ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Norwich City
soccernet blog
Norwich City
Posted by Luke Smith on 06/04/2012

While Paul Lambert begins his search for a quaint little three-bedroom home in the West Midlands, I, along with many Norwich fans, am teetering between outbursts of anger and bittersweet gratitude. Despite the agony of his departure, Lambert will be forever seated in Norwich history as an undisputed legend, arguably the greatest manager in the clubs 110-year history.

From the dreary rock-bottom of England’s third league of football, off the back of a 7-1 demolition at the hands of Lambert’s Colchester United, the scot dove in head first and grabbed a dying club and performed close to three years of life-saving football resuscitation. After 142 matches, 70 wins, a League One winner’s trophy, two League One manager of the month awards, named League One manager of the year, a Championship runner’s up medal, named Championship manager of the year Dr. Lambert has nursed the Canaries back to full health. The reconstructive surgery had made the team more attractive than many had ever remembered them being.

Paul Lambert, to you Norwich City will be eternally indebted.

With that out of the way, how about an outburst of anger?

At best, Lambert’s move to Aston Villa could be described as a lateral move. Sure, The Villains boast a much wealthier investor in American entrepreneur, Randy Lerner, thought to be worth over $1 billion. The wealth of Norwich’s completely bonkers majority shareholder, celebrity chef and author Delia Smith, is not a known fact. One particularly unreliable web source cited Delia’s fortune as over £50 million, while another similarly useless website predicted her value to be the equivalent of an excellent Sunday roast carvery with the finest beef and onion gravy at The Bull’s Head Tavern. Hard to know what to believe…

Lambert has set a new standard for achieving great things without a lucrative transfer budget. Spending one seventh of the amount that Chelsea and Manchester City spent last season, Lambert dug deep into the lower leagues to recruit undiscovered talents for pocket change. Choosing Aston Villa was not about a transfer budget.

While Villa Park may seat 15,000 more than Carrow Road, their average attendance is a mere 33,000, just 7,000 more than City’s and both Norwich and Villa sold 22,000 season tickets last year. Choosing Aston Villa was not about fan loyalty.

No, if Lambert is to fulfil his undeniable potential to become one of the Premier League’s (and possibly beyond) greatest managers, he would need a stepping stone position before managing a top six club. In Villa he has a club unlikely to push for European competitions or any trophies for that matter, but with potential.

Were it not for a number of unfortunate injuries to key players, Villa might have had more enjoyable season. Fabian Delph, Stiliyan Petrov, Ciaran Clark, Charles N'Zogbia, Alan Hutton, Richard Dunne and Gabby Agbonlahor all missed multiple games because of injuries throughout the season. This squad could and should be competing for eighth position in the table. Add to that the reported 20 million pound spending budget Lambert will wisely invest and a top half finish looks feasible. A couple of successful seasons down the road and the door will then be opened for Lambert to manage a world-class team.

So what now for the Norwich team Lambert has built? Want-away captain and leading goal scorer, Grant Holt, could well be Lambert’s first signing, leaving the Canaries a dishevelled version of its former, determined self. Others may follow Holt’s lead.

The names Malky Mackay, Chris Hughton and Neil Lennon have already been thrown into the rumour mill. My personal write-in candidate is Lambert’s right-hand man and ex-Norwich defender, Ian Culverhouse. The man knows and loves the club and has been responsible for much of the day-in, day-out training since September 2009. A new manager has potential to disrupt much of the good foundations that have been laid in the past three years. However, with Culverhouse almost certain to follow Lambert to his grave he is an unlikely option.

Our best hope is that we can keep Holt long enough to bring in a new manager who can breathe life into that situation, a manager who can maintain the tenacity and vivacious football that has been tattooed to the squad for the last three years and, who knows, maybe introduce something fresh that does indeed advance what Lambert has begun.


Follow ESPNsoccernetFC on Twitter


Posted by joevilla on 06/03/2012

Come off it, take a look at your wage cap to understand why he left. And you certainly wouldn't refer to avfc as you do had this been only 2 years ago. tough luck, nice mustard.

Posted by RobHaward on 06/03/2012

Luke , excellent piece and spot on analyais of the Paul Lambert saga .As i tweeted i believe the Norwich board wanted to stick whilst Lambert and Holt wanted to twist . Again you are correct in that 2 years time he will be managing Man u.

Posted by Axel Foley on 06/03/2012

I heard the real reason he left were rumours of the overpowering smell of fish at the training ground, press area, away team changing room and boardroom.

Posted by Luke Smith on 06/04/2012

@joevilla - Not sure what you're upset about; you just got the best new manager in the country...
The wage cap had nothing to do with it. The man wants a bigger kingdom, not more money to spend on his house.
I referred to Aston Villa only with facts. Two years ago you had ex-Norwich player and manager Martin O'Neill. Today you have his protege. You're welcome!
Take a look at this - someone else who thinks Villa will be a stepping stone.

