May 20 2013 Latest news:
Friday, May 4, 2012
Paul Lambert has got most things right in his time at Norwich City.
Two promotions and a successful stab at surviving in the Premier League guarantee he will always occupy a special place in the club’s history.
Whatever happens from this point forward, Lambert, his coaches, support staff and players have contributed to a remarkable passage in the Canaries’ heritage.
But Lambert is a football manager. Not a miracle worker. Norwich’s success over these past three seasons should be viewed as the exception rather than the norm. To top what has gone before year-on-year is a truly unique achievement spread over the entire spectrum of the other 91 professional league clubs.
How many of those have travelled from League One to the Premier League and stayed there? I make it one at the last count, although Southampton will get their chance to emulate City’s stellar achievement next season.
So when Lambert reiterates, as he did after last weekend’s emphatic Premier League defeat to Liverpool, that he does not know how much further Norwich can go, he is stating a fact. One based on his own first-hand experience of the huge challenge successfully mounted to stay in the division over the past ten months.
Allied perhaps to the empirical evidence that underlines just how tough it is for clubs like Norwich to compete against the provincial powerhouses with huge fan bases and greater financial clout.
Implicit in Lambert’s words was a recognition the club may well be nearing the end of one cycle and embarking on another. Not, as I have seen it interpreted in some quarters, as signalling the end of the journey. Lambert has just as tellingly spoken in the past about a marked absence of what he labelled a ‘plateau’ phase in the club’s vertical rise; that period of reflection when City’s results and performances have to inevitably level out.
If the flat line were to occur now, with the club on much firmer foundations as a result of access to Premier League revenues, I doubt too many supporters would take issue.
Ambition is laudable – on and off the pitch – but Lambert is right to point out Norwich now operate in financially difficult terrain, because not only are they are at a disadvantage to the big boys, but also rivals of a similar stature who have enjoyed a sustained period of top flight membership.
Let’s take £40m as a general guide price to cover one season’s Premier League income in terms of television and prize money. Then times that by the number of years that clubs such as Stoke, Wigan, Fulham and Bolton have survived and you get a clearer sense of the financial disparity the Canaries are facing.
Norwich have traded on their tremendous collective sense of unity over this debut campaign. Lambert assembled a group of players who for the most part had never operated in the Premier League and were desperate to prove their worth.
Lads like Anthony Pilkington, Bradley Johnson and Elliott Bennett may have spent time in their youth with Premier League clubs, but were forced to drop down before coming back.
Others like Steve Morison and Grant Holt started out in non-league. That breeds a camaraderie and a burning desire to fight against the footballing aristocracy. A motivation from within to prove that you do belong on the same stages with the world class talent.
But Lambert realises such an approach only works to a point. When you stop being an outsider and became part of the establishment the key to survival comes from re-invention. It now passes swiftly to the likes of Southampton and Reading to inherit the mantle carried so deftly by the Canaries and Swansea before the next season comes around.
When Lambert hypothesizes over just what Norwich can achieve as a club in the Premier League he is being brutally honest. Not defeatist. Clubs like Stoke and Fulham have both embellished long term membership of the elite with cup success and European sojourns. Wigan and Bolton have perhaps settled for more modest aims. But then neither have the sort of loyal fan base the Canaries possess who back the club through thick and thin.
Yet after the boom and bust years triggered by a downward spiral sparked by the club’s last brief flirtation with the Premier League in 2005, how many supporters would now swap that dark descent for a less traumatic period of measured growth.
A magnificent solo goal by midfielder Jonny Howson clinched a notable victory for Norwich City as they wrapped up their season by beating Premier League runners-up Manchester City on their own ground.