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Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Given this fine publication began the week canvassing for opinions on Paul Lambert’s Norwich City era and the ensuing fallout from his messy abdication let me add to the growing debate.
I have two abiding memories of Lambert’s tenure. Two incidents which illustrated the zealous drive of the man and his single-minded will to win which helped carry City to their current healthy state both on the field of play and on the balance sheet; a position of relative strength scarcely conceivable when he first walked through the doors back in 2009.
I remember one frankly sublime night at Portman Road standing pitchside after City had demolished Ipswich 5-1 to underline their Championship promotion credentials. Forgive the hyperbole, but I will never forget the sheer energy force generated from that packed away end as I waited for Lambert to emerge for his post-match media duties. It was a truly awe-inspiring, hairs on the back of your neck sensation.
Lambert must have known then City were on the verge of sealing a remarkable journey to the Premier League. Yet there was no hint of triumphalism. No sense the job was done; only visible, drained exhaustion on his features. He looked like a broken man; not one who had cemented a legend that grew exponentially with each gravity-defying achievement.
From my vantage point a few yards away, watching Lambert take the acclaim with his trademark one-handed salute was to be in the presence of a feted political leader addressing the faithful. It was Bill Shankly-esque in the bond between manager and his adoring public.
The legend and the myth stirred by nights like those wrapped the Norwich City success story around the cult of Lambert. That was a fallacy. It was to the detriment of the efforts of players he was always quick to thrust into the limelight, the essential role of Ian Culverhouse and his coaches in the background and David McNally’s team off the pitch who had to keep pace with this great leap forward. It also airbrushed the unstinting support of a long-suffering fan base.
It is more accurate to place Lambert at the centre of this amorphous mass. He was the fulcrum, the focal point through which all the planets were perfectly aligned to fuel a dizzy ascent from the depths of League One.
I also still recall enduring the ‘death stare’ after Norwich’s 2-0 Premier League win over Bolton in February 2012. A result which typified a defining spell around the turn of the year which ultimately eased any genuine relegation fears. Should you need reminding this was the game when City lost both centre backs, Dani Ayala and Zak Whitbread to injury before half-time, yet deservedly prevailed over the Trotters.
Lambert emerged for his post-match interview with that same haunted look he had at Ipswich. My ill-advised jocular opening gambit enquiring into his well being went down about as well as him receiving a Christmas card from Michael Oliver.
Lambert was not adverse to gentle leg-pulling, but not in the immediate aftermath of another body and soul effort on the touchline to guide his club to three precious league points.
On that afternoon, like many others, the Scot could have given no more to the Canary cause. And he was celebrated for it.
He was the right man and the right character at a critical time in the club’s evolution; an aggressive, edgy personality who generated loyalty and fear from his players in equal measure and devotion from the fans. Not any more.
The manner of his exit saw to that. But Lambert is a sharp operator. He will know what is in store from both the terraces and the men he used to command at Villa Park this weekend.
Through the filter of an unseemly departure and on-going legal wrangles you can question his loyalty, but Paul Lambert’s loyalty has always been to himself.
That is not to denigrate the man; that is to acknowledge what made him tick. Norwich City, just like Colchester before and Aston Villa now, are used as vehicles to further his own career. In that regard he is no different to Sir Alex Ferguson, Martin O’Neill or any other manager operating in such a precarious line of employment. Yet however it ended and whatever anyone thinks of his tainted legacy, what he presided over in Norfolk was simply glorious.