Mentor Hitzfeld glad for prot�g� Lambert

Paul Lambert’s achievement guiding Norwich City towards the Premier League is being closely followed by his one-time mentor Ottmar Hitzfeld.

The Canaries sit second in the Championship by one point from Cardiff City, heading into this afternoon’s Easter clash with Derby at Carrow Road (3pm).

And Norwich’s soaring rise is no surprise to the German coaching great, who says he always knew Lambert could be a top manager.

“Paul’s one of the most impressive players I ever had,” Hitzfeld said this week about the Canaries’ leader, who bossed the midfield of his 1997 Champions League-winning Borussia Dortmund side.

“What was most critical is that Paul was a very good team player. That is one of the most important qualities as a coach and manager of a team.”

Hitzfeld knows all about winning teams. He is one of just three men to lead two different clubs to become European champions, having repeated the feat with Bayern Munich in 2001.

Now 62 and coaching Switzerland, Hitzfeld took time out from preparing for a Euro 2012 qualifier against England in June to recall working with Lambert.

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“Paul was one of the players responsible for keeping a good mood in the dressing room before a game,” he said. “And after a defeat, he was one of those who knew how to address a situation or any problem.”

Hitzfeld first saw a 25-year-old Lambert’s potential in September 1994 when Dortmund played Motherwell in the Uefa Cup first round. The fast-improving Germans – who were about to win two consecutive Bundesliga titles – won 1-0 at home and 2-0 at Fir Park. But the tough encounters left a strong impression on Hitzfeld, whose team would lose to Juventus in the semi-final.

Hitzfeld’s Dortmund had also lost the 1993 Uefa Cup final to Juventus, 6-1 on aggregate, and something extra was needed to overcome the Italian giants. He found it in Scotland.

“Paul’s a typical Scotsman, very good in his mentality as a professional,” recalled Hitzfeld, who in the summer of 1996 bolstered a richly talented squad for another Champions League challenge. Lambert arrived on a Bosman free transfer to join several of Germany’s Euro 96 winners, including class acts like sweeper Matthias Sammer, soon to win the Ballon d’Or as European footballer of the year, plus playmaker Andreas Moeller and defender Juergen Kohler who had been in that 1993 Juve line-up. Even in such a stellar cast, Lambert stood out as “a role model”.

“You could ask anyone. Paul played a very important role,” Hitzfeld insisted.

Never more so than when Dortmund renewed acquaintance with Juventus – now with Zinedine Zidane emerging to greatness – at the Olympic Stadium, Munich, in May 1997.

Hitzfeld, patrolling the technical area in one of his trademark pale raincoats, assigned Lambert the task of subduing the French superstar in the essential holding midfield role. Zidane threatened early on yet when Dortmund took a 29th minute lead it was Lambert crossing for Karl-Heinz Riedle to score. Five minutes later, Riedle scored again and substitute Lars Ricken completed a 3-1 upset win with a sublime first touch in the 71st minute.

Six months later, Dortmund banked 2m Euros when Lambert came home to join his other managerial mentor, Martin O’Neill, at Celtic. Lambert then captained the Hoops to a 2003 Uefa Cup final defeat against Jose Mourinho’s Porto.

Hitzfeld soon joined Bayern, lost the 1999 Champions League final to Manchester United’s stoppage-time miracle, then won it two years later against Valencia.

He matched Austrian coach Ernst Happel’s feat of leading Feyenoord (1970) and Hamburger SV (1983) to European titles, then Mourinho joined them with his 2004 Porto side and Inter Milan last year. Of Hitzfeld’s 1997 team, only Sammer has lifted a major trophy as a manager – with Dortmund’s 2002 Bundesliga winner – though he is now the German FA’s technical director. The current league-leading Dortmund team has another Lambert team-mate, Michael Zorc, as sporting director.

As Hitzfeld might have guessed, Lambert is shaping to be the best of his prot�g�s. Master and pupil could soon cross paths at Wembley: the Championship play-off final on May 30 is five days before Hitzfeld’s Swiss take on England. Hitzfeld believes, however, that Lambert’s Norwich City can reach the Premier League sooner than that.

“He was always positive, believed in success and always wanted to win,” Hitzfeld added .