On his 52nd birthday yesterday, we found ourselves reliving some Steve Staunton moments, saddened that his unbelievable playing legacy is undermined by his calamitous two years in charge of the Irish team.
As part of the YouTube nostalgia/rabbit hole, we watched an interview he gave to Tony O'Donoghue straight after the Cyprus game. No, not that Cyprus game. More forgettably, Ireland also failed to beat Cyprus at home in that Euro 2008 campaign. Qualification hopes were already dashed so Steve Finnan's injury time equaliser at Croke Park that night did nothing except spare more embarrassment for Staunton and the country. Speaking to Tony, Staunton was determined to stick it out, not knowing that his fate had already been decided. He wouldn't manage another game for Ireland. When the team went to Cardiff for the last game of the campaign, Don Givens was in charge.
More than that, it struck us that Staunton's logic and ego were at odds throughout the interview. He is at pains to take full responsibility, to even admit the crowd were right to boo the team and management. But he couldn't help himself either. "Once the players go out over the white line" is a wonderful football cliché, and Stan only spoke in football clichés. "I can't pass the ball for them" came soon after. In other words, "I did my job. They didn't do theirs."
Last night, with that fresh in the mind, it was remarkable to watch Frank Lampard give his post match interview to Sky Sports. His Chelsea team had not just gone down to an in-form and still very underrated Leicester team, they had done so without even landing a punch. It was as tame a performance as you're likely to see from a "Big 6" team not named Arsenal this season. It may also have been Lampard's last game in charge of a club where he is a playing legend.
🗣 "Beaten by the better team."
🗣 "Too many of our players didn't do the basics."
Frank Lampard says Chelsea looked like a 'team out of form' as the succumbed to Leicester.
Watch the reaction on Sky Sports PL 📺 pic.twitter.com/bSuFQZwVm6
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) January 19, 2021
Was this another determined interview of an already doomed manager? Chelsea have lost five of their last eight games and Lampard's time might be up at Chelsea. While you could sense Lampard wanted to take responsibility, he couldn't help having a dig at the players' performances either, something he has done on numerous occasions recently. Both taking and shirking responsibility at the same time is something Irish fans can remember all too well.
And if Frank does go now, what happens to his legacy at Stamford Bridge? Steve Staunton played in three World Cups for Ireland, won 102 caps, and was considered as one of the country's greatest ever players. He was given the biggest job of his life, despite having no experience, in January 2006. By October 2007, he was gone and his legacy was in tatters.
Lampard is Chelsea's all-time leading scorer. He won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, a Champions League and a Europa League with the club. It's a legacy that is very difficult to undermine. But he was given one of the biggest jobs in world football with almost as little experience as Staunton. One season in charge of Derby County (where he simply maintained their league position from the previous season) is not usually enough of a CV to get a manager job at the club like Chelsea.
He also showed serious signs that he wasn't ready over the course of that season. His falling out with Leeds followed by being the literal centre of celebrations when Derby won the Playoff semi-final did not give the impression of a manager with enough humility to put his players first.
Last season, he was given a free pass because of Chelsea's transfer ban. Finishing a place lower than the previous season and getting into the Champions League, 33 points off first place and with 12 defeats, was treated as a miracle in the football media. This didn't do the manager any favours on reflection. This season, Chelsea were back to their big spending ways. Exactly half way through the season, they're are in eighth place.
But if he goes now, it's last season that will save the legacy. He is rightly a Chelsea legend, and the fans don't want to disown him. His reign, if it ends now, can be spun as unlucky, and not too much damage has been done. If it goes longer, who knows? Unfortunately for Steve Staunton, he time in charge of Ireland was unspinnable. "Cyrpus 5-2 Ireland" will live in infamy in the annals of Irish football. We were seconds away from an even worse calamity in San Marino.