Norwich City will fight to keep Paul Lambert
High Street bookmakers have installed Canaries boss Paul Lambert as one of the red-hot favourites to succeed sacked Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish.
McLeish’s departure was perhaps not the news City fans wanted to hear given the growing speculation linking Lambert with a move to the Midlands. But with the memory of Sunday’s final Premier League game of the season at Carrow Road – when Villa fans taunted McLeish throughout the 2-0 defeat – still vivid it was clear the former Rangers and Scotland manager was walking on thin ice.
The hunt is now on for his successor – and it’s fellow Scot Lambert and Wigan boss Roberto Martinez who lead the way, if the bookmakers are to be believed.
Odds were fluctuating throughout yesterday evening, with little to choose between the two – Martinez was the first clear choice before money was taken on the Canaries boss. But with other contenders like Alan Curbishley and Brendan Rodgers down at 12-1 or more, it was clear the bookies have made their minds up.
If Villa do want Lambert they will have to get past Canaries chief executive David McNally, who says the club will fight to keep the man who has led them from second bottom of League One to a 12th-placed finish in the top flight in less than three years.
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Lambert and his management team agreed a new deal a year ago, and McNally insists the highly-rated Scot is going nowhere.
“We would not welcome any enquiry for our football manager or any of the club’s football players,” McNally told BBC Radio Norfolk.
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“We will do everything we can and fight this as hard as we have ever fought.”
The Canaries hierarchy know that continued success means their manager will be a wanted man and have always accepted that another job could tempt him away from Carrow Road.
“If I was at another football club and I was looking for another manager he’d be top of my list,” said McNally. “In any business you need to look at what might happen – the what ifs. But we are focused on keeping our manager and the footballers he wants to retain at the club and to bring in better footballers to complement the club. “I want other clubs to covet our manager and to want our players, because if they do that means we’re doing something right.
“It is almost obvious, isn’t it, that clubs would like to have them at their football club.’’
Villa are looking for a fourth manager in less than two years after Martin O’Neill’s resignation and then Gerard Houllier having to quit on health grounds before McLeish – after quitting fierce city rivals Birmingham – was appointed last summer.
Villa only avoided relegation during the penultimate weekend of the season and the brand of football on show has been uninspiring.
Lerner, in a media statement, said: “We need to be clear and candid with ourselves and with supporters about what we have lacked in recent years. Compelling play and results that instil a sense of confidence that Villa is on the right track have been plainly absent.
“The most immediate action that we can take is to look carefully at our options in terms of bringing in a new manager who sees the club’s potential and embraces our collective expectations.”
Chief executive Paul Faulkner said: “We’d like to thank Alex for his hard work and efforts throughout this tough season.
“We are mindful of the club’s need to prepare thoroughly for the new campaign, and for the new manager to be able to begin working with the board so that he is quickly immersed in these preparations and also in the long-term objectives of the club.
“Our focus now will be driven by these imperatives.’’
Villa confirmed McLeish’s departure in a statement. It read: “Aston Villa can confirm that Alex McLeish’s contract has been terminated with immediate effect.
“The club has been disappointed with this season’s results, performances and the general message these have sent to our fans. The board wishes to assure supporters that we are conscious in every sense that Villa expects and deserves more and we will strive to deliver this.’’
Villa finished only two points above the Barclays Premier League relegation zone and their tally of 38 points was one less than when McLeish went down with Birmingham last season.
McLeish has faced a losing battle to win over the Villa fans but it is Villa’s season of under-achievement which has cost him his job. He had always insisted the season would be one of transition after being ordered by Lerner to drastically reduce the wage bill. He also lost the services of key players Ashley Young and Stewart Downing last summer to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. In addition the likes of record signing Darren Bent, defender Richard Dunne and skipper Stiliyan Petrov have spent lengthy spells on the side-lines through injury or illness. But Lerner still did not expect Villa to be too close for comfort to the drop which in financial terms would have been calamitous.