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.