It took all of 18 hours for the summer’s managerial merry-go-round to whir frantically into life today as Canaries chief executive David McNally issued a stern ‘Hands off!’ warning to potential suitors for the services of Paul Lambert – on the day that Aston Villa’s embattled boss Alex McLeish was reported as saying his ‘Good-byes!’ to the players this morning.
The two men locked horns at Carrow Road yesterday with Lambert mastering both events on and off the pitch as the Canaries racked up an easy 2-0 win over Villa – ‘One Paul Lambert, only one Paul Lambert!’ sang the visiting supporters as their patience with the ex-Blues chief wore thin.
The fact that when quizzed directly afterwards as to whether he would be at Carrow Road come the start of the 2012-2013 Premier League season, Lambert offered a long and poignant pause before suggesting that ‘was a hard question to answer…’ merely added to the air of uncertainty hanging over his future plans.
Today’s events will have done nothing to dispel the rumours that the Scot was off to pastures new after, in his eyes, taking the Norfolk club as far as he could on the resources that are likely to be at his disposal wages-wise – be it this summer or the next.
Today and the Birmingham Mail ‘understood’ that McLeish will be shown the exit door following showdown talks with the club’s US-based owner Randy Lerner and its chief executive Paul Faulkner.
All of which will immediately set the alarm bells ringing in Norfolk.
Hence, in part, McNally’s decision to fire an early warning shot across the bows of any interested party. City’s star managerial turn won’t be going anywhere without a fight.
“If I was at another football club and I was looking for another manager he’d be top of my list,” McNally told BBC Radio Norfolk.
With good reason is Lambert coveted – two back-to-back promotions and a 12th-place finish in his first season in the top flight.
The fact that he has a Champions League winners medal tucked away on the mantelpiece ought not to be overlooked either; he has been there, seen it and done it as a player and shows every intent of repeating it as a manager.
Hence his appeal; hence McNally starting to draw some lines in the sand for what could prove to be anything but a peaceful summer.
“In any business you need to look at what might happen – the what ifs,” he added. “But we’re focused on keeping our manager and the footballers he wants to retain at the club and to bring in better footballers to complement the club.
“I want other clubs to covet our manager and to want our players. Because if they do, that means we’re doing something right. It’s almost obvious, isn’t it, that clubs would like to have them at their football club.
“We’ll do everything we can and fight this as hard as we’ve ever fought.”
Of course, in reality if the manager himself has decided that the time is ripe for a new challenge then McNally may be facing something of a rearguard action – potentially buying time to put his own succession plans in place.
Lambert himself appears intent on being at Carrow Road at least until next Tuesday night and Adam Drury’s Testimonial Match against his former employers, Celtic.
Having been notable only in his absence from the ‘Lap Of Honour’ that followed yesterday’s final game of the season, the visit of the Bhoys and the arrival of such big pals as boss Neil Lennon could offer the Scot the ideal stage upon which to say his ‘Farewells!’.
Veteran Canary watchers noted the lack of ‘See you all in August!’ in his appearance on the microphone before the Player of the Season awards.
Likewise, Canary skipper Grant Holt also noted that if Lambert mind was set on a summer move then the likelihood was he would have a new boss by the time he returned to pre-season training.
“I’m sure the club will do everything to keep him here and if he feels its right to stay, he’ll stay. But if he feels its right to go, he’ll go,” said Holt.
“He’s strong-willed and he’ll do whatever he decides to do. But whatever happens I’m hoping he’s here when I come back.”
The body language between all concerned at tonight’s End Of Season Dinner at Carrow Road could prove to be fascinating.