If there is one thing you learn doing this job for the last 20 years, it is never taking anything for granted.
Never assume anything; two plus two rarely, if ever, equals four. And, more often than not these days, don’t believe a word anyone says in public. Or rather recognise the positions people tend to adopt as these situations ‘play out’.
And, likewise, remember that beneath the glossy veneer of the English Premier League, it’s a nasty, brutal street-fight. As Colchester United discovered when Norwich last came a-calling. And that’s when they were in League One.
Now the Canaries are seriously tooled up. When David McNally says the Canaries will fight ‘tooth and nail’ to keep hold of their manager he won’t be straying too far from the truth.
So the expected exit of Villa chief Alex McLeish this afternoon and the immediate installation of Canary boss Paul Lambert as the bookies’ top tip for the vacancy needs to be seen in the context of the above.
Start by expecting the unexpected. And when the expectation is that he will walk into the job at Villa Park, don’t be afraid to expect the opposite.
I would still expect Lambert to seek pastures new this summer – his whole tenor and actions yesterday screamed as much – but don’t taking anything as read. For a number of reasons.
I have to admit it was only last night that I poked around the exact circumstances of Martin O’Neill’s exit from Villa. It didn’t end well would be the short answer.
In fact, it ended very badly as a determined Martin threatened to drag Villa and their American owner Randy Lerner through the courts.
Given Martin’s forensic mind and acute appreciation of the law and its interpretation within the English legal system, that can’t have been a pleasant ride for the Villa hierarchy.
In the end, it was settled at arbitration; only the third such occasion that a managerial exit had reached such a point. Before then, it had necessitated nine months of increasingly bitter legal wrangling before the two parties finally resolved their differences after he walked out on the club ten days before the start of the 2010-2011 season.
At stake appeared to be the club’s willingness to match their ambitions with his, as Gareth Barry and James Milner headed for the Etihad. Villa were suddenly a selling club; that they remain. It was not, you sensed, what O’Neill had signed up for.
Listen to McLeish’s final Press conference again yesterday and unless Lerner and his chief executive Paul Faulkner have completely changed their stance, the new Villa boss will be expected to ‘trade’ his way up the table.
Which is why I start to wonder if Lambert and Villa are, actually, ideally-suited.
Given that the Scot still refers to O’Neill as ‘The Gaffer’ and the pair will clearly discuss his next managerial move, will O’Neill be recommending Lambert take Lerner’s tightened purse?
Equally, of course, will Lerner and Faulkner be keen to lumber themselves with O’Neill’s heir apparent – however compelling his recent track record is?
Lambert is, after all, not the only bright young thing to impress this season; Roberto Martinez’ achievements at Wigan put him firmly on the ‘Most Wanted’ list; ditto Mr Swansea.
Of course, life would have been so much easier had Harry been granted the England job and then a ‘Situation Vacant’ sign would have appeared at White Hart Lane where money is far less of a problem.
That might then – finally – have given David Moyes some cash to splash as he stepped up a gear from Everton, leaving Goodison Park as another destination for the Martinez’ and Lamberts of this world.
Neither, I suspect, would be much taken with the vacancy that now exists at The Hawthorns.
Of course, given that Lambert will be seeking to squeeze every last penny out of the board this summer, waving a big stick over their head in the shape of ‘I’m off to Villa then…’ is a trick they all play. Nigel Worthington pulled out the ‘I’m off to Sheffield Wednesday then…’ card in the midst of his contract negotiations.
That all said, I think there is fast coming a point when all parties recognise that the time might be ripe for a move; it would be an even more remarkable achievement for Norwich to better 12th next season.
Given how much money talks anywhere from eighth upwards, the thought must be crossing Lambert’s mind that if all he can hope for is ninth whilst a resurgent Newcastle and the Moyes-led Everton join the usual suspects in the top six then maybe now is the time to jump – whilst his stock is still so clearly in the ascendant.
That I – and, I think, the great majority of Canary fans – ‘get’.
But whether Villa ‘get’ Lambert is, for now, still a moot point. Whatever the bookies claim.