I have a theory.
Not born out of anything approaching scientific fact.
Rather two, short conversations with a neighbour and an accountant pal – both of whom are season ticket holders – and reading Rob Emery’s excellent debut piece on the change of atmosphere in the Main Stand.
All three tend to look back wistfully at the Paul Lambert years when there was a unity and a shared purpose/belief about the place – more so, it appears, than now.
I concur with the change in supporter-club dynamic that came with the David McNally years. Supporters were just AN Other commodity; a bum on seat to be shifted and charged accordingly.
Supporting Norwich became impersonal. Just a numbers game from the viewpoint of the chief executive’s office.
But back to the Lambert years.
And this is not to dwell on the impact Grant Holt made on proceedings. With every passing year, his role grows ever greater in significance.
No. It’s the difference in perception between Lambert and the current incumbent Alex Neil. And, indeed, those that have been appointed to the Carrow Road hot seat in between.
The important word is ‘perception’. Because as events at Aston Villa would prove, the reality proved to be much different.
But the point.
Lambert had a Champions League winners medal to his name. And he had won it abroad too.
Both elevate him onto a higher plane in terms of the perception of Paul Lambert the Manager from supporters, players and agents alike.
This was a man who had done the business. At the highest level of club football.
Yes, he had played internationally too. But for Scotland. Who were ne’er going to bestride the international stage like a France or a Netherlands.
It was at club level that Lambert had won his repute. Considerable repute from those within the know. Or rather of his playing ability; less so his personality.
Why couldn’t he take a provincial club of Norwich’s stature into the upper half of the English Premier League? And keep them there.
Just like Ronald Koeman at Southampton. Now of Everton, of course.
Lambert ought to have been a figure of that ilk and stature. That was the theory. That would have played out in many a mind. Sat in the Main Stand of Carrow Road.
Here was the man to take us on – and up.
Far more so than an Adams, a Hughton or a Neil; all of whom were batting at their ‘natural’ level – in the yo-yo spots between, say, 16th and 24th in the English league ladder.
Hughton is merely proving his point again at Brighton. Just as he did at Newcastle before Norwich. At this level, he is a decent manager.
Lambert, however, was the one who – the theory went – could have taken Norwich on; because his playing record would have commanded the respect of the next level of player and his agent. The people you need to impress to recruit that top ten performer.
Of course, there will be issues as to whether Lambert’s ambition was matched by Norwich’s; his fraught relationship with the then chairman etc etc… All of which hastened his exit to the ‘bigger’ club that was Aston Villa.
Where he was expected to bring out the very best in Christian Benteke. Given his playing record.
It didn’t happen, of course.
Paul Lambert was no Ronald Koeman.
Or Martin O’Neill who, like Lambert, outsourced the coaching aspects of the role to a trusted lieutenant. Steve Walford in Martin’s case; Ian Culverhouse in that of Lambert.
When that relationship shattered at Villa Park amid much acrimony and accusation, Lambert struggled. He failed to live up to the expectations that came with his playing record.
Neil, of course, has no such European medals to his name. With which to sell himself to supporters and, more crucially, players’ agents.
And with that comes lesser expectations. Of Norwich doing no more than yo-yoying for the foreseeable future.
Which, in turn, leads to the frustration. That this might be as good as its ever going to get…