Farewell to Paul Lambert - a Norwich City manager who made his mark
In the aftermath of Norwich City’s final Premier League match of the season against Aston Villa, there was a moment when it finally dawned on us that the man who had masterminded three remarkably successful seasons may just be giving his final post-match Press conference at Carrow Road.
Just a few minutes after the last ball of 2011-12 had been kicked, 12th place in the table had been secured and the players had completed their lap of honour, manager Paul Lambert was asked directly if he thought he would still be at Norwich at the start of next season.
There were a few seconds of hesitation before he said: “It’s a hard one to answer, that, because, as I say, I’ve got a contract here and everybody’s doing great in their own respective jobs. We’ll get this season out of the road and then I’ll see what happens.”
It was not the unequivocal commitment to the Canaries that supporters had been hoping to hear, but that was never Lambert’s way. He had been linked before with vacancies at Burnley and West Ham – what is it about claret and blue? – but kept his own counsel amid all the fuss and decided to knock down the reports of a move to Turf Moor only after of a day of feverish media speculation.
He always chose his words very carefully and was wary of making any kind of comment that could later be thrown back at him if circumstances changed.
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Lambert’s exit will be a huge disappointment to the Yellow Army of fans who have packed Carrow Road and trekked across England and Wales to watch one victory after another over the past three years. But it will not be a total surprise.
Stories linking Lambert with the Villa job had surfaced long before Alex McLeish’s team arrived for their final fixture – where, bizarrely, both sets of fans were singing the City manager’s name – and there were plenty of hints in the closing weeks of the season that he was not entirely happy with plans for 2012-13, notably his transfer budget.
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After the 3-0 home defeat by Liverpool, a fortnight before the season ended, Lambert admitted that he did not know how much further the club could go.
He had already made plain on several occasions that he needed to strengthen his squad in the close season but that the budget would be no bigger than last summer – it was revealed at the annual meeting that City’s new recruits for the Premier League would eventually cost �17m in transfer fees, though not all the money was paid up front.
“Finance dictates a lot. We have to watch and see what’s going to happen. Will the budget be substantially bigger? No, not really. We’ll have to work with what we’ve got,” he said after the Liverpool game.
As it transpired, there was just one more Press conference to come for Lambert after the Villa game and it cast rather a shadow over Adam Drury’s testimonial night.
Lambert reacted angrily to questions about his future by arguing that he had never said a word about wanting to leave Norwich. In a radio interview minutes before, he said people were jumping to conclusions and making up “absolute nonsense”.
If it was absolute nonsense 10 days ago, the Villa link, at least, has since developed into quite the opposite, and his departure will bring to an end one of the brightest periods in the club’s history.
Lambert will unquestionably go down as one of Norwich City’s best managers, and given the low starting point he faced in 2009 – with the Canaries kept off the bottom of League One only by Southampton’s points deduction – arguably as the best of all.
It is sad to see him go and a little ironic that his last game in charge of the club should be against his likely next employers, just as it was when he presided over Colchester’s 7-1 win at Norwich before swapping clubs 10 days later.
There will doubtless be a few football people in Essex, recalling Lambert’s almost overnight defection from the U’s, who will manage a wry smile at City’s current sense of loss.