The Sun – they of the original ‘Lambert: I quit!’ scoop, in fairness – tonight threw an intriguing name into the merry-go-round mix for a now-managerless Norwich City, Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
‘The former Northern Ireland midfielder features on a list which includes Birmingham chief Chris Hughton plus ex-Canary favourite and Cardiff manager Malky Mackay,’ the paper reported tonight – sending a big curve ball at those that had Birmingham boss Hughton and ex-Canary Mackay near the top of their list following Paul Lambert’s decision to further his fame with Aston Villa.
The City boss – denied permission to speak to the Villa hierarchy by the Carrow Road board – is still expected to be named the new Villa Park manager before the weekend. Before then a bitter compensation war will be waged as Canary chief executive David McNally heads into the trenches and fights ‘tooth and nail’ for every last penny by way of return as Lambert walks out on his rolling, one-year deal in Norfolk.
The logic of tonight’s Lennon link isn’t hard to follow.
Lambert is ex-Celtic; as is McNally. Both will be well aware of Lennon the man as well as the manager.
Lambert is big, big pals with Lennon; one would suspect that as an opportunity to prove his worth on the English Premier League stage, Lambert would ‘sell’ the club well to his former Hoops team-mate.
As might Martin O’Neill who worked with the tireless midfielder first at Leicester and then again at Celtic; the leadership qualities he demonstrated as skipper at both clubs have clearly served him well in management as the 40-year-old swept the Glasgow giants to the SPL title this season and, thereby, booked their place in next season’s Champions League competition.
Which, of course, may prove to be one, big reason why Lennon might not leap at the opportunity to return south of the border. And Celtic are a big, big club with a global following.
But given the financial turmoil underway across the city at Ibrox, the trouble may be that until Rangers right themselves again they could have the SPL all to themselves; the ‘challenge’ for a manager of Lennon’s ambitious intent may have gone from the domestic game in Scotland.
For now, anyway. Rangers will be back in some shape or form; of that there would be little doubt.
Equally, however, Lennon will have gained a close-up look at both the facilities and the players on offer at Carrow Road when he provided the opposition for Adam Drury’s recent Testimonial Match.
As has been said before, the Class of 2012-13 are already pretty much assembled courtesy of Lambert’s shrewdness in the English transfer market; whoever inherits the Canary hot-seat as he disappears up the A14 to Villa Park, will start from an enviable base in terms of young, hungry players still yet to hit their Premier League prime.
Yes, every incoming manager would like more freedom to spend; it clearly chipped away at Lambert’s resolve to tie his long-term future to Norfolk. But Norwich is a great opportunity for someone this summer – they are not faced with the kind of wholesale clearance job that Lambert will have on his hands at Villa Park.
The foundation stones in the likes of John Ruddy, Jonny Howson, Anthony Pilkington, Ryan Bennett, Bradley Johnson and Co are already bedded into the Norfolk landscape – whether or not the change in management impacts on Grant Holt’s decision-making this summer.
Tonight the Canary skipper was at pains to stress to his faithful Twitter following that there was no ‘fall-out’ between him and ‘the Gaffer’ in what is fast proving to be a dramatic summer at Carrow Road. His decision to hand in that transfer request was not down to any spat between manager and skipper.
“Can I just say the rumours about me and the gaffer falling out are very wrong so no more tweets about that please,” Holt wrote tonight.
Lennon apart, Hughton and Mackay both have their supporters; Gus Poyet is another.
The other dark horse, of course, is Lambert’s current No2 Ian Culverhouse. If the pair have proved something of a Brian Clough-Peter Taylor double act, has the former City sweeper reached his ‘Peter Taylor’ moment – and fancies a go himself?
He may never get a better chance to manage the club he made 297 appearances for in a nine-year playing career at Carrow Road. The feeling was, however, that ‘Team Lambert’ would move en masse to the Midlands; his switch being warmly welcomed by Villa’s more prominent supporters – not least TV and radio pundit Stan Collymore.
He, like Holt, took to the Twitter airwaves to get his message across.
“I’ll cartwheel to Villa Park if Paul Lambert gets the job in the coming days. Big admirer of job he’s done at Norwich,” Collymore wrote.