Lambert has been careful in borrowing only the best
Norwich City manager Paul Lambert has left no one in any doubt about his requirements when it comes to loan signings.
“I need lads that will run through a wall for me,” he told shareholders at the club’s annual meeting last week.
“I don’t know the rigmarole of what happened a few years ago. I won’t go for lads that aren’t hungry.”
He had been asked whether the Canaries would consider a Huckerby-Crouch-Harper style loan swoop to try to help them in the final push for promotion or a play-off place.
Darren Huckerby’s arrival from Manchester City, initially on a three-month loan, was unquestionably the biggest single factor in catapulting City into the Premiership seven years ago.
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Since then, however, the whole concept of loan signings has taken a bit of battering at Carrow Road, mostly through the events of Championship season 2008-09, when managers Glenn Roeder and Bryan Gunn borrowed a total of 16 players between them.
Roeder argued that he was recruiting better quality players than the club could possibly afford to buy. Gunn, taking over in the middle of the January transfer window, was desperately trying to bolster his squad to stave off relegation. City spent �2.2m on their temporary signings but still went down.
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That experience convinced the new regime at Carrow Road that City had to have a team of their own. Gunn, retained as boss after relegation, made 11 permanent new signings.
Since taking over, Lambert has offloaded five of them – three more are currently out on loan – while gradually trying to assemble a team of his own. But except in a few cases, he has stuck to the principle that it is better to buy or snap up free agents than to borrow.
Goalkeeper Fraser Forster was one exception, playing a crucial role in City’s League One title success during a season on loan from Newcastle. Russell Martin and Anthony McNamee were signed on loan, but with permanent deals already in mind, while Michael Rose and Stephen Elliott were the only short-term recruits for the promotion push.
And Lambert has been sparing in his use of the loan system this season – at least as far as incoming players is concerned.
Defender Leon Barnett, brought in from West Bromwich Albion to cover for injuries to Michael Nelson and Zak Whitbread, was another converted to a full-time move. Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury, whose return for the rest of the season was confirmed three days after the annual meeting, qualifies under the young and hungry label.
“Lansbury’s different,” said Lambert of the 20-year-old, who is seen as potentially a major player in the final three months of the season – and could well make his sixth appearance for the Canaries at Crystal Palace tomorrow.
It was from Palace that City picked up their very first loan signing nearly 40 years ago, when the system was very much geared to emergencies rather than short-term squad strengthening.
Centre-half Bobby Bell played three times for Norwich in the promotion campaign of 1971-72, covering the final three games of skipper Duncan Forbes’ 18-match absence with a hamstring injury, a gap in defence that was also ably filled by Terry Anderson and Steve Govier.
“It was the first time we had signed a player on loan,” recalled Dave Stringer, who played alongside Bell in the back four.
“Bobby had been at Ipswich quite a while and then at Crystal Palace so he had a decent amount of experience of that league.
“It was useful to be able to bring someone like that in to bolster the side rather than put a younger player into that situation.”
The loan explosion had still not taken off by the time Stringer was City manager and he used it very sparingly – though a bout of glandular fever for skipper Ian Butterworth forced him to act in 1990.
“We took Nicky Tanner from Liverpool, who was also a defender, and we had a couple of goalkeepers on loan when Bryan Gunn was injured but we had a reasonable squad and we were quite lucky in terms of not getting many injuries,” he said.
“Now the system can be helpful for both clubs because with no reserve matches, existing players are short of match practice and want to keep themselves fit.
“Taking Lansbury from Arsenal is a good thing – the opportunity to take a young player from a Premier League club, a bit like when they took David Bentley from Arsenal in the early stages of his career and he did quite well.”
Stringer admits, however, that fielding half a team of loanees is not conducive to success.
“It is not really building a team but stop-gapping and hoping to get results,” he said.
• IS THIS CITY’S BEST LOAN XI?
Chris Woods (signed 1981): Played 10 matches on loan from QPR before a permanent deal and five years as City goalkeeper. Went on to win 43 England caps.
Russell Martin (2009): Now a fans’ favourite, his initial loan from Peterborough last season was always destined to be a permanent reunion with former Wycombe boss Paul Lambert.
Ryan Bertrand (2008): Played 60 times for City in two loan spells from Chelsea. The England Under-21 international spent the first half of this season with Nottingham Forest.
Scott Parker (2000): Just half a dozen classy displays in midfield for City, later getting a �10m move from Charlton to Chelsea and full England recognition.
Aage Hareide (1982): The Norway international played 54 times for the Canaries after his initial loan from Manchester City became a permanent deal. He later managed his country.
Ian Butterworth (1986): The loan defender became a bargain �160,000 capture from Nottingham Forest once Brian Clough agreed to sell. Later skippered City in Europe.
Kevin Cooper (2004): Only 10 games but the man from Wolves made a significant contribution to eight wins as City lifted the Nationwide League title.
Kevin Reeves (1977): John Bond snapped up the teenage striker for a bargain �50,000 from Bournemouth and sold him three years later as City’s first �1m export.
John Deehan (1981): It takes a good man to keep Peter Crouch out of this line-up, but Deehan, originally a loan signing from West Bromwich, went on to set City’s top-flight scoring record – 48 of his 70 goals for the club came in Division One.
Ched Evans (2007): The Manchester City loanee scored 10 Championship goals to help save City from relegation in 2007-08. They won seven of the nine matches in which he scored.
Darren Huckerby (2003): Needs no explanation. The biggest single reason for promotion to the Premiership seven years ago – a revelation during his three-month loan, then when it became a permanent deal.
Subs: Fraser Forster, Danny Granville, Martin Taylor, David Rocastle, David Bentley, Peter Crouch, David Nielsen.