup heroics come to the fore.
For Lampard, his stock continues to rise and talk about him going to Chelsea before too long remains rife.
For the Rams as a whole, they are now within touching distance of the promised land once again and memories of previous Wembley encounters, some good and some bad, will be being talked about across the city and beyond.
Are they ready for Premier League football? Nowhere near, as things stand, so a win on Monday will inevitably come with a great deal of caution that the horrors of the 2007/8 season, which themselves were preceded by a Wembley win against a side from the West Midlands, can’t be repeated.
This all remains hypothetical of course, but should promotion be achieved then it’s going to test Lampard’s mettle as a coach much more than anything that’s come beforehand, right from the second they leave north London.
Player recruitment will be the biggest key to any chance of staying up, as will Lampard quickly being able to rip up most of his notebooks on how to be a manager in the Championship and starting over given the Premier League is an altogether more unforgiving proposition.
But it’ll be a chance they’ll deserve to have if they can end this campaign with just one more win against an Aston Villa side equally desperate to return to the big time.
Should the Rams lose, then they can return to Championship football next season with their heads held high and infinitely more belief and confidence than they had last August that they can go one better next time around.
What will be, will be, but for now there is every chance that as we once again sit in on a Lampard press conference, this time post-match at Wembley on Monday, an incredible year of ups and downs will have ended with the prize of Premier League football firmly in the Rams’ hands.