Posted by Luke Smith on 06/04/2012

@RobHoward You're absolutely spot on. Holt and Lambert had themselves in mind, and understandably so. Lambert has always got bigger fish to fry, that's why he's never fired, he always quits. Holt is getting towards the end of his top-level career and needs the money. I still hope he stays for one more year.

Posted by Jason Lakas on 06/05/2012

I think you're right with regard to Lambert, although had he been a bit more patient, he could have been vying for a top 6 job next summer. Villa's going nowhere fast and I don't know if it's the best move to try to advance his career. O'Neill did well enough for them but only earned a move to Sunderland after the sack. To me Lambert's destiny lies within a similar LMA realm of recycled managers who are always mentioned or considered when midtable jobs open up.

That's a shame too, because he could really have built Norwich into a decent PL side and I'm sure that would have meant more to him than returning Villa there. In years gone by, Lambert and Rodgers would have stayed at their clubs and tried to build them into challengers. Now, just like players, there's only ever an ambition to move to a challenger.

Posted by JasonVilla on 06/05/2012

A fairly bitter and uninformed analysis, at least with respect to why Lambert left for Villa. Make no mistake, I agree that Villa have come out of this well, but to equate this as a lateral move, and as a stepping stone to a top 6 club is both oxymoronic (a stepping stone is a forward, rather than sideways, step) and unfair, both to Villa and to Lambert. For a start, you judge Villa's potential (attendences, results) on last season - our worst in the EPL - but anyone can see Villa's potential for improvement. I'd agree that Villa could well be a stopover for Lambert, but it is also potentially a top 6 club, as its recent history shows. If Lambert moves on it will be to a title contesting side (assuming he can't push Villa there himself). However, a top 6 finish for Villa is a realistic goal. To be honest, if Lambert thought he could take Norwich into the top 6, he never would have left. You should have just discussed Lambert's legacy and Norwich's future, which BTW still looks bright.

Posted by Les on 06/05/2012

You don't mention that you wanted to give him a smaller transfer budget than last season and cash in on 1 or 2 1st teamers (not just Holt) to pay for debt. To bring such success with so little and be smacked with such an emposed regression is scandalous. Its not you're about to lose Holt, its that you're putting him in the shop window and inviting the public to come in and look for more bargains according to other news sources.

That lambart always had bigger fish than Norwich can't be more true but that you are losing him sooner rather later is entirely your boards doing. Their reasons for their actions might be in the best interest of the club but they're definitely not in the best interest of this team.

Posted by Luke Smith on 06/05/2012

@JasonVilla Thanks for your comment. I understand why you feel slighted. In your position, I'd feel the same. Consider this; the age old adage, "You're only as good as your last game." It could just be 1970s management speak, but try telling that to a Manchester City fan. (Coincidentally, Aston Villa's last game was a 2-0 defeat at Carrow Road...) My point is this, Martin O'Neill did remarkable things for your great club, but for Lambert to leave for a club that finished four positions and nine points below them would be GENEROUSLY labelled a stepping stone (which, for the record, merely pertains to a journey, not to a degree of escalating progress). If you were to re-read the article, you'd see the reference to Aston Villa's unfortunate string of injuries, their spending money and their "potential". It's a smart move by Lambert, but not without risk. I'm certain he'll succeed because he's a winner, but there is a massive amount of work to be done if they're to finished in the top six.

Posted by Luke Smith on 06/05/2012

@Les While I appreciate your comment, I can only hope your news sources are wrong. For as long as I've been a Norwich fan, we've been a selling club and it's cost us dearly.
I don't mention that we "wanted to give him a smaller transfer budget than last season and cash in on 1 or 2 1st teamers (not just Holt) to pay for debt," largely because that's hearsay. Our budget is tight. We're still in debt and until we're fortunate enough to get a wealthy American investor, money will remain tight. I agree, David McNally is thinking about the club, but that's his job, to protect the club and the team. I'm not defending McNally. It sounds like he played this one wrong and the same with the Grant Holt situation, but he single-handedly brought Lambert here. I trust he'll replace him.
For three years, Lambert exceeded expectation without the spending budget any other manager would have needed. Now he has a chance to spend some money, money that we simply do not have!

Posted by IAN FERGUSON on 06/06/2012

i dont support any of the two teams here, but i do think the premier league is eventually going to wind up as ,not who is the best club but whichever club can attract the wealthiest owners.
i am waiting for a smart investor to take over a lowly club for virtually nothing then splash millions out on building a team to rival for the top of the premier league.
it wont be because the club has a huge fan base or a rich history and tradition ,it will be at the top because the owner has splashed out more money than anyone else.


