Paul Lambert is about to cross the great divide and, in the eyes of some Norwich supporters, will commit the most heinous of footballing crimes – becoming the manager of Ipswich Town.
But strip away the rivalry, and there’s not much newsworthiness other than the obvious factor of a new manager being installed at a football club.
Lambert arrives at Portman Road with a sizable task on his hands – to revive a football club that even Town legend Terry Butcher scathingly described as ‘a shambles’.
His achievements in NR1 were unprecedented. For most Norwich supporters, the name Paul Lambert is engrained in the history books. Those memorable three years under his stewardship reunited supporters with a football club that had been sitting in the doldrums; a club which, until he arrived, they simply couldn’t relate to anymore.
When Lambert brought his Colchester United side to Carrow Road in August 2009, few would have been familiar with the Scotsman as a manager, but it’s equally fair to say that they left Carrow Road fully aware of his capabilities. Too aware!
His formula was an admirable dosage of arrogance coupled with determination and endeavour.
A few days later he eventually ended up at Norwich and constructed a level of success unrivalled in these parts. He arrived and discovered a club on its knees, but ultimately dragged the club and the dressing room, to the Premier League.
There’s good reason why some Norwich supporters would have welcomed Lambert being reinstated to the City hot seat, not because of the man himself but because his deeds made his name synonymous with victory and attractive football.
However, Lambert the man is all out for himself.
His relationship with key protagonists at the football club during his time here became toxic. It’s well documented that Lambert and then chairman Alan Bowkett refused to communicate. He even flirted with West Ham United before taking the Aston Villa vacancy.
There’s an old Norfolk proverb – according to @NCFCMustard – that states the basis on which a person joins you is most likely to be the basis of which they leave you.
— Norfolk Mustard (@ncfcmustard) October 25, 2018
City discovered that. Lambert’s stock had never of been higher prior to his Villa move and although the gloss was wearing off, he still had the support of fans in Carrow Road.
When you consider the direction of Brendan Rodgers’ career in comparison to Lambert, it displays quite how far he has fallen. In his defence though, he did a better job than he gets credit for at Villa, he stabilised Blackburn under their rancid ownership and was cast aside at Wolves for a more lucrative candidate in Nuno Espirito Santos.
And Stoke appeared already doomed. Whether they could have been saved had they opted to employ anyone other than Lambert is purely hypothetical.
Lambert has clearly failed to replicate the success he had at Norwich, but he appears, on the surface at least, to have mellowed. He appears less confrontational these days, but that may be in part due to the lack of success he has mustered up since departing the Fine City.
What is worth noting is the type of players who were donning yellow and green in that period – a concoction of lower league players and those who were looking for a second chance in their career.
Enter Ipswich Town.
Paul Hurst’s appointment was packaged and marketed as a ‘#NewEra’, but he struggled to form a side who could compete in the rigours of the Championship. It appeared as if his playing cards were all being thrown continuously in the hope of just landing in a winning order.
No plan, no recruitment policy and no investment.
Hurst spoke publicly about entrusting younger, lower league players and making them competitive with a playing style that would ingratiate itself with the Ipswich fanbase, which had been thoroughly apathetic and depressed by Mick McCarthy’s front-to-back shoestring football.
The lack of a plan is pertinent, Hurst spoke of this but then proceeded to sanction the signing of 35-year-old Jon Walters – a scattergun approach if ever there was one, rather than the model of a meticulous transfer policy in line with the philosophy and ethos of the club.
Butcher also spoke, at the Norwich City Fans Social Club quiz, of how Ipswich fans are ‘envious’ of Norwich at present.
So, come a club that won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and Division One title is now envious of little old Norwich?
Well, a fish rots from the head down.
Marcus Evans refusing to invest, not just in the playing squad but also the infrastructure. Ipswich no longer have a community football scheme and they possess a quota of young operators who aren’t being given game time.
Evans’ secretive exploitation of Ipswich Town merely for tax benefits is abhorrent, regardless of any yellow and green bias, and it appears the foundations and character of a once well-supported and historic football club is being eroded year after year.
His lack of presence, lack of financial backing and lack of care for the trail of destruction he’s left behind illustrate graphically the problems at Ipswich Town. Along the way, he’s lost staff who cared deeply and passionately for the club.
However, if you sit back and analyse the appointment of Paul Lambert, it’s clear to see why he is Town’s chosen one.
Rumoured dressing room division, an inability to impact games offensively, but also players who are yet to prove they can make their mark. Sound familiar?
Lambert loves sticking two fingers up at anyone who doubts or, sometimes, even those who do rate his ability. For a man who was the self-proclaimed king of Carrow Road, self-confidence won’t be in short supply.
And if Ipswich need anything at present, it’s confidence. Chutzpah. Call it what you like.
Their squad of players are untried and untested, a group of lower league underdogs. Lambert has experienced working with that type of squad, most noticeably at Norwich, but also during his stabilisation of Blackburn.
And they aren’t getting humiliated either. Leeds aside, they haven’t lost many games by more than a two-goal margin. If he can source some offensive productivity whilst retaining that defensive resilience, or even improving it, then Ipswich will survive.
Goals have been hard to come by – there’s a statistic doing the rounds on social media regarding Timm Klose’s goal tally in comparison to Ipswich’s. This displays the problem.
For Lambert, it makes sense.
If he relegates Ipswich Town, not only does he cement his place in Norwich City folklore but he has the excuse of a lack of funding and it not being his squad.
But, by contrast, if he does manage to ensure Ipswich prolong their stay in the Championship, he will be branded as a saviour and his appointment a stroke of genius.
He now has the opportunity to increase his own stock, and in his mind, the most important thing to Paul Lambert is Paul Lambert. Whether you care about the appointment or not from inside the Norwich camp, it’s going to be hard not to cast more than the occasional glancing eye.
Norwich will now fear the derby come February.
Lambert is renowned for getting his teams up for big fixtures, Grant Holt said as much.
It’s an intriguing appointment for Ipswich Town, and one that will hurt Norwich supporters to an extent, but without Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa – should they not re-join Lambert in Suffolk – huge question marks remain. He isn’t someone who will coach but is instead the archetypal manager.
It appears ex-Canary Alan Irvine could be his deputy.
If things do turn sour, those connections to Norwich City will work firmly against him though.
Legacy tarnished, possibly, but for most the vitriol he received when he walked out of Carrow Road was the firm closing of that chapter.
Do we wish him well?