Given the pace with which events tend to move in the Premier League, I would strongly suspect that the Bank Holiday plans of Canary chief executive David McNally and City chairman Alan Bowkett have flown out of the nearest window tonight.
For if The Sun’s reports of Paul Lambert’s exit hold true overnight, Messrs McNally and Bowkett will be swinging ‘Plan B’ into action already and on the basis of the manner in which the Scot was ripped out of Colchester’s hands in a fairly uncompromising manner just three, short seasons ago, expect someone to be on the end of a phone call by tomorrow lunch-time.
‘Have we a Plan B in place? Absolutely…’ were the words of the chairman at the club’s end of season dinner the other week; it was, in a sense, a warning shot to Lambert. Marking cards; drawing lines in the sand. No-one is irreplaceable.
On that Colchester form, their man in every likelihood will be in place by the middle of next week and someone else will be nursing a few bumps and bruises when Norwich came to call.
If events have transpired in the manner The Sun suggests – that Villa came a-calling, Lambert was refused permission to speak to Randy Lerner and Co and he walked in a fit of fury – it was a scenario that many could have seen unfolding.
Just not to Villa. Not this Villa.
Saddled with debts of £50 million on the back of a £38 million loss for the year to May, 2011, cash is not what it once was at Villa Park; Martin O’Neill’s reign ended bitterly as a golden generation of Villa talent – Gareth Barry and James Milner prominent among them – were flogged off to the league’s highest bidders.
Lambert is not walking into the land of plenty if he is half-way down the A14 tonight. A bigger budget than he would have enjoyed at Norwich? Possibly. But there’s expensive dead-wood to shift first.
That Villa have ‘potential’ is not in doubt; nor is the fact that after flirting with near disaster relegation-wise under Alex McLeish, it is quite easy to effect an improvement on a horribly under-achieving set-up.
Takes Villa to, say, seventh from 17th and Lambert is still pushing clubs upwards; polishing his reputation again.
Even his managerial magic dust would struggle to effect such a ten-place improvement on the Canaries 12th place finish this season.
And that’s the rub. With the best will in the world, there is a tier or two within the Premier League that a club of Norwich’s resource – however brilliantly managed – will struggle to break into.
The two Manchester clubs are a class apart; fuelled by Champions League riches, Arsenal and Chelsea will keep pushing on; Tottenham with Harry at the helm and Joe Lewis at the bank will be good for the top six; Everton, Newcastle and an O’Neill-inspired Sunderland all pose big barriers to Norwich’s dramatic rise towards the top continuing.
The danger for a man now used to stellar trajectories was a ‘flat line’ in terms of achievement and wage structure.
The killer lines to come out of recent Press conferences were those that suggested that the club’s sole ambition was ‘to survive’ in the Premier League; simple survival was the name of the game.
That Lambert had different ambitions is, of course, wholly understandable. Or rather, if Norwich’s ambitions were the same – the potential of European football returning to Norfolk – the timetable was different.
McNally and Bowkett would get there in their way; sustainable and managed. Lambert’s way demanded a different, more urgent approach. Tensions between the two views were inevitable.
The big question tonight, of course, is whether an exit to Villa in a fit of pique at not being allowed permission to speak to them is heralding a marriage more born of inconvenience, than love.
Liverpool was the hottest ticket of the summer; that was the one. And Brendan Rodgers got it. Whether Lambert’s name was ever in the ring is a moot point.
I suspect the fact that back-to-back promotions, a first season in the top flight safely negotiated and – above all – a Champions League winners medal sat on the mantelpiece at home, it would have irked Lambert considerably to see Rodgers follow in the foot-steps of King Kenny into the hot-seat at Anfield, his boyhood Celtic hero.
Given that both West Bromwich Albion and Swansea wouldn’t have appealed, it left Villa – financial warts and all – as the only show left.
And nor do I buy the idea that Lambert was always the shoe-in there; the whole Ole Gunnar Solskjaer episode doesn’t fit with that – this morning and The Birmingham Mail still had Roberto Martinez in the frame before he ‘failed’ the Liverpool interview and returned to the arms of Uncle Dave.
Rodgers to Liverpool set the game in motion; I would imagine there was a ‘better the devil I know…’ argument raging in Lambert’s mind as he pondered staying put – but staying put would have demand pushing that much harder against the strict wage structure imposed from on high.
It would have also demanded resolving the issues that, clearly, still remain around Grant Holt’s transfer request and the ‘lack of respect’ the Canary skipper feels he’s been shown in certain quarters of late.
The big win-win from the board’s perspective is to get a friendly, familiar face in quick and Holt’s name on a new deal a couple of days later.
There could, for example, be two managerial vacancies in South Wales before the Bank Holiday weekend is over.