Posted by Billy Beane is not my lover on 06/06/2012

Les - Selectively using statistics from this season to try and suggest the step from Norwich to AVFC is a small and risky stepping stone is a bit misleading. Technically valid, but in reality misleading. Villa are a huge club in the scheme of things, Norwich a minnow. The lure of coming to a club that needs to be rebuilt, with a progressive American owner crying our for an ambitious and strategic manager far outweighs the attraction of avoiding relegation with a small club consolodating its position in the EPL, drareducing debt, scraping for small time players that will help them stay up. Best case scenario for Lambert would have been he kept Norwich up with increasingly diminished performances (as good players get poached and the replacements fail to replicate the departures). He would then be in a position of looking for a new club off the back of a side in fear of relegation, unable to go further. We are in Fulham, Bolton, Reading -sized territory, not Villa, Everton, Newcastle.

Posted by JasonVilla on 06/06/2012

Heh heh - Luke, I know the saying about only being as good as your last game - and it's like saying 'look at the scoreboard'. In the context of last season I will not deny the facts: Norwich - 12th, Villa 16th. Also won't deny that Norwich bettered Villa over the home and away legs, 4-3 in aggregate. Both outcomes were well deserved by Norwich. I'd simply say, that, to assert that Norwich is the bigger club... well that is to mistake the statistic for the trend. I'm not talking about hearkening back to the early 80s for Villa, I'm saying compare the fundamentals - revenue, club infrastructure, stadium size etc. Sure a stepping stone can be sideways, but you wouldn't step sideways to Villa in order to move to a new club. You'd stay at Norwich keep building, and move on from there. You must have a really low opinion of Lambert if you think he would dump Norwich for a sideways move. I'm glad we got him, but I'd be astonished if he thought he'd only moved sideways.

Posted by Phil Norman on 06/06/2012

Culverhouse is an obvious choice, build from within and keep the philosophy and the systems. Let Holt go, he is over-rated and in decline. Of course Lambert was going to go, I thought he would be on his way to emulating Shankly. OTBC.

Posted by Marc on 06/06/2012

Good post Luke.... heard it'll be Chris Houghton top replace Paul Lambert. A good move i would say.
Seems classy, the way he conducts himself and i'm sure the city fans will be right behind him.

Posted by Gordon J on 06/07/2012

Great Post Luke...Lambert was fantastic but I agree with you...he needs to broaden his portfolio to get right to the top. For what it is worth, give him two or so successful years with Villa...maybe get them to Europe in position 6, and he will be the number one contender to replace the retiring Sir Alex. He is timing his run to perfection from what I can see...after 5 years of huge successes, plus the fact he is a Scot and I am sure Sir Alex will have a hand in selecting his successor, look for Lambert to put his hand up for that job around 2015

Posted by Luke Smith on 06/08/2012

@ Gordon it seems ludicrous to think that he can go from Col U to Man U in five years, but I'm inclined to agree with you. He's the most impressive manager in the league right now and with youth on his side, he could have a long career at Man U. I Hope he gets it. I really do. But let's see how he gets on at Villa. keeping the dressing room sweet and taming one or two of those big egos could prove to be his biggest challenge yet. Thanks for your comment, Gordon.

Posted by ka on 06/09/2012

Norwich could be like a smaller Arsenal - good football, good stadium, good fanbase and good bank balance. Staying in the PL for 9-10+ like Bolton or Wigan should do it and like Georgie Graham used to say, just keep rotating out the stars. Thanks for your brilliant job, now move on and let us cash in one last time. No one is ever bigger than the club, no matter how good they've been for you.

Keep with a sensible board, I say. The day will come when football fans appreciate a healthy club and being competitive against chasing over-priced trophy wins every year.

(I don't support Arsenal or any of the clubs mentioned on here, but everyone admires the Gunners as a club, don't they?).

Posted by Chris on 06/12/2012

You should also mention that Villa are at one of their lowest points in living memory whilst Norwich have peaked under Lambert (hence the equal number of season tickets sold).

Put simply Villa are a much bigger club with more ambition, more fans, more money, and more history.

Posted by Anonymous on 07/03/2012

but were 20 year ago, lambert will improve villa 6 place in the premier league at best i think norwich can match villa and reach 6 th in a couple of seasons

  Post your comment
Email Address:
characters left
David Young Luke Smith: I'm 27 years old and addicted to Norwich City. If I could be anyone other than me, I'd be Michael Wynn-Jones. Greatest Norwich moment was Delia's pitch-side rant. Worst Norwich moment was Daryl Sutch's penalty in the 2002 Championship playoff final. I believe loyalty yields better fans than victory. We've suffered over the years, but I genuinely believe we're staying in the Premier League for a while. I've never even been to Ipswich. The train from Norwich to London passes through Ipswich and even their train station makes me gag. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @Norwich_Canary. OTBC

RSS feed

Recent Posts