Norwich City magician Ian Culverhouse has a box of tricks
On that infamous day of August 8, 2009, as Norwich City were being pasted by Colchester United I wonder whether Delia, David McNally and Co looked over to the away dugout and their eyes suddenly lit up.
Not just because there sat Paul Lambert – one of the brightest young managerial prospects around – but because sat next to him was Norwich’s very own magic man.
Did they know the best way to pull the club out of its doldrums was to bring back the man whose name keeps cropping up during the best times in our recent history – a certain Ian Culverhouse?
It really is staggering just how closely connected Norwich City’s fortunes are to the right-back turned assistant manager.
In his first season with the club, 1985/86, the Canaries won promotion from the old second division. Then he was part of a squad which managed to reach fifth and fourth in Division One in 1987 and 1989.
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And of course, under Mike Walker, he was a key player as we finished third in the league and outshone the mighty Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup – arguably our greatest ever achievement. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that our exit at the hands of Inter Milan coincided with Culverhouse being suspended for the second leg.
He left the club in December 1994 having fallen out of favour – and lo and behold that season we were relegated.
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Then followed 15 grim years without him – a couple of seasons apart – as ultimately we fell to our lowest point in more than five decades.
However that rot stopped as soon as our very own lucky charm walked back into Carrow Road.
But of course we all know it’s got nothing to do with luck.
As a player Culverhouse was all about doing the simple things well, all of the time. Rarely did he make an error, misplace a pass or miss a tackle. Much like Adam Drury in fact.
And as an assistant manager he must surely be building up a formidable reputation within the game.
While I would never underestimate how integral to our turnaround Lambert has been, you get the impression that Culverhouse has played a very big part in much of the recent achievements.
And to be fair this is something Lambert has not been afraid to point out, as just last week he praised Culverhouse’s ability to unearth fresh talent as well as his tactical nous.
Lambert said: “No doubt, Ian Culverhouse has been fantastic. The lads like the training and the way they get treated and if you can do that and then take them to the match then they are the ones who go and play it for you.
“I think with the quality of the coaching they get, Ian has been equally as important as anybody else who has ever played under me.”
Football’s history is littered with successful double acts of course. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor and Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd/Carlos Quieroz/Mike Phelan particularly spring to mind.
And often the best partnerships are ones where the individuals involved appear to be very different in their approaches – the classic good cop/bad cop approach.
But football’s history is also littered with instances where the number two has gone on to become the number one. Not always, it has to be said, to great success.
Who can forget our very own Peter Grant, fantastically respected as a number two, but he couldn’t quite cut it as the big boss. As far as Culverhouse is concerned he remained coy when recently interviewed on this subject by The Canary magazine, but did provide a hint that such a challenge could appeal.
He said: “I’m quite happy with what I’m doing now I suppose it’s something you’d like to do – to test yourself as number one. But the kind of freedom I get now is good enough for me. Paul and I have had a successful relationship, so it’s not something I’m thinking about at the moment.”
And while our success continues it is only natural that bigger clubs will start sniffing around our manager – and it is a fact of life that one day (though let’s not hope soon) he will depart.
But when that sad day does come, it might be that we have a replacement ready in the wings.
• I noticed that a few of the nationals suggested our game against West Brom was made up of two teams not that bothered about the result. I’m not so sure, and suspect Lambert himself is quickly warming to the idea of a long-awaited decent cup run. His team changes were exactly what we have come to expect of him, rather than a sign of playing a weakened team. I certainly think the message he puts out to the public, that it is all about the league, differs to the one he gives the chosen 11 when it comes to FA Cup match day.
• With the signings of Johnny Howson and Ryan Bennett, Lambert’s ability to unearth lower league gems ready to step up continues. By my estimations six of the eight permanent signings since we rejoined the Premier League fit into that category. Judging by the reaction from fans of Leeds and Posh his most recent two signings appear to have real quality about them. With Peterborough looking to replace Bennett before handing him over in March, it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of our out of favour centre backs go the other way in a loan deal.
• A season ticket price increase more than twice the rate of inflation during straightened times and yet still the mutterings are kept to a minimum – it’s amazing what you can do with a bit of success. As I said in my previous column, it’s a simple case of supply and demand, so as long as there are fans waiting in the wings to see the Canaries play, such increases surely won’t have surprised anybody. I’m not sure, however, that our sudden rise to the Premier League should automatically equate to such an increase and was therefore a bit disappointed a figure around or below 5 per cent wasn’t announced, along with recognition that it had been kept as low as possible as a thank you to loyal supporters. Will I renew though? Course I will.
• An apology for no mention of the result against Sunderland. A prior engagement booked before it was moved from Tuesday means I have not had time to digest the outcome before the paper heads off to the printers. I’m also making the most of a Thursday off by attempting A ‘Likely Lads’-esque avoidance of the score so I can watch it this morning.