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Frank Lampard got into management for moments like Derby's dramatic win in Reading

Frank Lampard didn't need to become a manager. He didn't need the money, didn't need the acclaim, didn't need the stress. But a man has to have a purpose. In the run up to his first competitive match in charge, he spoke of the need to retain the competitive instinct, to avoid the cushy existence of the TV studio. When you've spent this long in football, it's difficult to enjoy a simple life.

If avoiding a banal existence was Lampard's motivation, then his first match as Derby County manager was perfect. Much of their encounter with Reading gave an example of exactly what he can expect from the Championship: long passages of bad football, the odd flash of skill, some lusty challenges and a late moment of drama.

Derby beat Reading with a 94th-minute header by Tom Lawrence, a frequently frustrating winger whose other notable contribution to the game was a shot that went out for a throw in. Lawrence scored after timing a run into the box perfectly and guiding the ball into the corner of the net, the sort of goal his new boss built his reputation on.

"That's what I'm back in the game for," Lampard said afterwards. "Those feelings are incredible. That's right up there with what I've done in my career."

As a man who won three Premier League and one Champions League, that last bit might have been the adrenaline talking, but this is what football will do to you when its claws are in. It will feed you little bits of ecstasy, just enough to keep you hooked, 1 percent of magic to make the 99 percent of slog worthwhile.

"I'm sure there's a comedown coming somewhere," grinned Lampard about 45 minutes after the final whistle, still fidgeting, talking quickly, like a man who'd just downed nine espressos in a row.

Before the game, as the players were shaking hands, Lampard stood a little awkwardly next to the dugout, a little like a guest at a party who doesn't really know anyone, except he didn't have a glass of wine and some hors d'oeuvres to keep him occupied, and looked relieved when Paul Clement, Reading manager and an old friend from their Chelsea days, emerged from the tunnel to make him feel a little less out of place.

Frank Lampard celebrates after overseeing his first win as Derby County manager.
Frank Lampard celebrates after overseeing his first win as Derby County manager.

In the first half he looked nervous, a little fidgety, wandering around the technical area, putting his hands in then taking them out of his pockets. But despite the nerves, his general demeanour was impervious. When Derby had the ball in the net just after half-time, it was Lampard who spotted then quietly pointed out the offside flag. After Reading took the lead a few minutes later, he simply strolled carefully back to his seat in the dugout. No screaming, no tantrums, no kicking of water bottles. He offered occasional words of encouragement and claps, but nothing more animated.

This was managerial sangfroid, the sort of approach that will probably see him criticised at some point by old-school types who demand ostentatious displays of "passion" and "desire" at all times.

"It's just me; I'm not a jump-up-and-down person," he said, pausing, before adding: "Apart from when we get last-second goals."

And that's when the mask of serenity slipped, Lampard leaping into the scrum of limbs that formed next to the Derby dugout, backroom staff and substitutes jumping on top of each other in one of those glorious moments that only sport can really give you. That sort of collective rapture that only really lasts for a second, but the afterglow will stick around for just long enough to remember how good it felt.

Lampard is a smart man, and he knows that this is very much the exception. He was even self-aware enough to admit Derby didn't deserve the win, and that "when the dust settles I'll be judged like anyone else." The next nine or so months will be a grind, a seemingly endless succession of matches, travelling to places you wouldn't travel to if not to play a football match.

At various points he'll probably wonder why he bothered, why he went into management when he could have kicked back and enjoyed being a man of leisure. Maybe he'll glance up at the TV studio and think of how nice and warm and comfortable it must be up there. "Why am I here when I could be up there?" he might think.

But then the 94th minute on a muggy August evening in Reading will pop back into his head and he'll remember why.

"I've missed those [moments]," he said. "I've missed the mad things football can do to you."


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