I’m the boss, and here are my Premier League picks
It isn’t easy this managerial lark – no matter how much Paul Lambert makes it look like it is.
The brief seemed simple.
Use my final column of the season to play at being the gaffer and spell out the players I would try to sign in order to keep us in the Premier League.
A couple of hours later and I was still at it, hopelessly trying to decide whether my four planned midfield signings would give us enough strength in depth for the long season ahead.
The big problem is I couldn’t help but get carried away.
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A kid in a sweet shop is the metaphor that immediately springs to mind.
I even found myself caught up in a heated debate with two friends, one of them a West Ham fan, as I refused to accept their claims that English international Scott Parker would not be convinced to make Carrow Road his next destination.
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My whole team was based around him!
But then as far as Norwich City fans are concerned we are already living the dream – so pretty much anything seems possible at the moment – even the thought of us beating Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City to signing the influential midfielder.
To be fair I have since given up on the Parker idea – but what it really brought home is just how hard a job Lambert and his backroom staff have over the next few months.
Firstly they have to decide where to strengthen, and of course the by-product of that being who, from their current, promotion-securing squad, will face the heartbreak of being told they won’t be along for the Premier League ride of a lifetime.
Next they must decide how they plan to enter the transfer market.
Are they looking for mostly players with previous Premier League experience or should they follow the tried and trusted method of signing players with potential from the lower leagues? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
Will they splash the cash on wages and transfer fees or is the more conservative approach better?
Exactly how much of this supposed �40m will they get and what of it will they decide to spend?
These questions must be answered before they even get round to considering likely targets.
At that point they will face a barrage of fresh questions starting with whether the actual target is for sale, are they affordable, will they be willing to leave their current club and are they happy to join ours?
There’s no point in them setting their stall out on an unrealistic target, only to find that once they realise that isn’t going to come off they either don’t have a plan B or the plan B has already signed up for one of our rivals.
It’s exhausting and I don’t envy them the hard work that needs to be done ahead of the new season.
Not that I don’t doubt their ability to make the right choices.
It’s something I have pointed out before but during his time at the club so far Lambert has a fantastic success rate when it comes to transfers.
Even if they don’t work out immediately, give them a few months and normally the improvement is clear – David Fox and Simeon Jackson two cases in point.
His policy so far has very much been to sign players from the leagues below, who have been identified as having the potential to step up.
And it’s a policy that has worked so well there doesn’t seem to be much need to change it.
It wouldn’t surprise me, however, to see him make at least a couple of signings that give us a bit more Premier League experience.
The big question is just how many of the current squad will stay and how many new players will he bring in. Many fans have spoken of the need for the club not to repeat the mistakes of last time we were promoted into the top division, when the departures of Iwan Roberts and Malky Mackay seemed to rip out the heart of the club.
While this is true, we can’t just keep players out of loyalty, and Lambert’s previous dealings suggest he is fully aware of this.
Of the 14 players to appear in the final game of last season against Coventry, only five were at the club the season before and nine were signed before or during the season. Lambert’s buying policy seems to be about evolution, not revolution, so don’t expect the squad that starts the 2011/12 season to be the same as the one that finishes it.
So what changes would I make ahead of the next season?
John Ruddy has done enough to deserve the number one shirt at the start of next season.
We need someone to challenge him though and someone with a bit of experience.
I can’t see either Fraser Forster or Robert Green returning, as much as I may want them to, but what about Chris Kirkland?
Out of favour at Wigan and he spent the end of last season at Leicester.
If we can keep him fit he could be an excellent buy.
In – Chris Kirkland (Wigan).
Out – Declan Rudd (loan) and Jed Steer (loan).
Arguably our defence is largely geared up for Premier League football and I would be more than happy starting with a back four of Martin, Barnett, Tierney and either Ward or Whitbread. Strength in depth is a concern though and we particularly need full-back cover. Forest’s Luke Chambers is out of contract and can play at either right back or centre back. I’d love to see Ryan Bertrand back here for another year. If we need further cover Liverpool’s Danny Wilson would be a good option.
In – Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea Loan), Luke Chambers (Forest).
Out – George Francomb (loan), Jens Berthel Askou.
Most fans seem to want either Elliott Bennett or Scott Sinclair for the wing.
The first would be a gamble and I’m not sure the second is realistic, especially if Swansea go up. I fancy Reading’s Jimmy Kebe, who was brilliant against us at Carrow Road, though again this may depend on the play-off final result. Somewhat controversially I am adamant Sammy Clingan would be good cover for Fox, though his reception at the last game of the season makes this unlikely. Convince Wenger to let us develop Lansbury further and, if they go down, try and get David Vaughan from Blackpool and I think we’d have a good mix of culture and cutting edge.
In – Jimmy Kebe (Reading), Sammy Clingan (Coventry), David Vaughan (Blackpool), Henri Lansbury (Arsenal, loan)
Out – Owain Tudur Jones, Matthew Gill, Stephen Hughes, Korey Smith (loan), Anthony McNamee, Luke Daley, Tom Adeyemi (loan)
You won’t find many Reading fans putting me on their Christmas card list, but I would make Shane Long number one summer target, again as long as they don’t go up.
He never stops trying and is a real handful.
Add Watford’s Danny Graham and another year of Dani Pacheco and I would be happy with a striking combination of any two of the five strikers. Chris Martin seems to be at a career crossroads and may benefit from another year away.
In – Shane Long (Reading), Danny Graham (Watford) and Dani Pacheco (Liverpool, loan)
Out – Chris Martin (loan), Oli Johnson, Cody McDonald, Aaron Wilbraham