The noise outside Goodison Park is much quieter than when impassioned Evertonians inspired their team towards safety in May but Frank Lampard can hear it just as clearly. Another fight for survival. First manager to be sacked, according to the bookies. Whatever unfolds, a crash course in management at opposite ends of the Premier League table has made Lampard better-equipped to handle it.
“I don’t mind that,” he says of the doom-laden prophecies that accompany Everton into the season. “I’m not immune to hearing it. I know it’s there in certain places. If you come off a relegation battle and lose a player of high value to the team on the pitch [Richarlison] I think it’s understandable. I understand when I listen to the radio and people say we’re probably going to be in a fight again. That’s no problem. Other clubs are probably being told they’re going to be in the European places. It means nothing at the minute.
“Any trepidation from the outside is fine. For Evertonians, I would say: ‘Let’s see what we’re going to do.’ We haven’t kicked a ball in anger yet; let’s see how well we compete against Chelsea. And, when the window shuts, let’s see what it looks like. We need to be positive about where we can get.”
Everton could look very different when the window closes with agreements in place for the midfielders Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gueye, interest in the Wolves defender Conor Coady and a new forward wanted. Onana, a 20-year-old Belgium international long courted by West Ham, will undergo a medical this weekend after a €40m (£33.7m) deal was agreed with Lille. The here and now, however, is that they open with no recognised striker available to face Chelsea. A freak training-ground injury suffered by Dominic Calvert-Lewin on Tuesday has sidelined the unfortunate England international until mid-September.
It was just another testing day at the office for a manager who worked under a transfer embargo at Chelsea, qualifying for the Champions League and reaching the FA Cup final only to be sacked the following season, and was thrown into the first relegation battle of his career at a club working to Premier League profit and sustainability rules.
Lampard says: “I felt stronger coming here on the back of having a year out and that was helpful for me and the balance of my own life. Towards the end of my time at Chelsea I took a lot on. It was my club and towards the end I was working under a lot of pressure because one or two defeats at Chelsea means pressure is coming and I knew it was coming.
“It was good to reflect on that and get perspective. Everton was, for me, this incredible experience of a relegation battle which in the end was one of the most beautiful things in my life – to stand there against Palace having been 2-0 down and win 3-2. Then you go away and weigh it all up and realise you were tested to a different limit and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the stress of it, or I enjoyed the challenge. I found out quite a bit about myself and my staff and we got over the line. There is nothing to rely on there [for this season] but hopefully it does make me a stronger and better manager.”
The task of preserving Everton’s top-flight status was all-consuming for the 44-year-old after his arrival in January. A first pre-season in charge without that pressure, however, has allowed Lampard to devote time to rebuilding Everton from within. It is not only through the transfer market that he believes he can drive the club forward.
“I feel in a good position to do that,” Lampard says. “I am not just saying that because of the staff we’ve got and because of the relationships I have with people at the club. I feel the club a bit better now than I did on day one. I have a good relationship with people above me and that is really important. They have been great with me. We had a barbecue the other day at Finch Farm and everybody was there from the academy to the women’s team, all the teams, their partners and staff and it gave me a real sense of what this club is and can be.
“Kids and families were there, bouncy castles. It was something I did at Chelsea a long time ago and the great people who work behind the scenes here – it is a great community club – took it to new levels. I can’t sit here and say I did this amazing barbecue, I didn’t organise the plates and the bouncy castles, but it was a nice exercise in showing everyone we are all together.
“I think it is one of our strengths that we took from the fanbase last year and it is important that we take that forward. It doesn’t put points on the board but it is important that the wife or girlfriend of Rúben Vinagre, who has just moved to this country, or Dwight McNeil who has just come to the club, feel part of a family. When I came in here last year the priority was staying up. Now there are things we can do behind the scenes that take the club forward. Little things like that are tiny, little wins in terms of bringing everyone together.”