Paul Lambert’s friendship with Celtic boss Neil Lennon could yet be put firmly to the test if the two, former Parkhead pals go to war over the signature of Newcastle United keeper Fraser Forster.
The depth of their friendship has only become public over the last ten days as one congratulated the other on a phenomenal, back-to-back promotion success, whilst the other was keeping his fingers firmly crossed that the silverware and the acclaim would, likewise, be heading to Celtic Park this summer.
The Scottish Double slipped just that little further out of Lennon’s reach tonight as Rangers’ 2-0 win over Dundee United took them four points clear of their age-old rivals; the Bhoys play their extra game in hand tomorrow with a trip to third-placed Hearts.
It will need Rangers to slip up away at Kilmarnock on Sunday for Celtic to whip the title out of their hands. They entertain Motherwell in what could yet prove to be Fraser Forster’s last SPL game for the Glasgow giants before he returns to Newcastle United and a long, hard think about where his future lies.
Before then, however, Celtic face Motherwell again six days later in the Scottish Cup final – yet another big occasion for the in-demand 23-year-old.
What to do? To head back to Glasgow next season under Lennon, to potentially return to Norfolk for regular Premier League football under Lambert – or has he done enough over the last two seasons at either club to convince Magpies boss Alan Pardew to give him the full-time gig at St James’ Park?
It should all make for an interesting tug-of-war between the two, big pals. Which may, of course, all come to nothing if Newcastle refuse to play ball.
“He’s a brilliant friend and was a brilliant footballer,” said Lambert, speaking straight after Saturday’s final home game of the season against Coventry City. The Canary chief knows all about the deep and divided politics that goes with managing Celtic; this season has even seen letters bombs added to the fervently tribal mix.
“He’s had so much nonsense going through his brain probably with all the stuff that’s been going on off the pitch,” added the former Bhoys favourite. “I know how hard that club is to play for, let alone manage.
“But he’s a top lad and I’d love to see him do it. We speak regularly and we know what the job’s like. I know the magnitude of the club he’s at, the task of it all and the demands of the fans.
“He’s a brilliant, brilliant man and I’m hoping he can finish with two trophies.”
Lennon was equally swift to hand out the compliments as Lambert’s latest managerial triumph continued to make big news north of the border. In this case, the pages of the Scottish Sun.
“What he’s achieved since taking over there is remarkable,” Lennon told the paper last week.
“We’re in regular contact and we know how difficult the job can be. He didn’t have a great time at Livingston. But he went and did his apprenticeship at Wycombe then Colchester.
“Since he’s taken over at Norwich they’ve been a real force in League One and the Championship. He had a great career as a player but some managers never get out of the Championship in their lifetime. So he must be feeling pretty good about himself.”
The two men have one, other common bond – Martin O’Neill.
Lennon’s relationship with the one-time Canary player and manager was first forged at Leicester City before following his mentor north. For Lambert it was as a player under O’Neill at Parkhead where one of the defining influences on his managerial style came to be forged.
“We didn’t really speak about management when we were players. In his last season here he was going to Germany doing his Pro Licence over there,” Lennon revealed.
“He would come back and share some of the philosophies of the managers and mentors of coaches over there which was interesting.
“But there’s no doubt the majority of the way he approaches football and the ideas he uses will have come from Martin.”
Lambert’s biggest managerial challenge of the lot now awaits – keeping the twice-promoted Canaries in the top flight of English football. With tonight’s ‘Promotion Parade’ now done and dusted, the manager’s energies can now focus on next season.
It’s time for everyone ‘to go again…’, as he likes to say.
“The Premier will be a tough ask and he’ll need a bit of financial backing,” said Lennon, backing that arrived in the shape of that £40 million commitment player budget-wise from the board. More than enough to compete with Celtic for the likes of Forster’s signature.
“It has evolved into this monster of a league and is very difficult. If he finishes fourth from bottom then it’s a magnificent achievement.”