April 24 2014 Latest news:
Monday, June 4, 2012
Of late there have been four things of which you could be certain of as a Norwich City supporter: death, taxes, the fact that we’re out of our financial depth anywhere near the top of the Premier League and the knowledge that one day Paul Lambert would quit Carrow Road.
If I’m honest the last of these didn’t come as the slightest surprise given the way the last three weeks have played out.
He was always going to go. He has outgrown our financial limitations, just as he did at Wycombe and Colchester.
That’s not to say I like it – I don’t – but short of bankrupting ourselves in a time of recession or putting ticket prices up by an awful lot more than 11pc we don’t have the financial wherewithal to move up to the next level as long as there are no Ellis Shorts out there whose forefathers came from New Buckenham. We are still having to pay for the mistakes of the past and I can see what Alan Bowkett is trying to do.
There were enough occasions when Lambert could have cut to the chase over the past 20 days and stated unequivocally: “I will be manager here next season.”
But he didn’t. On the pitch after the Aston Villa game, at the end-of-season dinner, in the press conference following the Celtic match – it could have been any or all of them. But instead he chose to keep his options open, offering a selection of flannel which students of the modern game would have immediately recognised as statements to both buy some time and also signal his availability.
Nothing out of the ordinary about that, it’s how business is conducted in the Premier League.
And then there’s its money aspect. The financial side of the Premier League is now bordering on lunacy in an age of austerity elsewhere – parts of it make Greece and Spain seem stable economic models by comparison.
Do I want my club to get swept up in this, follow the Portsmouth, Bolton and Blackburn leads of spending up to 90-odd pc of annual turnover on player wages and then, before we know it, ending up back in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy? Hardly.
But while Carrow Road’s understandably limited resource levels will have been seen by many for the only reason for Lambert’s departure, events elsewhere steadily escalated.
After three years of continual improvement he will have known that his fourth season at Carrow Road might have proved to have been more of a struggle.
With the momentum provided by promotion gone and the novelty factor lost, next season would have needed a different approach anyway – it’s going to be all about a remorseless grind to reach 40 points whoever was in charge. No frills, nothing else matters other than survival.
The presence of potentially big-spending West Ham and QPR in the Premier League rather than the more profligate Blackpool and Bolton immediately made the 2012-13 campaign a more challenging prospect.
And then when Swansea and Southampton started tabling £6m-plus bids for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jay Rodriguez respectively, Lambert must have surely been demanding for the Carrow Road purse strings to be loosened. His unpolished diamonds policy has taken the club a long way, but to the next level in the Premier League? Perhaps not.
Besides, how could you compete against spending like that? We simply don’t have that kind of backing – and I’m not sure Swansea or Southampton do, either. And if an unproven talent such as Rodriguez is seen as being worth £6m in an era of transfer hyperinflation, the chances of picking up another cheaper Ryan Bennett or Jonny Howson are maybe slim to non-existent.
And then there were events at Liverpool. Had Kenny Dalglish not been sacked, the chances of Lambert still being at Carrow Road would have been significantly greater.
But when the Merseysiders went for Brendan Rodgers – to my mind a less attractive all-round package than Lambert and a choice largely fuelled by the Swansea-media love-in –the Scot must have wondered how he might ever make it to a Liverpool-level club.
Obviously three years of transforming an unfashionable club such as Norwich wasn’t good enough; to go from A to B he would have to go via C, or to be more precise, AV.
And now. Leave it another year and if we had really struggled – or even gone down – he would have been overtaken in the up-and-coming managerial stakes by a Nigel Adkins or a Brian McDermott, 2013’s Paul Lambert or Brendan Rodgers, possibly.
We all knew he was going to go, but the timing would be when it was right for him, not the Canaries. At least he hasn’t left right in the middle of a season.
And given the circumstances of his appointment it’s hard to be really critical about his departure. Another season to further establish us in the top flight would have been great, but given how Lambert has transformed a club looking set for a lengthy stay in League One and given us three memorable years I’d have happily taken the managerless NCFC of June 2012 from the starting (virtually insolvent) position of August 2009.
No, taking everything into consideration, I’m more disappointed than surprised.
Lambert plainly has ‘something’ about him, and I imagine it may not be long before Villa are back in Europe.
But our club will go on – just as it did when the likes of John Bond and Mike Walker found that the grass wasn’t greener elsewhere.
And after a couple of Scottish managers, maybe it’s time for a different approach.
In the summer of the Olympics it might be highly appropriate to seek out a replacement who was born in Stratford.