Thursday, January 19, 2012
Paul Lambert would make a great poker player. The Norwich City boss dispenses information on a strictly need to know basis.
For me, it is one of the key tenets of the club’s enduring success under the guidance of Lambert, Ian Culverhouse and the rest of his coaching staff.
City’s collective force of will and unbreakable team spirit, which has turned the Canary into the patron saint of lost causes at regular junctures, has been forged on the training pitches of Colney. Well away from the full glare of the media or supporters who flock in their thousands every week.
Be in no doubt the routine and highly provocative outpourings on social media channels from the likes of Joey Barton would never happen on Lambert’s watch.
What goes on between him and his players is, for the large part, a private matter played out behind closed doors. Two promotions and a top 10 place in the Premier League testify to the model’s success. Which in itself is no mean feat when you consider the conflicting interests of keeping 20 to 25 young men firmly onside. Not to mention their advisors and representatives - particularly when the clock ticks past midnight on December 31.
Lambert has been asked the same question pretty much every week over the past month or so. Rest assured it has become as wearisome for the questioner as the man who has to sit there and provide an answer the vast majority of Norwich’s fan base probably do not wish to hear.
I’m hardly courting a charge of treason here to reveal one detects a palpable sense of frustration from the man himself over the relative lack of movement so far in the January transfer scramble.
This ‘window of opportunity’ is entirely the product of the rule makers - not the managers - who see it as a sideshow, an unwanted distraction to the real business of picking up results. Lambert has indicated who he wants. Now City’s hierarchy have to try and succeed in a scenario that has been played out in every other Premier League club in the land over the festive period.
The few, genuine quality players of note available in this cattle market attract multiple suitors. Lambert has been at pains to reiterate the financial imbalance between his club and their top flight rivals.
Which, essentially, induces a contraction in the areas where Norwich can feasibly operate. Basic economics tells you if player A can earn a bigger sum in wages elsewhere than Norwich can offer, he’ll take his wares over the horizon. Anyone who seriously thinks player A is going to be wooed by a tour of the facilities, the quality of family life in Norfolk or Lambert’s persuasive charms presumably still believes in Father Christmas. Close your eyes children of a certain age.
Norwich’s points tally right now is the envy of half the league. But that does them no favours in the market, when struggling rivals fuelled by an inherently greater sense of desperation throw cash around in the receding hope of a short term solution to keep them on the same page of the fixture list come June.
Plot a route through that maze and you still have the transfer fee to factor in, with all the attendant minutiae of agreeing contracts, add ons, clauses, options and all the other terminology bundled together under the banner headline ‘undisclosed fee’ between buyer and seller.
Lambert has already publicly laid the ground for how this may play out; he would have no qualms going with the current group who continue to defy footballing logic and the financial disparity between the wage bills and transfer fees of the rest.
Saturday’s latest win at West Brom injected not only further breathing space to those towards the bottom of the table, but brought into sharper focus that 40-point mark which in all probability signals mission possible. The status quo would indeed be no hardship.
But City’s fall and then rise under the Scot’s stewardship shows how fragile this game can be. Heaven forbid, injuries to key personnel or suspensions combine to upset the delicate equilibrium of Norwich’s serene Premier League progress.
Lambert wants reinforcements to guard against every possible eventuality. Quite rightly.
Any poker player worth their salt aims to stack the cards in their favour.
• PREMIER LEAGUE NEW BOYS DESERVE FULL RESPECT
The latest notable victories for both Norwich and Swansea last weekend triggered a debate in some circles of rather haughty proportions.
To reprise, Steve Morison, Grant Holt and Danny Graham’s ability to steadily climb up the Premier League goal charts on a week to week basis provides fresh evidence of a general decline in standards in the top flight.
That the apparent ease with which these two unfashionable clubs situated at opposite ends of the British Isles have made the seamless transition from the Championship was less a cause for celebration, more reason for navel-gazing introspection compared to the technically-superior leagues across the English Channel. No doubt the apologists used the same reasoning for the Champions League exits of both Manchester clubs earlier this season; rather than viewing them as the historical blip which would appear to be a valid context.
Any recognition of the vibrancy, the fearless approaches taken by both Norwich and Swansea were singularly absent. Swansea’s win over Arsenal in large swathes of the media focussed on the Gunners’ defensive failings, rather than another passing masterclass from Brendan Rodgers men.
The Swans and the Canaries have deserved every point earned to date. Both have, in their own differing ways, challenged the cash-rich model which has dominated the Premier League during recent times.
The one that screams the only path to success is laden with large bundles of notes. You need finance to compete - especially in the market - but deep pockets are no substitute for the core qualities that matter most. What both Norwich and Swansea have brought into sharp focus is the staleness enveloping many other Premier League clubs. The likes of Wigan and Bolton seem infected by a world-weariness over recent seasons.
Falling crowds and disenchantment in the stands is matched by insipid, uninspired football on the pitch. That is a much more accurate measure of declining standards. Make no mistake, the players of Norwich and Swansea have been top class.