Thick-skinned Lambert prepared for flak upon return to Norwich
Villa manager back at Carrow Road in Capital One Cup tie after his controversial departure
Paul Lambert insists that his eight years as a Celtic player gave him a skin thick enough to handle any amount of vitriol that may be aimed at him when he returns to Norwich City as Aston Villa manager for the first time since his acrimonious departure from Carrow Road.
The 43-year-old Scot takes his young Villa side back to his old stamping ground for a Capital One Cup quarter-final tomorrow with the legal dispute that arose from his move to the Midlands in May still to be resolved.
Norwich say Lambert, who took the club from League One to the Premier League via consecutive promotions, breached his contract by walking out after his resignation was rejected. Lambert in turn is suing Norwich for unfair dismissal, claiming his terms of employment were broken when he was refused permission to talk to Villa about succeeding Alex McLeish. The matter is due to be dealt with by a tribunal next year.
"I don't know what to expect," Lambert said. "It is a hard one to call whether the fans would want to give me some flak or not. You'll probably hear it.
"But listen, I was at a club for eight years that half the city hated. I still get the odd shout now in Glasgow city centre when I go home and I retired about 15 years ago. When you have been involved in that, then you can handle anything."
Lambert admits the circumstances of his move to Villa saddened him. His relationship with some members of the Norwich board, in particular chairman Alan Bowkett, soured to the extent that, when Norwich visited Villa Park in the Premier League in October, Lambert said pointedly that he would shake the hands of only "some people" among the visiting contingent.
"It should never have been the way it is and you would like to think it could be sorted out amicably," he said. "I'm very proud of what we did there. The lads who played the games are the ones that actually did it, but we gave them a hand – Ian [Culverhouse] and Gary [Karsa] and myself – we gave it a right good run for its money. But probably the sad thing is people don't really know what's been going on.
"You would like to think that the sensible ones among the supporters would maybe think 'you done all right'. But I know you might get stick. With the things that are going on people probably don't know exactly what has happened.
"I really don't know what to expect but it's not something I'm actually too fazed about. I've been brought up in a whole different environment. I think people will make more of it than I actually will. It is another game and I would feel the same if it was not against Norwich because it is a chance to get through another round."
Villa might need some improvement to do that. After a slow start under new manager Chris Hughton, Norwich have won five and drawn four of their last nine Premier League matches and have seven more points than Villa, whose goalless draw at home to Stoke City on Saturday left them just two points outside the bottom three and with only 12 goals from 16 matches, the poorest scoring record in the division – despite which record signing Darren Bent was still not involved until the last 35 minutes.
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