Chat at any length to City coach Ian Culverhouse on the back of Norwich’s title triumph and two phrases repeatedly spring to mind.
Or rather, versions of.
That when it comes to football management, three is company, not a crowd. And as for winning League One titles by the proverbial country mile, that’s when diamonds prove a man’s best friend.
“This is the first title that I’ve won as a coach and the feeling is great,” said Ian, speaking to the NCFC Matchday programme, as the 45-year-old former City UEFA Cup hero reflected on quite a season in the club’s 108-year history.
Few, for example, would have bet on Norwich sweeping all before them after their opening bow in the third tier of English football.
But once a new, managerial order was restored after that now-infamous 7-1 home defeat to Ian’s then employers so the Canaries gradually emerged as this unstoppable League One force; rolling one opponent after another over with a winning mix of style and substance. That and one or two right little sparklers having the times of their lives.
“It’s a big, big achievement,” stressed Paul Lambert’s right-hand man. “I know a lot of people are saying that we shouldn’t be in this division anyway, but the facts are we are – and we’ve gone and won it.
“So full credit to the players and everyone connected with it.”
It is not, of course, the first piece of silverware to be associated with Culverhouse and the Canaries. He has the 1991 Barry Butler Player of the Season trophy to his name already – an accolade, he says, that came with a little help from his friends.
Winning something as part of a tightly-knit management team is a whole new ball game.
“When you’re surrounded by good players as we were in those days with the Munich thing and Europe, you just rolled onto it,” said Ian.
“But now – when you come over the other side of the line – there’s a lot more planning. You don’t really know as a player what really goes into being a coach, so I’m very satisfied with what we’ve done here.”
As well he should be. One from the likes of Leeds United, Charlton Athletic and Southampton will be doing the rounds again in League One next season; it is no simple feat to bounce back at the first time of asking – particularly in only your first season in charge.
Fortunately Lambert and Culverhouse – alongside football operations manager Gary Karsa – have now had three clubs and four years in which to fine-tune their act since the three first came together at Wycombe Wanderers in the summer of 2006.
Come the summer of 2008 and the odd goal was all that denied the Buckinghamshire side a place in the League Two play-off final as Lambert’s managerial reputation began to soar. The fact that Adams Park was where one Martin O’Neill cut his own managerial teeth is just one of a number of happy coincidences the two men share.
“That year there at Wycombe we got into the play-offs and just fell short, unfortunately – and Stockport where a better side than us, anyway,” admitted Ian.
“But when The Gaffer left there, there was always a feeling inside me that we’d started a job that we didn’t really get to finish. And it was a shame really.
“We hooked up again at Colchester; took them from where they were and built on it again… this opportunity came along and it was a job that you couldn’t really turn down.”
Much to the Us chagrin, ‘Team Lambert’ was swiftly installed at Carrow Road – a three-man unit that would, of course, be joined by Culverhouse’s long-time pal from first Spurs Youths and then City, Ian Crook.
But that Lambert-Culverhouse-Karsa axis remains the cornerstone of City’s achievements this term; the fact that O’Neill likewise always has Steve Walford and John Robertson by his side is, again, no coincidence.
“I think there is a chemistry between the three of us that works – yes, I think there is,” said Ian, relishing the fact that Lambert lets his coaches coach – just as much as the coaches let the manager manage. He is ‘The Gaffer’ – that is set in Scottish granite.
“The manager really lets me have the day-to-day running of the training field which I enjoy; which I revel in. And then we sit down and we plan things. But he gives me a free rein of what to do on the training pitch – which is great.
“He lets his coaches coach. He’s his own man at the end of the day, but he trusts what I do. He knows it’s for the best of the team and we’re planning for that Saturday.
“He always asks what we’re going to do; I show him. And if he wants to change anything, he does. But, usually, he goes: ‘No, brilliant…’”
Ian is well aware of the parallels with O’Neill’s famed back-room set-up.
“I would say it’s similar,” he said. “The Gaffer here speaks to Martin [O’Neill] a hell of a lot and he’s worked under him – I’ve never had the privilege to work under him. But Martin always told him to surround himself with people that you can trust – which he has done at Villa.
“And I think the Gaffer here has gone down the same lines.”