Frank Lampard response to Raheem Sterling is telling

In his very response, Frank Lampard proved Raheem Sterling’s point.

In the way Lampard reacted when it was suggested that his whiteness may have greased the skids in the launch of his managerial career ⁠— by dismissing it and pointing to his work ethic ⁠— he underscored the exact thing holding back Black aspiring managers: that their name and dedication alone isn’t enough to open doors. 

In early June, Sterling, a star English forward for Manchester City who has become a reluctant voice against racism, was interviewed by the BBC. Among other things, Sterling called out the professional soccer industry for having so little minority representation off the field, in coaching staffs and front offices.

“The coaching staff that you see around football clubs: there’s Steven Gerrard, your Frank Lampards, your Sol Campbells and your Ashley Coles,” Sterling said. “All had great careers, all played for England. … At the same time, they’ve all respectfully done their coaching badges to coach at the highest level and the two that haven’t been given the right opportunities are the two black former players.”

Sure enough, Lampard’s first job after getting his coaching certificates was as the manager of Derby County, a second-tier Championship team primed for promotion. After falling just short of rising to the Premier League, Lampard was hired by his former club Chelsea regardless, putting him in charge of a perennial title contender, the kind of opportunity most labor toward for many years.

Gerrard, meanwhile, had a chance to manager a third-tier League One club the literal day after he retired, opting instead spent some time coaching in Liverpool’s academy and then quickly took over Scottish juggernaut Rangers. 

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard’s rebuttal of Raheem Sterling’s comments missed … a lot. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

It took Campbell seven years to get an opportunity to manage a club. He was put in charge Macclesfield Town, dangling at the bottom of the fourth tier, the Siberia of English professional soccer. He somehow saved the club from relegation. But his next job was with yet another troubled club, League One team Southend United, and Campbell never got the chance to turn it around before the coronavirus ended the season. 

Ashley Cole, meanwhile, was made a coach at Derby under Lampard, and now manages Chelsea’s under-15 academy team.

Which is all to say that Sterling has a point. There is a desperate dearth of Black and minority managers in English soccer — just four in the four professional tiers and only one in the Premier League — even though there are lots of players of color on the field. Less than 5 percent of leadership roles in English professional soccer are held by minorities, while about a third of the players are people of color.

“Give black coaches … the right opportunity,” Sterling added. “I feel like that’s what’s lacking here. It’s not just taking the knee, it is about giving people the chance they deserve.”

On Wednesday, ahead of Chelsea’s eventual victory over Manchester City, Lampard responded. He praised Sterling for his advocacy. And he credited Campbell for the good work he has done early on in his managerial career, while lauding Cole’s promise as a coach.

But then Lampard pushed back against the notion that his race had favored him.

“I think in the actual case of managers I think he got it, in my point of view, slightly wrong, because it felt a very casual comparison. I think it’s very hard to make that comparison from the outside,” Lampard said. “I think those opportunities have to be equal for everybody — I think we all agree on that. But within that, then there are the details of how hard you’ve worked. I’ve certainly worked from the start of my career to get this opportunity. And there’s a million things along the way that knock you, that set you back, you fight against. I’d like to think that no matter your background you’ll get a chance.”

Lampard doesn’t get it. He doesn’t see his own privilege. He thinks he’s earned everything he’s got, and that there’s a meritocracy at work that is colorblind. It doesn’t occur to him that Black managers might have more things along the way that knock them, that set them back, that they fight against.

This is the fallacy in the thinking of those blind to the advantages they’d had. They believe that because they have it, they must have earned it. Because it’s an easier explanation than to explore whether you got a head start by what you didn’t have to deal with.

Lampard thinks he’s earned his jobs because he’s worked hard. This implies that he believes Cole and Campbell didn’t work as hard. Never mind that Lampard got his first job at a significantly higher level (as did Gerrard) than his Black peers did, before anybody even had the opportunity to demonstrate their work ethic.

He evidently cannot see that there was no barrier for him to clear because he looked the same as the decision-makers hiring for those jobs did. It doesn’t occur to Lampard that a Black manager would have to overcome biases, subconscious and otherwise, that his own candidacy never had to contend with.

For that matter, Lampard surely didn’t consider that his father’s long pro career and status as a respected coach paved the way for him but not for Campbell or Cole. Or that the 38 games in which Gerrard captained England during his playing career and the five years Lampard spent as a vice-captain, wearing the armband eight times himself, created an appearance of leadership for the two white managers. Whereas among the Black ones, Campbell was England captain just three times and Cole never was once — even though he had over 100 caps, like Gerrard and Lampard. 

Lampard’s view of his managerial career has blind spots. Because nobody has ever forced him to confront them. Which was entirely the point of what Sterling was saying.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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