Paul Lambert’s ‘just win’ philosophy applies to all opposition

I was fortunate enough to be treated to a day out of the office recently, as the department attended their annual Away Day, coincidentally at Carrow Road. The guest speaker was the ex rugby player Will Greenwood who gave a thoroughly entertaining, and captivating motivational speech on the power of the positive mind. He relayed stories and anecdotes of his time in the England squad, most notably his time as centre during the 2003 World Cup campaign, where England left surprise victors.

In speaking of their winning formula, Greenwood talked about the England squad, their sense of camaraderie and team spirit, their strict diet and exercise regime, but in the main, he spoke of their mindset. Referring to the chosen 15, he openly admitted, they weren’t the top 15 players in the world. “Maybe two or three were, but that’s all.” Instead, he said they were the 15 men, who believed more than anyone else, that they alone would lift the trophy. And they did.

Clive Woodward was the man that did it for rugby. Working on the premise that you can’t change behaviour, unless you change the mindset, he took his players to a level that their physical ability alone would not award them.

We’ve seen it happen here at Norwich. In 2009, we saw our team, who got hammered at the hands of Colchester, go on to smash Wycombe Wanderers a few weeks later. To those outside of the dressing room, the only thing that had changed during those intervening weeks, was the manager. But to those on the inside, along with a new manager, came new belief, and a new mindset.

It’s reported that when Lambert took charge of Wycombe Wanderers three years before he beat them as the Norwich City manager, he received a phone call from his old manager and mentor Martin O’Neill, who told him that his one piece of advice was to “just win”. Clearly Lambert bought into this and has carried it with him all the way into the Premier League.

Just as this season started I attended an Aviva Team Talk with Paul McVeigh and Darren Eadie. In discussing Lambert’s winning mentality, I recall McVeigh pondering on whether the ‘just win’ belief would be shaken when facing the likes of Man Utd and Chelsea. And as we have seen, it wasn’t. We played those games intending to win and we almost did. But it doesn’t surprise me that one of the biggest tests we have faced this year was Sunderland a couple of weeks ago. Lambert will have known his mentor would now be his adversary, and he would have known how tough the competition would be. It’s obvious the team didn’t turn up that day. Perhaps they could sense their mentor’s unshakeable belief in winning had been temporarily shaken?

In researching this article, I read that in 2002, the FA launched their ‘Psychology for Football’ strategy ‘designed to raise awareness and meet the needs of all those involved in the game; the players, managers, coaches, clubs and support staff’. It strikes me as somewhat ironic given the state of the national squad today.

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The A-list world of English footballers, do indeed exhibit behaviours of undeniable self belief. But itis far from the kind of self belief Lambert, O’Neill and Woodward would tolerate. More importantly, it’s not the type of self belief that can be challenged, or transformed into something more effective.

In fact, in recent times, we have seen the national rugby squad displaying behaviour we would normally attribute to our footballers. So how did the RFU respond? Dropped the players and brought in some new blood. The inexperienced, but fresh, untainted, eager minds of players ranked nowhere nearly as high as their forerunners or counterparts, yet with the capacity to be so much more. When I look at the Norwich squad in recent times, I see the same.

I’m not sure whether the new England manager has enough time to change things now. And indeed, it’s going to take a very brave man to drop the current squad and bring in a younger less experienced side to instil the type of discipline needed in any national team. But I for one have bought into the rugby approach and I would back any manager brave enough to do the same. We’re ready for a change at the national level. It happened at Norwich, it’s happening at Sunderland, and now it needs to happen at the top.

In the words of Will Greenwood, “if you keep doing the same things, you won’t get different results.”