Former Canary brave-heart Michael Nelson tonight labelled City boss Paul Lambert as ‘the best signing Norwich have made’ as he heads back to Norfolk tomorrow for this weekend’s home clash with Scunthorpe United.
It promises to be a bitter-sweet occasion for the 31-year-old centre-half who earned himself a lasting place in Canary affections with the goal that clinched promotion back to the nPower Championship last season.
Sold to The Iron in the final hours of this January’s transfer window, it was a switch that neither player nor manager had actively sought; indeed, Lambert went out of his way to praise Nelson both as a man and a player on his exit.
It was just ‘one of them’. With six months left on his Carrow Road contract, a young family still living in the north and the likes of Leon Barnett, Zak Whitbread and Elliott Ward ahead of him in the first team queue, head came to rule the heart and ‘the best 18 months of his career’ came to an unexpected end.
He will, no doubt, be granted a warm and grateful welcome on his first return to Carrow Road. The respect between player and manager being wholly mutual – as Nelson made clear to the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph this evening.
“The main reason the club got promoted back to the Championship last season wasn’t because of any signings on the playing side,” Nelson revealed, on the eve of a likely battle royale with his old pal Grant Holt.
“The best signing Norwich have made has been Paul Lambert,” he explained, adding a little more colour and complexion to the man who could yet deliver back-to-back promotions for the Norfolk side.
“He’s like any manager, he can shout and ball and throw stuff around the changing room or he can have a laugh and a joke,” Nelson revealed.
“The majority of the time he’s serious. He’s the manager, he’s the boss, and you know that. He’s got a presence about him. He only wants people who give 100 per cent and work hard.
“If you do that, and you’ve got a little bit about you, he’ll look after you. As long as you do things right by him, he’ll do things right by you.”
That point Lambert has proved to the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Adam Drury and Simon Lappin – all of whom have picked up new contracts this season as their due reward for their efforts over the last 20 months.
And, in a way, it was a point he proved again with Nelson’s own exit – he didn’t block the opportunity for the player to be both nearer his family and to enjoy the chance of regular first team football again.
“I could have stayed at Norwich. It wasn’t a case of them accepting a bid and saying I had to go. The manager gave me the option,” he told The Telegraph this evening.
“With my family still being based in the north while I was at Norwich and me only having six months left on my contract, I decided it was the right move to make.
“I could have stayed there, sat on the bench or in the stands and maybe be able to say I was part of a squad that got in the Premier League, if that is how it finishes,” he added.
“But you don’t feel part of it when you’re not playing. I want to play football and if coming to Scunthorpe allowed me to do that, that was the decision I was always going to make. I don’t regret it.”
With Iron having finally appointed a new manager in the last 24 hours – Alan Knill joining the club from Bury – it promises to be a big occasion for both clubs.
Victory can keep the Canaries flying high in second at the start of the biggest eight games in the club’s recent history – and, likewise, send Scunthorpe ever nearer a return to League One.
Defeat or a draw and the Canaries could see Swansea sweep into that coveted second spot – and QPR disappear for good over the title horizon.
City also have two, fresh faces to keep the supporters on their toes in the shape of the on-line strike pairing of Wolves’ Sam Vokes and Liverpool’s Spanish Under-21 striker Dani Pacheco.
With Aaron Wilbraham being ruled out for the rest of the season with a back injury, it is Vokes who is likely to play the Holt under-study role – leaving the way open for 20-year-old Pacheco to play in that second striker’s berth alongside the City skipper.
Lambert was at pains to play down the level of expectation that is likely to surround the Anfield youngster – once, of course, of Barcelona.
“I don’t want anyone to think that he’s Lionel Messi,” the City chief told the club’s official site today.
“He’s only 20 years old and has not been out on loan before.
“He’s a kid learning the game, but he can certainly with the ball well – that’s for sure.”