I have a theory.
Not born out of anything approaching scientific fact.
Rather two, short conversations with a neighbour and an accountant pal – both of whom are season ticket holders – and reading Rob Emery’s excellent debut piece on the change of atmosphere in the Main Stand.
All three tend to look back wistfully at the Paul Lambert years when there was a unity and a shared purpose/belief about the place – more so, it appears, than now.
I concur with the change in supporter-club dynamic that came with the David McNally years. Supporters were just AN Other commodity; a bum on seat to be shifted and charged accordingly.
Supporting Norwich became impersonal. Just a numbers game from the viewpoint of the chief executive’s office.
But back to the Lambert years.
And this is not to dwell on the impact Grant Holt made on proceedings. With every passing year, his role grows ever greater in significance.
No. It’s the difference in perception between Lambert and the current incumbent Alex Neil. And, indeed, those that have been appointed to the Carrow Road hot seat in between.
The important word is ‘perception’. Because as events at Aston Villa would prove, the reality proved to be much different.
But the point.
Lambert had a Champions League winners medal to his name. And he had won it abroad too.
Both elevate him onto a higher plane in terms of the perception of Paul Lambert the Manager from supporters, players and agents alike.
This was a man who had done the business. At the highest level of club football.
Yes, he had played internationally too. But for Scotland. Who were ne’er going to bestride the international stage like a France or a Netherlands.
It was at club level that Lambert had won his repute. Considerable repute from those within the know. Or rather of his playing ability; less so his personality.
Why couldn’t he take a provincial club of Norwich’s stature into the upper half of the English Premier League? And keep them there.
Just like Ronald Koeman at Southampton. Now of Everton, of course.
Lambert ought to have been a figure of that ilk and stature. That was the theory. That would have played out in many a mind. Sat in the Main Stand of Carrow Road.
Here was the man to take us on – and up.
Far more so than an Adams, a Hughton or a Neil; all of whom were batting at their ‘natural’ level – in the yo-yo spots between, say, 16th and 24th in the English league ladder.
Hughton is merely proving his point again at Brighton. Just as he did at Newcastle before Norwich. At this level, he is a decent manager.
Lambert, however, was the one who – the theory went – could have taken Norwich on; because his playing record would have commanded the respect of the next level of player and his agent. The people you need to impress to recruit that top ten performer.
Of course, there will be issues as to whether Lambert’s ambition was matched by Norwich’s; his fraught relationship with the then chairman etc etc… All of which hastened his exit to the ‘bigger’ club that was Aston Villa.
Where he was expected to bring out the very best in Christian Benteke. Given his playing record.
It didn’t happen, of course.
Paul Lambert was no Ronald Koeman.
Or Martin O’Neill who, like Lambert, outsourced the coaching aspects of the role to a trusted lieutenant. Steve Walford in Martin’s case; Ian Culverhouse in that of Lambert.
When that relationship shattered at Villa Park amid much acrimony and accusation, Lambert struggled. He failed to live up to the expectations that came with his playing record.
Neil, of course, has no such European medals to his name. With which to sell himself to supporters and, more crucially, players’ agents.
And with that comes lesser expectations. Of Norwich doing no more than yo-yoying for the foreseeable future.
Which, in turn, leads to the frustration. That this might be as good as its ever going to get…
I’d have lambo back at a shot , suits Norwich and loved their style.felt the belief in the team .
Jim Davies says
Steve (1) But Lambert without Culverhouse? Lambert on his own hasn’t set the world on fire. Maybe the answer is to bring in Culverhouse to work under Alex Neil.
General Melchett says
For me if you look at Lambert now with any sort of view of would we want him back and you have to look at his overall record and not with yellow and green tinted specs. He was hamstrung by Ellis to an extent at Villa but hardly pulled up trees though didn’t get relegated and Blackburn was hardly a stella success.
Is he damaged goods? He certainly seems hard to deal with.
Maybe Neil hasn’t got his playing past but he hopefully learning (Not fully convinced he is, but we’ll hopefully see) and with a season and half in the championship and one in the PL, his experience will be gradually catching up to Lamberts.
Stewart Lewis says
I’m sure Rick’s right to focus on Lambert, but not so sure about some of the surrounding ideas.
Perhaps there was some change in the supporter-club dynamic during McNally’s time. But don’t forget the three Lambert years (which we’d all agree created a special atmosphere) were under McNally.
Nor am I convinced our faith in Lambert had much to do with his playing career. The story, surely, is something simpler: he turned the club around and had nothing but success at Norwich. Perhaps he got out before a second PL season where he feared he wouldn’t be able to keep us up; either way, his years were unbroken good.
And that was reflected in the playing approach. Confidence flooded through the team, and a never-say-die attitude that led to a series of late winners. Just the stuff to inspire the fans.
Good times, for sure. I wonder if he regrets the decision to leave us for apparently greener pastures.
el dingo says
There were so many twists and turns to the Lambert incumbency it was unreal!
