As far as City boss Paul Lambert was concerned, it was business as usual at Carrow Road today as the Canary chief began shaping his squad for the 2012-13 season.
The Scot continues to be widely linked to the managerial vacancies at both Liverpool and Aston Villa – though this evening it was former Manchester United star Ole Gunnar Solksjaer who was moving into pole position for the Villa Park post.
In the meantime, however, it was time for Lambert to say his farewells – to defender Zak Whitbread and striker Aaron Wilbraham, both of whom are to be released this summer alongside youngsters Josh Dawkin, Richard Brindley and Matthew Ball.
Whether that means there is a contract awaiting Elliott Ward is the next question; likewise veteran defender Adam Drury and midfielder David Fox – third in this season’s Player of the Season poll – will both hope to have their Canary futures resolved over the next couple of weeks.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for both of the lads, they’ve been brilliant for the club and it was a difficult decision to make,” said Lambert, as Whitbread and Wilbraham become the first of this summer’s senior exits.
“You can’t underestimate that they were a big part of what has happened here and people shouldn’t forget what they’ve done and given for this club,” Lambert told the club’s official website.
“But that’s my job as manager of this football club, sometimes these decisions have to be made and I wish them the best of luck for the future.”
The arrival of Ryan Bennett in the January transfer window ensured that something would have to ‘give’ numbers-wise in that centre-half department with Daniel Ayala and Leon Barnett adding to the manager’s options. The fact that he ended the season with Russell Martin partnering new-boy Bennett at the heart of the City defence confirmed the relative abundance of riches at his disposal.
Should Ward agree a new deal then Lambert would have his four ‘specialists’ in that position – plus the ever-versatile Martin.
Whitbread did little wrong in his 48-game Canary career; the big Texan’s biggest failing was a patchy injury record. He ought to have enough on his cv to command another Premiership gig.
Ever conscious of the 24-player limit imposed on Premier League managers, Wilbraham’s exit suggests that the manager will seek to strengthen again in that key position. Grant Holt and Steve Morison can play the ‘big man’ role; the bigger questions remain over James Vaughan’s fitness and whether or not Simeon Jackson has an option on his current Canary deal.
As for events on the managerial merry-go-round, many an eye was turning towards Merseyside where Liverpool MD Ian Ayre confirmed that the Reds would bide their time in appointing Kenny Dalglish’s successor – and follow a well-worn path recruitment-wise.
The brightest and the best would be identified and then invited to state their case to the Anfield hierachy. All of which will require an official approach to be made to the likes of a Wigan Athletic for Roberto Martinez or a Swansea City for a Brendan Rodgers.
Tonight and Latics owner Dave Whelan confirmed that Martinez could talk to Liverpool with his blessing. “I don’t know the exact timescales of when he is due to meet with the Liverpool owners, but I will never stand in Roberto’s way,” Whelan said.
So, that’s one up and running. The question tonight was whether Martinez is the only show in town – or whether the likes of Swansea and the Canaries have had Fenway Sports on the phone.
“It’s essentially the same as it’s always been at Liverpool Football Club,” Ayre told the club’s offical website, as he set out the procedures they would follow to find the new ‘Shanks’.
“Whether it was the board of Liverpool recruiting Bill Shankly many years ago or the recruitment of Kenny Dalglish 18 months ago, it’s the same process,” Ayre added.
“The board will create the criteria of what that manager should look like and we’ll match that with the best possible candidates and make a decision on that basis.”
And they wouldn’t be rushed into making a hasty decision, either.
“What we want is the best, what we don’t want is to choose quickly or choose because there’s a time pressure. It’ll be about finding the right person who can do the best job for Liverpool Football Club.”