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Back where he belongs: Chelsea's reformed 'bad boy' Jody Morris is Frank Lampard’s most trusted ally

9:00 pm AEST 28/6/19
Jody Morris Chelsea
Frank Lampard is set to leave Derby County to take over at Stamford Bridge and he plans to bring his right-hand man back to west London with him

The excitement around Frank Lampard's potential return to Chelsea from current club Derby County has generated a media frenzy but it is worth noting that another vital figure from the club's recent past is also on his way back to Stamford Bridge.

Lampard's assistant manager, Jody Morris, is Blue through and through and a well-respected coach in his own right, having played a pivotal role in helping Chelsea's youth teams scale new heights before leaving his boyhood team to take up a role at Pride Park.

In his day, Morris was a technically gifted midfielder who became, and remains, the youngest player to play for Chelsea in the Premier League, at 17 years and 43 days old.

Unsurprisingly, Blues fans loved him from the off. However, he wasn't just adored because he was a local boy; Morris was also a fine footballer, as he memorably underlined by getting the better of fellow wonderkid Xavi in a 3-1 win over Barcelona in April 2000.

Louis van Gaal's team, which boasted superstars such as Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert and Rivaldo, eventually got the better of the Blues, triumphing 5-1 in the return fixture at Camp Nou.

However, during that first leg in west London, Morris looked destined to achieve great things at Chelsea. Xavi even later named him his toughest opponent.

It was thus, surprising, that Morris' career never took off thereafter and he struggled for game time under Claudio Ranieri, who took over at Chelsea later in 2000.

When Roman Abramovich arrived in the summer of 2003, vowing to spend big in order to turn the Blues into a major European force, Morris knew he was only likely to fall further down the pecking order.

Chelsea offered him a new contract but Morris elected to leave. Unsuccessful stints at Leeds and Rotherham followed, before he ended up at Millwall.

"The Millwall lads were saying, ‘What’s going on here?’” Morris told The Independent in 2013 when recalling the time a camera crew from Barcelona visited the training ground to speak to him about Xavi..

“I said, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just about Xavi’.

"He gave that interview when he was one of the best in the world, so it was great for me. Mind you, he was bloody brilliant when I played against him too!"

Morris later played for St Johnstone before he eventually wound down his playing career at Bristol City, in 2013.

Morris admits regret at turning down a five-year contract to stay Chelsea, despite it being for less money than a first-team player would have expected at the time.

However, maybe it just wasn't meant to be for Morris, who was significantly hindered by an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his bid to realise his undoubted potential.

By Morris' own admission, he didn't adapt well to the increased media scrutiny young footballers were subjected to around the turn of the millennium. He made tabloid headlines for all the wrong reasons during the early part of his career and it tarnished his reputation.

However, while negative stories and legal troubles may have completely derailed others, Morris emerged as a stronger man, not least due to his spell in Scottish football.

It was while working under Derek McInnes at St Johnstone that he realised that he had something to offer as a coach, not only because he could read the game well, but also because he was all-too-aware of its pitfalls.

In that sense, he was a perfect fit for Chelsea's academy: a prodigal son coming home to teach youngsters the tricks of the trade and help them avoid the mistakes he had made.

Following in the footsteps of Dermot Drummy and Adi Viveash, he made history at under-age level, with Chelsea's Under-18s winning every single competition they entered during his two seasons in charge.

As well as leading his side to a treble in 2016-17 and a quadruple in 2017-18, Morris also proved integral in the development of talented youngsters like Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Reece James in matching the FA Youth Cup record set by Manchester United's legendary youth team nicknamed 'The Busby Babes'.

Fresh from retiring after a spell in the MLS, Lampard worked under Morris while completing his coaching badges and was hugely impressed by his former team-mate's methods and work ethic.

So, when Derby owner Mel Morris offered Lampard a job last summer, he brought Morris with him to Pride Park.

"Chelsea has, is and always will be my club - I count myself extremely lucky to have been born close enough to the stadium that it was my local club and I became a fan," Morris said upon joining Derby.

"Then, to play a few games and win a couple of trophies for the team that I supported and had been a part of since I was eight years old was a dream come true."

It was obvious even then that he would love to return in a more senior role. Now, he has that chance.

Chelsea's fans couldn't be happier. After being critical of previous managers for not using the academy enough, they will now have a former youth-team coach back as assistant manager.

Morris himself has never hidden his disappointment at the way in which many of his proteges were forced to go elsewhere in search of regular football. His return should boost the first-team chances of the club's numerous loanees and under-age prospects.

Jayden Bogle, Max Bird and Mason Bennett at Derby will tell you that this coaching team gives youth a chance. Former Blues captain Dennis Wise is also in no doubt that Chelsea's players will respect Lampard and Morris' frankness and meticulous approach to the game.

"I think they are both very honest," Wise told Goal last season. "I think they tell people what they expect.

"I think they are very detailed on what they want from their players and then you always need a little bit of luck, always on your side. If they get the luck, they have already got the detail and understanding."

They will also have the entire Chelsea crowd behind them.

Lampard is a Blues legend but Morris is a local hero, even more so for the fact that he participated in the Game 4 Grenfell, a charity event organised for the many Londoners affected by the fire in the residential space of Grenfell Tower which claimed 72 lives. It is an issue that remains very close to his heart as the political fallout from the events of June 2017 drags on.

When Lampard and Morris returned to Stamford Bridge last October, the home fans held up a banner saying "Jody Morris: Chelsea through and through."

They have nothing but fond memories of the boy who dominated Xavi on the Kings Road and then lost his way before finding his way back to where he belongs.