December 10 2013 Latest news:
by Chris Lakey
Friday, April 27, 2012
The return of Liverpool to Carrow Road tomorrow provides another benchmark of how far Norwich City have come over the past three years. Chris Lakey reflects on the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs and their Glaswegian managers
There have been many times during Norwich City’s season, to date, which deserve to be remembered with a generous, indelible mark.
A match, an incident, a goal, an away trip, the anniversary of a result which changed the spelling of a Suffolk town forever (1p5swich for the uninitiated).
Boxes have been ticked. Achievements recorded.
First home goal, first away goal, first Grant Holt goal. Candidates for goal of the season – Holt at Chelsea, Anthony Pilkington’s free-kick at Aston Villa, Elliott Bennett’s rocket of a winning goal at Tottenham.
Remember the first away win of the season, at Bolton in September – at only the third attempt – or the first home win?
Or the scalps – the win over Newcastle, the point at Liverpool and one at Everton. The double over QPR, victory at the Lane.
Watching City match up to the men from billionaire’s row, aka Manchester City, somehow brought home what an enormous achievement Canaries supporters had witnessed.
Going to Old Trafford – despite coming away with nothing more than praise from the man himself, Sir Alex Ferguson – was one of those moments that shouted out “we are here”. Here being the very highest tier of football in the land, arguably in the world.
Certain moments, certain events, illustrate what Paul Lambert and his coaching team have achieved since they upped sticks and swapped the vast empty spaces of Colchester’s Weston Homes Community Stadium for sell-out crowds at what was then a fellow League One club.
Tomorrow evening, just before 5.30pm, Lambert will share a touchline with fellow Glaswegian Kenny Dalglish. Their CVs includes playing for Celtic in their pomp, winning the European Cup and serving their country with distinction. There’s almost two decades’ age difference between them, but they are hewn from the same Scottish rock: hard men for whom football is about footballers and football fans. Men who have little time for small talk – and aren’t afraid to let anyone know it. Winners.
To see the blood red shirts of Dalglish’s men run out at Carrow Road will see another box ticked: Dalglish and Liverpool have carved themselves niches deep enough never to be removed from the history of English football. They have cache, gravitas. No matter where Liverpool are in the footballing ladder that will never change. Their presence in Norfolk is proof that Norwich City are rubbing shoulders with the very biggest. If not the best.
While this summer will provide us with great debates about the merits of the England football team and our athletics’ prowess, the red side of Liverpool may have more vexing questions on their minds.
Like: what of the future, for King Kenny, for the club?
Dalglish has been a man under pressure: he won few friends with his robust defence of Luis Suarez over the Patrice Evra affair, when his striker was punished for using racist language towards the Manchester United player.
Dalglish will never have a career in diplomacy judging by his reaction: allowing his players to wear T-shirts in a warm-up which professed their backing for Suarez and then to continue backing him to the hilt while the rest of football expressed their disgust. Eventually it got too much for the club’s men in suits, and a statement that looked like it was worded in the boardroom rather than the boot room, put Dalglish in his place.
A man who fell out of love with the game in the aftermath of the awful Hillsborough disaster was seen by many to be showing further signs of disillusionment.
Liverpool (was it Dalglish or the now departed director of football Damien Comolli?) paid £35m for Andy Carroll, £16m for Jordan Henderson and £20m for Stewart Downing; all have failed to provide any evidence of their worth, which has simply made the club’s and Dalglish’s critics rub their hands even more.
Liverpool was once the place where the now over-used word ‘fortress’ might have been conceived, in footballing terms: now it’s a fallacy. Liverpool stink at home – even though any team that wins there still react as if they had won every bit of silverware on offer.
Weakened they may be, a scalp they remain.
But where does it leave Dalglish? A man who enjoyed huge success as a player and a manager, a man who answered a million Scousers’ dream when he returned ‘home’?
There is, he said this week, nothing “drastically wrong”. But football has changed since he steered Blackburn to a money-fuelled title in 1995.
It was funded by Jack Walker, a steel man from the town. Today’s owners don’t always have the same affiliation. They demand instant success. The FenwaySports Group, from across the Atlantic, own Liverpool FC. How long will they settle for second best?
Will the Suarez affair, the failed signings, the foreign ownership and the poor league form gang up on Dalglish and force him or the club’s owners to rethink his position? He may hold legendary status, but that’s no guarantee of sole rights to the throne.
And what of his opposite number tomorrow? While the Dalglish name may be losing a little of its lustre, Paul Lambert’s star is in the ascendancy.
The pressures are different – the financial resources at his disposal are nowhere near what Dalglish has had.
The supporter base here is strong, but Liverpool’s is on a different scale. In terms of expectancy, the difference is marginal, because all supporters want success. And Lambert has delivered, with bells on. League One, the Championship and now the Premier League.
A mid-table finish will be a magnificent achievement for City and Lambert – and would again attract those owners who covet a manager who works hard, gets results and doesn’t court controversy.
Norwich City have known all along that the price of success may be the loss of their bright young thing. It’s no secret.
It will happen. City fans crave success, but the price is an obvious one. But they’re loving the ride.
How far Lambert can go no one knows, but chances are that the more success he brings, the more tenuous the hold City have on him.
When he stands alongside Dalglish tomorrow it will be business, no more, no less.
But it will also be another sign that he, and Norwich City, have arrived at a place most people believe they deserve to be.