Great times for us as supporters, but I think it belongs firmly in the past.
I believe it’s a fairly safe bet that he ain’t NEVER coming back:-)
Stevie M says
Jim (2) is absolutely spot-on. Lambert leaned very heavily on Culverhouse et al. As I understand it all the coaching was delegated by Lambert. Nothing of positive note in his managerial career has transpired since those relationships disintegrated.
Stewart Lewis says
PS I’m with the esteemed General (#3) on Alex Neil.
Each successive year the gap between the Championship and Premier League widens; it’s progressively harder for promoted teams to survive in the top flight. When we went up under Lambert, the board managed to secure almost all his targets in the transfer window. In summer 2015 we conspicuously failed to do that for AN, leaving him with a perilously modest squad.
Next time (on the optimistic assumption there’ll be one soon), we’ll have a more experienced AN and surely a better window to set him up for that crack at staying in the Prem.
Cyprus Canary says
Management pairings often work better than individuals. The classic has to be Brian Clough / Peter Taylor: 3 league titles and two European Cups with two teams. Then, when the parnership was dissolved – nothing! Maybe the Neil/Irvine partnership will develop? I am not confident though. We must wait to see I suppose but if he point of the discussion is a comparison then Lambert/Culverhouse wins hands down for me.
Mike C says
Whatever else might have been going on behind the scenes with Lambert and the powers that be within the club, he was clearly frustrated by a lack of funds to go out and spend to progress on to the much talked about ‘next level’. That was down to the ‘deal with the devil’ which saw us commit to repay our external borrowings in full once we returned to the Premier League in return for continued funding whilst we were down in League One.
Lambert built for each league he was in, and then almost immediately had to start again after each successive promotion. He never got the chance to really build a team for the Premier League.
I felt that Lambert always saw himself as an immediate rival to Brendan Rodgers, and that Rodgers got the job that he wanted, Liverpool. Lambert settled for the underperforming and ultimately unresponsive Villa. The rest is history.
Worst still, Rodgers has Lambert’s ultimate target job now at Celtic.
The Lambert era was a wonderful period for the club, climbing back up to the Promised Land. Was that as good as we could get or expect? Who cares? It was great fun while it lasted.
Stewart Lewis says
Mike C (#9) – There’s clearly much we don’t know about the circumstances of Lambert’s departure.
I do remember Colchester fans telling us when we appointed Lambert “enjoy it while it lasts”. The suggestion was (and still is) that he’d move on as soon as a bigger club came calling.
Perhaps there was the frustration about funds that you talk about. But not to my knowledge. The main difference between his time at Norwich and his jobs at Villa & Blackburn was that he had a supportive board here.
Celtic was definitely not his ultimate target.
Jason S says
Then using this logic we should sack AN and get in Roberto Di Matteo as manager…he certainly took villa to another level…
Gary Field says
The “never go back” observation has already been made.
Lambert arrived when the Club was at a 50 year low. Expectations from fans were similarly rock bottom. He made the most of the circumstances and some.
He was clearly a man in a hurry to get to the top and i still doubt that was ever likely to be with Norwich.
However, the Club has moved on, with a similar rise in expectations. I doubt the Lambert / NCFC fit could ever be the same again. Not that there’s currently a vacancy to fill.
I certainly wouldn’t want Lambert back.
One of the reasons I think he left (and not just to manage a ‘supposedly’ bigger club, was that other managers had worked out how to beat us and I think we picked up only 11 points out of a possible 30 towards the end of his season in charge in the PL
I’m still not 100% behind AN, as I’d really like to see more of our summer signings being given a chance and the likes of Godfrey at least on the bench – difficult I know when the team is playing so well, but with matches coming thick and fast, it would be a great opportunity to use the depth of the squad, so that players aren’t running out of steam at the end of games.
There was something truly special about the Lambert era. The squad and fans were galvanised of the like of have never quite seen at Carrow Road. The hapless board – and there is no other way of describing them – had pulled a rabbit out of the hat and we all went along our merry way. However, Norwich being Norwich, you had to enjoy the good times because you knew it was never going to last.
The board, the players and the manager are all under as much scrutiny as ever as the scepticism lives on from those harmonious days of the Paul Lambert era (with the exception of the boardroom perhaps)
I still rate Paul Lambert very highly and in true Norwich City style they never did enough to support him or keep him, though the posters comment about his ideal job being the Liverpool one was spot on. Many of us thought that was the one and it was the one that got away.
One day, there will be a book written on this era. It certainly needs – and deserves one.
Dave H says
My view is very similar to Stewart’s (4). I’m not sure Lambert’s playing career had much influence on fan perception, it was all about the impact he had at the club. For years we were a bit of a nothingness, all of a sudden there was excitement as a Norwich fan & that carried on for the 3 years. Could he have taken us on or did he leave knowing it was downhill from there? If it had started going wrong, would fans turn on him like they have Neil? We’ll never know, but certainly at present Norwich are doing better without Lambert than what Lambert is without Norwich.