Chelsea legend Lampard has Derby in the Championship play-off final as a rookie manager — surprising even himself
Frank Lampard insists guiding Derby to the Championship play-off final feels just as good as hoovering up silverware as a player for Chelsea.
Lampard claims reaching Wembley in his first season as a manager ranks alongside any of his many successes during a stellar career at Stamford Bridge.
“The feelings are up there, the personal feeling is up there with anything I’ve done,” said the Derby boss, after coming back from losing the home leg 1-0 and going 2-0 behind in the tie to stun Leeds 4-3 on aggregate and set up a final against Aston Villa to decide who is promoted to the Premier League.
“Of course, winning things at Chelsea, I was so fortunate there. That has to stand out because we all want to win things. But this is up there with all that because of all the hard work put in by everyone at the club, myself, my staff, everybody. That’s what makes it feel so sweet.”
The cynics sneered when Lampard landed Derby for his first management job last summer and claimed his appointment had more to do with his CV as a player than his coaching abilities.
But the former England midfield stalwart proved to be a fast learner as he’s had to operate on a much-reduced budget after owner Mel Morris drew a line under the Rams’ big-spending days.
With Matej Vydra, their leading scorer last season, sold to top-flight Burnley, Lampard shrewdly used the loan market to sign Harry Wilson from Liverpool and Chelsea duo Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount.
The 40-year-old claims handling all this makes reaching the play-off final a week on Monday even sweeter.
“It means such a great deal because from the day I came in, we had issues,” said Lampard. “I was very aware of the financial issues. I knew we would have to sell players and try and bring players in on loan etc.
“There have been ups and downs along the way and then to get into the play-offs, lose 1-0 at home and then do what no team has ever done in the play-offs before by turning that around is as good a feeling as I’ve had in football.”
Lampard admits he did not expect to even make the play-offs in his first season but is relishing facing his old pal, long-time Chelsea team-mate and now Villa assistant head coach John Terry back at their old Wembley stomping ground.
“Yeah, I think it’s more than I imagined because of where we were at, because of Leeds being so tough, because at one point we were five points behind Bristol City with I think five games to go, so it’s more than I could have imagined the way it’s turned out,” he said.
“We’ll enjoy this win and then it’s heads down because we’ll be underdogs against Aston Villa.
“They’re a great team. I know John, obviously. They’re a great outfit. The challenge will start again.”