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In defense of Lampard and his rating of Pulisic: ‘I never doubted Christian’

Chelsea head coach responds to comments made by RB Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch


After a largely trouble-free and positive-vibes-only first season, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has faced growing criticism in recent weeks. Those criticisms have run the usual gamut, from the tactical (defending vs. attacking balance) to the man-managerial (Rüdiger-Tomori situation, just to name one) to the tabloidian drama kind (only Englishman in New York top-six management).

(It should be noted that regarding the latter, Lampard wasn’t presenting himself as someone with a victim complex, but rather as someone who’s self-aware of the perception with which he’s judged and the reality of the situation itself.)

Chelsea’s positive results will continue to keep certain negative narratives at bay, even if this season continues to break ground on Lampard’s public perception.

RB Salzburg’s American manager, Jesse Marsch, recently rehashed criticism from last season on Lampard’s supposed “rating” (or hating) of Christian Pulisic.

“Even Frank Lampard, when I spoke to him in preseason a year ago now, I was talking to him about having Christian Pulisic and he was kind of like, ‘Yeah, he’s got a lot to learn so we’ll see how he does.’ I said to him, ‘Listen, he was at Dortmund, and they had a high level of tactical thinking, of playing, and he was very successful.’

“I could see right away that Frank Lampard’s idea of Christian Pulisic was shaped a lot by the fact that he was American and not that his football education came a lot from what has happened in Germany. Since then, I think Lampard has learned that Pulisic is a lot better than he gave him credit for.”

- Jesse Marsch, Source: MLSSoccer ExtraTime Radio

As we might recall, Lampard eased Pulisic into the first team squad at the beginning of last season. It took roughly two months of inconsistent minutes between occasional starts and appearances off the bench before the then 21-year-old exploded into form, scoring a perfect hat-trick against Burnley at Turf Moor.

When asked about Marsch’s comments, Lampard was eager to set the record straight.

“I did read the comments. I was surprised that Jesse had managed to read my mind as well as he thought he did. He’s recounted the conversation wrong. I have to put it correct.

“We played Salzburg and Christian scored two goals in pre-season. Fair enough, Jesse came up to me and said what a talented player Christian was, which I knew and agreed with. I spoke about the fact that equally it was so exciting to see how he would develop for us with the talent that he had. That was the conversation, Jesse managed to put it across slightly differently.”

Pulisic’s form would waver in the first half of last season, dictated by various ailments which kept him out of the lineup, but his emergence during Project Restart showed just how vital he can (and will) be for Chelsea.

Lampard relied on Pulisic’s form to see out a positive top four finish, selecting him to start seven of our final nine Premier League matches, and eventually rewarding him with the No.10 shirt in the offseason.

The Chelsea boss has spoken multiple times about what is required to not only feature and play for Chelsea, but to also succeed in the Premier league.

“Maybe Jesse knows the feeling of American manager coaches that travel to Europe, maybe he has things like that. I get that. But I played in America for 18 months and I would never underestimate the desire that American football players have to learn and improve, take on information and understand the technical side of the game. When you have that, which Christian has and you have incredible talent, it was never in doubt for me.”

As he says, Lampard did spend the last months of his career playing in MLS for NYCFC. He had the pleasure of seeing the game on the other side of The Pond, so his experience in such matters should hold some weight.

Perhaps therein lies some truth to Marsch’s undue criticism of Lampard as well. American players are stereotyped as hard workers, willing to run and fight, however with deficient technical qualities. Obviously, stereotypes and generalizations are bad. Quick, snap judgments based on qualifiers can lead to dangerous assumptions.

But even if Lampard may have carried some initial bias into his first sessions, he won’t be unwise enough to ever admit it in public. And what we do know now is that Lampard doesn’t have any such doubts about Pulisic, who has every requisite instinct and drive to succeed. His journey should already be an inspiration to any young footballer, American or otherwise. It is only through his hard work that he was able to earn minutes, to have the opportunity to showcase his talents.

“My only thing is that I coach in the Premier League and played in it for nearly 20 years. I understand the rigors of it. That brings me on to Christian’s development last year. It’s clearly the toughest league to come and play as a young player. It’s not just Christian - some of the greatest players in Premier League history, whether they came from America or Europe, showed that.”

“What Christian did was find his feet very quickly and have a breakthrough season in the Premier League where he produced more goals and assists than he had produced [previously]. His performances last year were massively impressive on his own but he will get better and better because he is a young player. I never doubted him in the first place.”

“That’s not me jumping on Jesse because there’s maybe a bigger issue there with American players. I don’t want to comment on that, he can fill you in on that one himself. But as a manager I never doubted Christian. It’s important for me to put that straight, more for Christian than anything.”

- Frank Lampard, source: Football.London

It’s unclear why such reservations about Lampard’s rating of Pulisic continue to persist (mostly) in American media. Perhaps it’s just the usual desperation to sink to any depth necessary for engagement and clicks. Perhaps — and this just my own speculation — it’s (still) lingering frost from Lampard’s (along with John Terry, Jody Morris, and Eidur Gudjohnsen) airport bar incident on September 11, 2001 — on which Lampard already set the record straight when he signed with NYCFC in 2014. Perhaps it’s something else entirely.

What’s done is done, as they say. There’s hardly a need to reopen the past when surviving through the end of 2020 is at task.

Lampard will continue to be a public figure, especially as the boss of the club where he holds legendary status. How he conducts himself against criticism will continue to be of interest, but from what we know, he is not shy to address any criticism coming his way.

As for Pulisic, his delayed integration with and performance in the new-look Chelsea squad this season have been somewhat mixed. His twenty minutes against Krasnodar however showed vintage form from the summer restart.

Tomorrow, Chelsea and Pulisic return to Turf Moor. Just over a year ago, the young American scored a perfect hat trick, following a midweek Champions League match.

I’m not saying that lightning strikes twice — but why not? It’s 2020.


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