Hartson tips Lambert for the big time

Chris Lakey John Hartson is backing old pal Paul Lambert to reach the very top of the management game - but admits that City's gain could ultimately prove to be their biggest loss.

Chris Lakey

John Hartson is backing old pal Paul Lambert to reach the very top of the management game - but admits that City's gain could ultimately prove to be their biggest loss.

Hartson - currently recovering from life-threatening cancer - played with Lambert for five years at Scottish giants Celtic and said it was clear that his skipper had set his sights on a career in management well before retirement.

Lambert's success at City, who he has taken into the second automatic place in League One, comes as no surprise, but Hartson believes the problem for City now is to keep hold of their biggest asset.

“It's unfortunate, but the big boys will come sniffing around if he takes them back up,” said Hartson. “The hope is that if Norwich get into the Championship then they are the big boys once again and are just one season away from the Premier League. If they can help with a little bit of investment then maybe they can keep hold of Lambo. But if he keeps on going the way he is going now, then, yes, they will start calling. I certainly see him managing at the highest level.”

Hartson spotted Lambert's ambitions long ago.

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“I lived on the same estate in Glasgow as him for five years so we became good mates,” he said. “He was my captain and he was a wonderful player who performed at the very highest level.

“He won the European Cup with Borussia Dortmund and is very knowledgeable about European football and I believe he did all his work for his coaching badges in Germany.

“He was thinking about getting into management when he was in his early 30s and while it has taken spells at Livingston and Wycombe and Colchester to get going, he has found a fabulous club now and is clearly enjoying it.

“He seems to have galvanised the team and is doing exceptionally well - but he will be fully aware that the job is far from done yet. Having got the team up there and pushing Leeds he has tasted what it's like and he will want the team to keep pushing on and on.

“Lambo knows there will be a sticky patch somewhere so he will want to get as many points in the bag as possible so that when it does come it doesn't hurt as much.”

That's when the first problems will come should Lambert - who was heavily linked with the Burnley job before Brian Laws was appointed - be courted by others.

But Hartson believes Lambert could be tempted to stay not just by the club's ambitions, but because of the attraction of living in the county of Norfolk. Hartson should know: he spent a month on loan at City under caretaker boss Jim Duffy in October, 2007, and admits he fell in love with the place.

“I was way past my best when I went to Norwich and I was only really doing West Brom a favour because I was on good money and I was just playing in the reserves,” he said. “I struggled, there was a lot of driving and that, but it was a terrific place, wonderful. The people were great, it is a lovely city. I had a couple of nights out and played some golf, my family came up and we really enjoyed it.

“I wish I'd been there a few years earlier when I was a lot fitter because I would have stayed. I had a good career, but Norwich is probably the only place where I didn't perform, which I regret.

“But it's such a great place it may be that Paul will decide to stay around, to live there and bring his family down. I loved the place - maybe he will feel the same.”

Hartson, 34, faces more surgery on his lungs and his brain to ensure he is completely clear of the cancer which was diagnosed last July - but intends following his old pal down the managerial path when he is stronger.

“I've had a few offers since I retired, but I'm not quite ready yet to go out on the training pitch and do the job 24/7,” he said. “That's the only way I would want to do it.”