Lambert’s woes at Villa have an all-too familiar feel to them for anyone who once witnessed Walker’s travails on Merseyside…Tue 15 Jan 13 by Rick Waghorn
By one account I read, Villa owner Randy Lerner is ‘exasperated’ about his team’s present plight.
The same account insisted, however, that the club’s US-based owner will reach for his cheque book first transfer-wise before pulling the plug on Paul Lambert’s short-lived and troubled reign at Villa Park.
Judging by the reaction of the Villa faithful to the painful Capital One Cup display at Bradford City in mid-week and the 1-0 home defeat by relegation rivals Southampton at the weekend, exasperated would probably sum up the mood of a restive Holte End.
A brief respite came in the FA Cup success against Ipswich, but restless and natives will be in the same sentence again this weekend if Saints reverse is followed by derby defeat to the Baggies.
Slump further into that relegation mire as Harry wheels and deals his Rangers charges through the transfer window and how Lerner plays his hand in the next couple of week’s will be crucial to the Scot’s managerial future.
For just as you sensed that the travelling Villa supporters did as much as anyone to haul the ex-City chief across to the Midlands with their ‘One Paul Lambert!’ routine in that final home game of the season at Carrow Road, so they could do just as much to hurry him on his way.
Which is why Lerner – the son of an ex-US Marine, if memory serves – will need to display suitable courage under fire to keep Lambert in position.
The point of this piece is not to dance on anyone’s managerial grave nor to point accusing fingers at Lambert for believing that the grass was that much greener in Birmingham.
Rather to ponder just how hard it must be to manage ‘star’ players of a certain age and disposition. Particularly when your own individual reputation rests on it.
Coaxing the best out of a 28-year-old Darren Bent was always going to be one of the acid tests of his ability to ‘step up’ to the next level.
Bent commands a weekly wage packet that would dwarf anything that anyone at Norwich was on; let alone a Colchester or a Wycombe. And has done now for sufficient years to ensure that he might have grown fat – mentally, if not physically – on the proceeds.
How you keep your supposed ‘star’ turn wanting it week in, week out is the $64 million dollar question for all managers seeking to better themselves on the highest of stages.
The difficulty for clubs of a Villa’s ilk is that without the untold millions that a Manchester City can command – and, therefore, can ‘afford’ to have Mario Balotelli off with a sick note – is that both owner and supporter notice when their highest-earner is AWOL.
It tends to stick out more like a sore thumb – and it becomes the focal point of all-too much of the debate and over-shadows all else that Lambert can clearly deliver.
From tactical nous and nuance like you wouldn’t believe to that Champions League winners medal still sat on a mantelpiece somewhere, Lambert has so much in his managerial locker; so much that, in theory, should command the respect and attention of the Bents of this world.
Rising to the challenge of the arrival of Christian Benteke would be what most right-minded punters would expect – just as City skipper Grant Holt did to the arrival of Steve Morison.
Instead, Bent has been in and out of the team, the captaincy has gone and now he is the subject to the transfer rumour mill – West Ham United being one of his apparent suitors.
None of which will play well with the supporters. Equally, none of which matters if Benteke is doing the business. He papers over the Bent cracks and Lambert is the hero – easing Bent’s wages out of the door as the young, hungry heir to his strike throne revels in his Premier League opportunity.
And ‘owes’ the Gaffer for giving him the opportunity. And puts a shift in, accordingly.
It is fascinating to watch. And for those with longer memories, smacks all-too much of the trials and tribulations that followed Mike Walker as he walked out of Norfolk and sought further fame and fortune at Everton – where Duncan Ferguson would play a large part in shaping Walker’s fate.
Big Dunc. As in ‘He’s tall, he’s skinnie; he’s in Barlinnie…’
Personally, I hope Lerner stays the rod and spares the manager; that time is granted to Lambert to mould a side far more into his way of thinking.
Whether the footballing fates will be that kind to him, however, probably hangs in the balance.