City boss Paul Lambert used yesterday’s post-match Press conference to again hammer home the point that he was going nowhere.
The Canary chief is, with the best will in the world, usually quite taciturn at such gatherings; he is not one to give too much away; he plays meetings with the media straight and by the book.
The ‘real’ Paul Lambert is very much a closed book – at least to those he encounters on a professional, day-to-day basis; ‘Give them just enough; no more…’ can appear to be his mantra as reporters struggle to find ‘a line’ for their morning back page.
This weekend, however, and Lambert was more open than usual – notwithstanding the fact that his side had just been dumped out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking; Jimmy Smith’s 20th minute header giving League One strugglers Leyton Orient a ticket to the fourth round draw.
Whether Norwich’s early exit counts as a ‘shock’ any more is something of a moot point given that they have only progressed to the fourth round of the competiton three times in the last 16 years; it would have been more of a surprise to the natives had they progressed in comfort.
Hence why, in part, the conversation swiftly turned to events of the proceeding 24 hours when Burnley’s official request to speak to Lambert regarding the managerial vacancy at Turf Moor was first flatly refused by the Canary board and then followed by two, separate denials by Lambert himself.
Not interested; not going; happy here… was the short and simple line for the morning’s pre-match Press conference; as the speculation refused to dampen during the course of the day, it was a line he had to repeat for a second time that evening.
The third denial followed on the back of yesterday’s 1-0 defeat.
Only this one came with more by way of explanation; there was just the briefest of glimpses of Lambert wearing a heart on his sleeve. Just briefly.
“It’s been ridiculous – it really has,” said Lambert, asked to look back over the proceeding 36 hours – events all being kicked off by Burnley’s curious decision to make their intentions so public; posting their intent on their own club website on Thursday evening was not considered good form.
“It was escalating and escalating. All just getting out of control – it really was,” he said, forced into those two denials on the Friday.
It was, as ever these days, a story that was gaining a life of its own as everyone from Sky Sports to TalkSport downwards continued to fan the flames.
“The media don’t help – not every one of you, but some of you,” he said.
“You just fuel it – two and two? You somehow come up with 49. Which is wrong.
“You’re telling people that I’m leaving; that I don’t hang around at clubs for that long – that’s wrong. It’s not right; it’s lies.
“I was at Wycombe for two years; I only left because we’d taken them as far as we could go – my choice. Colchester, I was there for a short time – which I enjoyed – but then I got the opportunity to come here.”
Lambert’s exit from the Essex side would eventually cost the Canaries £600,000-odd in compensation; it wasn’t pretty, it would be fair to say.
But you could sense his frustration at the way his career path – and the decisions therein – had, on occasion, been mis-represented. “
“So I was never going to walk out and lose the rapport with the fans that I’ve got here,” he said.
“I love the club. I think when you’re the manager of Norwich City – for however long that may be – you realise what a great club it is; it really is. It’s fantastic. It’s an honour to be the manager.
“And I have a great rapport with the fans; I really do. And the lads have been brilliant for me – so we’ve got a good thing here. So that’s why the statement was as simple as it was. I didn’t have to justify myself to anyone.”
There remains much of Martin O’Neill to him; the ex-City boss who became a mentor to Lambert at Celtic Park. O’Neill always took a strong moral line re contracts; you tried your very best to stick to the agreements you make with people.
Hence the real difficulty he had in walking away from Robert Chase that fevered, fractured summer.
“You go through stages in your football career and the rapport that I’ve got with people here is a unique thing,” said the City chief, suggesting that it would be ‘morally’ wrong to walk.
“I would never have imagined that it would have gone as well as it has since Ian (Culverhouse), Gary (Karsa) and I have come in; they’ve been pivotal to it too.
“But when the supporters sing your name; the way that they act with me – and I can’t please everyone all of the time – but they’ve been great. And, as I said, last night it was escalating and escalating into something it should never, ever have been.
“People worrying that I’m going to walk away; I was hearing so much nonsense that I’m thinking: ‘This has got to stop…’ I’ve never once thought about leaving. Never.
“And that’s the sad thing. I can’t stop the speculation, but I’ve never thought once that I’m going to leave. Never.”
And there, he clearly, hoped the matter would end.
As for the game, the better team – on the day – won would be the gist; there appear to be little complaint on that front from Lambert.
“All credit to them – they deserved to go through and I wish them all the luck in the next round,” said Lambert, his interest clearly lying in the alternative road to Wembley; the one that has 20-odd more games to go – kicking off with that mouth-watering clash with second-placed Cardiff City next weekend.
“I’m disappointed to lose, but I know what the bigger picture is.”