A summer of endless speculation – be it player or manager-wise – duly got into gear today as a clutch of national newspapers claimed that Paul Lambert remained firmly on West Ham United’s ‘Most Wanted’ list following this weekend’s relegation to the Championship.
It is an appeal that is likely to fall on deaf ears – and is likely to test the long-standing friendship between the Smiths and the Sullivans of this word should the Hammers refuse to take ‘No!’ for an answer.
That is the strong sense this evening.
As little as anyone in Norfolk has really come to know the Scot in his extraordinary 19 months at the helm of the Carrow Road club, in both word and deed Lambert has suggested that he wishes to test himself in the Premiership with the team he has built in Norfolk – as opposed to re-testing himself in the Championship with a team that he would first have to dismantle as a clutch of big-name stars head for the exit door.
That he would fit West Ham’s bill is not in doubt. The club’s joint-owner David Gold has made it clear that it will need a special man to do a special job over the forthcoming seasons – and Lambert, on the back of the last two seasons at Norwich, would certainly meet that criteria.
Gold today promised a waiting game to ensure they got the right man for the job – all after waiting little more than ten minutes to dump the hapless Avram Grant in the wake of events at Wigan this weekend.
“There’s lot of work to do, enormous work, but, at the same time, we mustn’t be rushed,” Gold told Sky Sports News, well aware that the Hammers also have an Olympic Stadium to fill before too long.
Home to a Doncaster is probably not what anyone had in mind when the business case was drawn up to thwart Tottenham’s ambitions for the Stratford site.
“This will be a very important appointment,” added Gold, a master of understatement.
“You’re choosing a manager good enough to get you out of the Championship and capable of continuing [in the Premier League] once you’ve achieved that. We’re also preparing ourselves to move to a new stadium, something we’ve never done before.
“All these new challenges have to be addressed, so it’s important we pick the right person.”
Tonight and the word was that Neil Warnock might be crossing their mind – particularly if QPR’s Italian-leaning board opt for something more sophisticated in the shape of a Claudio Ranieri now that they are back in the top flight.
Warnock is the master of the Championship promotion, however, the whole Carlos Tevez affair hangs heavy over his potential appointment. He has, of course, got to be sacked by Rangers first.
“I’m sure many, many managers will see the job as challenging and exciting and it’s important we pick the right person,” added Gold.
Gus Poyet is another mooted after his successful spell with Brighton, though the suggestion there was that he might be wary following the experiences of his big Chelsea pal Gianfranco Zola. He doesn’t have a Championship exit on his cv, however.
Tonight and The Guardian had ex-England boss Steve McClaren ruling himself out of the running – presuming that he was in the running in the first place.
“It is very flattering to be linked with a club of West Ham’s size and historic stature, also one that has tremendous fans,” he said. “However, at this moment in time I do not wish to be considered for the position. But I wish everybody at West Ham all the very best for the future.”
Martin O’Neill would certainly have the cv for the job; Cardiff’s Dave Jones was another mooted – this time by The Daily Mail.
He, of course, still has the small matter of The Championship Play-offs to negotiate and the second-leg clash with Reading. To the victors goes the chance of an £88 million winner-takes-all clash with Swansea City at Wembley after their 3-1 defeat of Nottingham Forest this evening booked their spot in the final.
Should Cardiff join them, Jones is likely to have more than the West Ham vacancy on his mind.
As for Lambert, re-read any of the quotes he has delivered either post-Portsmouth or pre-promotion parade and they are the words of a man determined to test himself – and his team – in the top flight of English football.
“Everybody knows the Premier League is the best league in Europe,” the City boss said in the midst of those wild celebrations at Fratton Park.
“I’ve never been involved in it, never played in it, I’ve seen a few games. But I’m definitely going to enjoy it. You get to play Manchester United one week, Arsenal the next…”
He also had one other line that is probably worth quoting on nights like this.
That the club’s majority shareholders Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn Jones ‘were people you would die for’.
Not the words of a man about to make a sharp exit back to Championship football under the Golds, the Sullivans and Karren Brady next season.