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Paul  Lambert during his Scotland days - the man Craig Brown swears would have sent his side through to Euro 2000 at England's expense.

Craig Brown’s big Paul Lambert ‘if’

Thursday, November 3, 2011
11.45 AM

The ex-Scotland manager still wonders what might have been…

Just saying…

• Sad to be missing Villa Park this weekend; it’s one ground I still have to visit and actually really want to – although I hear it’s not the best place to be around at the moment. Unlike the Etihad. What a daunting trip for City that is. Five weekends and counting…

• Good to hear on Saturday that the divide of a division hasn’t dampened the City faithful’s joy at an Ipswich defeat. Not so the news a Norwich fan was apparently attacked by a Town fan at Liverpool Street station. Rivalry, fine. But there’s simply no need for violence. Ridiculous.

• Robin van Persie – what a player. He was always first on my fantasy team-sheet and would only ever manage a handful of games each season. With Arsenal here on November 19, is it wrong to look for one of ‘those’ international breaks?

• Donny must be desperate – bringing in El-Hadji Diouf to get you OUT of Championship strife? Come on…

Much like Norwich City, I’m on a decent run at the moment.

A few weeks back a call to Terry Skiverton about Jed Steer and Oli Johnson earned one news story and some lovely quotes from the Yeovil boss about the value of having Paul Lambert’s ear.

Next it was a call into ex-Scotland manager Craig Brown to get his thoughts on John Ruddy. The clamber for the City keeper to be in consideration for England was getting so loud, it seemed worth asking after the thoughts of his old boss at Motherwell.

Mr Brown was good enough to oblige on Ruddy – before telling me exactly how much the current City boss meant to his national team back in the days of 1992-2001.

Nine years is a fair time to be in charge of a national team – no one has managed anything like that at Hampden Park since – so Brown knows what he is talking about.

And when he says Lambert would have booked Scotland a Euro 2000 finals berth at England’s expense if it wasn’t for a broken jaw, he’s worth listening to.

“I’m going to say to you as an Englishman,” Brown told me.

“We played England in the Euro 2000 play-offs, when Paul Scholes scored two goals at Hampden – and had Paul Lambert not got hurt the previous week playing for Celtic against Rangers, I’m convinced Scholes would never have scored.

“Lambert would have been the man responsible for marking him.

“We lost 2-1 on aggregate, we won at Wembley but had lost at Hampden. Now, Paul got his face smashed – a broken jaw. It was an accidental collision, but it was an Old Firm game – the week before.

“It wasn’t great of the authorities to play that game before we played England. It meant Paul couldn’t play at Hampden and he couldn’t play at Wembley either.

“He was our best player at that time, the best player in Scotland. He was at Celtic but was clearly an outstanding midfield player; he’d just won the Champions League the year before at Borussia Dortmund, then Celtic signed him.

“I was really upset both for Paul – and of course, a bit selfish, more upset for Scotland.”

Brown was obviously a big fan of Lambert the player. He made him a regular in his Under-21 outfit and then captain, before making the same commitment to him when taking over the full national side after seven years with the young Scots.

So what about Lambert the manager – one who started his learning curve with a tough job at Scottish side Livingston?

“I’m delighted for him,” said Brown, who is in regular contact with the City boss.

“You never know when a guy becomes a manager, but he’s been really successful in England and was very harshly dealt with at Livingston. He didn’t deserve what happened to him there.

“And it’s far harder to be successful as a manager in England than Scotland, it seems.

“As you can tell, I’ve got the highest possible regard for Paul Lambert.”

You’re not the only one, Craig.