The Birmingham Mail this morning all-but confirmed what the vast majority of Canary fans have come to know in the last 12 hours – that Paul Lambert is set to be the new Aston Villa boss.
The Midlands club were expected to go through the formal process of asking Norwich’s permission to speak to the Scot today, but there is a very real sense that that particular horse has already bolted.
‘Villa are poised to name Paul Lambert as their new manager after deciding that the Norwich City boss is the man to bring the good times back to Villa Park,’ the paper reported this morning – thereby standing up the overnight story in The Sun who had Lambert walking out on the Canaries after they, apparently, refused to let him speak to Villa.
As ever, it is all one, long story of smokes and mirrors; ‘representatives’ speaking to other ‘representatives’ without anyone – formally – ever speaking to anyone else.
For now, the Canaries were keeping their own counsel. SkySports were this morning reporting that Lambert’s ‘representatives’ were due to talk to the Villa people today; that relations between Lambert and the club had been ‘strained’ of late and that Sven Goran Eriksson’s agent, Athole Still, was the man in charge of negotiations on behalf of his latest managerial client.
All that matters is the end result; Villa get a new boss – the one that their own supporters were crying out for in that final game of the season – whilst Norwich are seen to fight ‘tooth and nail’ to keep their prized managerial asset, before bowing to the inevitable and moving swiftly onto life PL. Post-Lambert.
Birmingham boss Chris Hughton was the bookies’ early favourite.
But he won’t be alone in seeing the Norwich gig as a real prize this summer.
Ex-Canary favourite Malky Mackay would dearly love the chance to re-visit old haunts after proving his worth at both Watford and Cardiff; Gus Poyet will have his admirers. He might, for example, open up a whole new recruitment philosophy if the English lower league market has already been plundered by Lambert and his scouts.
The interesting one would be Lambert’s No2, Ian Culverhouse.
If he ever harboured any ambition to be the Peter Taylor to Lambert’s Brian Clough and give this managerial lark a go himself, now might be the time.
The suspicion remains that ‘Team Lambert’ – one that includes Gary Karsa within that Colney ‘boot room’ – will move en masse up the A14 as Culverhouse continues to enjoy the lower profile that comes with being in the coaching background.
You don’t have to look far to find who else employs such a close-knit model – Martin O’Neill always comes complete with Steve Walford as his coach and John Robertson as his eyes and ears around the dressing room and training ground.
As for Villa’s attraction, one point is worth repeating.
Given the fact that they only escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth, the only way Lambert can take them is up; he is walking into a club for whom a mid-table finish a la Norwich would be seen as a triumphant first season. Scratch around the edges of the top two ‘tiers’ as their 35,000-strong home fan base would allow and Lambert’s star would remain firmly in the ascendant.
There is, equally, little doubt that the Canary chief had been straining at the leash for a while in terms of the wage ceiling he is expected to work to – and the players that he is able to recruit as a result.
The big bucks always go to the guys that score the goals; the fact that a Villa will offer a Darren Bent £70,000 a week to ply his trade in the Premier League may make US owner Randy Lerner swallow hard given his actual, goal-scoring returns and the club’s continuing debt position, but the spirit is more willing to go to such levels than it ever will be in Norwich.
As for Norwich’s attraction to potential successors, provided not every bridge has been burnt with skipper Grant Holt of late, whoever walks into the job will have an enviable array of young and hungry talents to work with.
There will be no need for a yard-sale of under-achievers; a tweak here, a twiddle there and with the right man management, there is no reason why the Canaries can’t continue to bed themselves down comfortably in the midst of that Premier League table.