Lambert becomes the latest Glasgow graduate to seek top-flight honours
Norwich's return to the Premier League is due to a driven and no-nonsense Scottish manager. Sound familiar?
Wednesday 04 May 2011
Sentiment will play no part in Paul Lambert's thinking as the Norwich City manager contemplates how to strengthen and prepare his squad for life in the Premier League, following the club's unlikely promotion.
Just as it played no part in his decision two summers ago to walk out on Colchester United so he could accept the job at Norwich, days after his side had beaten them 7-1 at Carrow Road. Just as it played no part in his decision last summer to rebuild extensively the Canaries team that had just been crowned champions of League One by nine points.
Lambert, one of football management's rising stars, having masterminded Norwich's run from bottom of League One to promotion to the Premier League in 21 months, does not shy away from taking tough decisions he believes are in the club's – or his own – interests. Victory at Portsmouth on Monday night was worth a minimum of £88m for Norwich in television money alone – at least £40m next season, with another £48m in parachute payments over four years should they get relegated.
It will be Lambert's job to ensure that relegation does not happen. Norwich, however, have faith in the 41-year-old, who has followed a familiar path to Premier League management. Born in Paisley, he will join Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Kenny Dalglish, Alex McLeish, Owen Coyle and Steve Kean as top-flight managers who spent their formative years in Glasgow or the surrounding satellite towns.
An excited Norwich chief executive, David McNally, yesterday told the local radio station: "We're going to stay in the Premier League. They [Norwich fans] are going to have to get used to Premier League grounds, we've got there now and we're going to stay there."
It will be intriguing to see how Lambert reacts to the changing set of circumstances and expectations over the coming months. The first person he will turn to for advice will be Martin O'Neill, who was his manager for five years at Celtic, where the pair won three Scottish Premier League titles. In many respects he has modelled his managerial style on O'Neill's, whose swift transformation of Celtic when he took over in 2000 left a deep impression on Lambert.
The Norwich manager said recently: "We needed somebody like him with that personality and hunger and drive to drag us through. We had some really good players at the club at that time but we needed help. The focal point was the gaffer."
Lambert still phones O'Neill at least once a week but his respect for his former manager is such that he cannot bring himself to use his first name. "I could never call the gaffer Martin. He is always gaffer," Lambert said. "I speak to the gaffer quite a lot if I need any help or advice."
In particular, Lambert has copied O'Neill's brusque way of dealing with his players, keeping a distance to ensure respect is maintained. "We are similar. I don't get close to players but that does not mean I do not have a relationship with them. I still have a laugh and a joke. But there is a line you do not cross," Lambert said. "I really believe man-management is such an important part of the job and the gaffer was brilliant at that during his time at Celtic."
Lambert also learnt from Ottmar Hitzfeld, who signed him from Motherwell – "for a bottle of Coca-Cola" as Lambert once described it – and made him a key member of the Borussia Dortmund team that won the Champions League in 1997.
"Ottmar was fantastic. He had a dressing room full of lads that had won major honours. He man-managed them, kept everybody onside. He was a quiet man, but a terrific manager," Lambert said. "With Ottmar you knew you could never cross the line."
Lambert left Germany in November 1997 but returned in 2004 to take his Uefa Pro Licence in the country, and has been back since on refresher courses. He maintains close contact with his former club and took his staff over recently to see the new Bundesliga champions play Bayern Munich.
Lambert's start in management was inauspicious, an eight-month spell at Livingstone, where he walked out after winning just two league games. He then spent two seasons at Wycombe Wanderers before quitting after they lost in the League Two play-offs. After almost five months out of the game, he was appointed by Colchester, where he stayed for 10 months before seizing the opportunity at Norwich, following Bryan Gunn's sacking.
He was vilified for leaving Colchester but Lambert had an eye on the future. On the day he took charge he said of Norwich: "It's got unbelievable potential to do something great."
That ruthless ambition has served Norwich well in the past 21 months, as the Norfolk side have risen to from bottom of League One to gain promotion to the Premier League. It has been achieved without a single star name in the team; instead, Lambert moulded a team, bringing in players like Marc Tierney and David Fox who had worked with him before.
One of their outstanding traits has been their resilience. They have never lost two games in a row under Lambert; and this season they have scored 13 goals after the 89th minute of a match.
Defender Russell Martin said: "The number of late goals is down to fitness and belief, it is as simple as that. Our manager is a winner who never gives up and he has instilled that into us."
That mantra has taken Norwich back to the Premier League, and has effectively secured the financial future for a club that was close to administration in November 2009 and is still £20m in debt. The £425,000 compensation to Colchester and the £75,000 fine Norwich had to pay for taking Lambert now looks like turkey feed.
Norwich's key players
Having spent loan periods at no fewer than eight clubs, the former Everton keeper has been a virtual ever-present for Norwich since signing from Motherwell last summer. A former England Under-19 international.
A tricky and skilful, if slightly built, winger, Hoolahan has netted 10 goals this season and been a key source of supply for Grant Holt. Joined Norwich in 2008 from Blackpool and has just won his first Republic of Ireland cap.
Stocky and powerful 30-year-old striker who was sold to League Two Shrewsbury by Nottingham Forest just three years ago and now finds himself in the Premier League. Signed by Norwich for £400,000 in 2009 and has hit 52 goals in two promotion campaigns.
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