Chris Lakey: A Paul Lambert apology (not a real one), and a word of advice for Norwich City's ITYS
Before we get on to the main thrust of the column, I am going to ask for forgiveness: for the use of an Ipswich Town picture and a mention of Paul Lambert.
I promise (fingers crossed behind my back) this will be the last time the former City boss gets an airing in this column.
But I couldn’t resist this pic of Lambert lined up alongside some of Town’s legends after George Burley, Terry Butcher and John Wark watched training during the week – a visit which apparently saw Lambert “pick their brains” over lunch (sounds most unpleasant).
“I thought it was important for them to know that the door is always open for those type of players,” he said.
“There are so many iconic players at this club. You could go through them all; Russell Osman, Mick Mills, the Dutch lads Muhren and Thijssen, Brazil, Cooper… they should all be embraced by the club.”
Last week I pondered whether Lambert had changed. He has. During his time at City I was told he had not once returned to Celtic, the club which helped make him famous as a player. And I can cast iron guarantee that welcoming past City players back was definitely not on his agenda.
How times have changed.
A couple of weeks ago I held my hands up and admitted I’d got it wrong about Daniel Farke.
The evidence was piling up against me and my original views, so it was best to own up to the heinous crime of having the wrong opinion and acting like a sheep and following the crowd (at least, that’s what it has felt like since).
It seems to me that more and more people are crawling out of the woodwork wearing there “I told you so” T-shirts and sporting Cheshire Cat gobs to match.
Actually, many didn’t tell me anything at all. For the most part, they kept quiet. Very quiet.
The people more inclined to raise their voices are the objectors – the ones who keep quiet are those who have seen the horse they backed in danger of falling at the first hurdle.
As far as support for Daniel Farke is concerned, the timeline went a little like this:
Hurrah, a new manager with new ideas
Ok, it’s not quite working but Farke’s new, give him time
Ok, it definitely isn’t working, but you can’t sack a manager so soon, he needs time
There you go, it’s starting to work. Told you so
It’s working! We’re top of the league, Farke is brilliant. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!
The woodwork is empty now, they’ve all come out, while those of us who thought Farke’s time was up are cast in the role of villains.
The prevailing wind is behind the City head coach, and the team have the big sails out and are sailing ahead.
But, at the risk of deflating the hopes and egos of a few ITYS (I Told You So), the situation could turn just as easily as it did a few weeks ago. Don’t take this as a view from someone who wants Norwich City to fail; that is so far from the truth it is laughable. Take it as a realistic view of the future. It is not always going to be this good – and squally weather can always be just around the corner.
Last weekend was a metaphor of sorts: City went to Sheffield Wednesday, won handsomely and went top of the Championship. Twenty four hours later they were second, thanks to Leeds United’s 2-1 win at Wigan. It is still a terrific position to be in, and they are their only on goal difference. But without kicking a ball they dropped a place. Two average results and they could drop half a dozen in a Championship that is not exactly bursting with quality and is, instead, jam packed with plenty of half decent, but no more, teams.
Leeds are more than half decent. Ditto Norwich. If they can maintain what they are currently doing they will be a credit to the division because they play football a lot better than most.
But one dodgy decision which leads to a red card and an injury to another player could be a game changer in so many ways.
And again, please don’t think me overly pessimistic, but more realistic: come January there are plenty of clubs who will be looking even more closely at players like Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis. Lose one or both and Farke may need to pull another gem or two out of the academy bag.
It is just something for the ITYS to consider: I am more than happy to be proved wrong time and again. But if I am, please, don’t gloat like you knew all along...
Raheem Sterling didn’t know what to do as he dusted himself down after booting the turf, rather than the ball, during Manchester City’s Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek.
He should have been bewildered by his inability, as a highly-paid professional footballer, to kick the ball that was in front of his boot, rather than kicking the grass and tumbling over like a drunken pub gymnast on a Christmas out-takes video.
Instead, he was confronted by the raised arms of referee Viktor Kassai, indicating a penalty to City. The fact there wasn’t a Shakhtar player within a bulls’ roar of Sterling mattered not to the ref. True, his positioning meant her didn’t see the incident from the angle which the camera picked it up, but even from his position he should have been aware that Shakhtar’s Mykola Matviyenko was nowhere near Sterling when he went down.
So, what to do?
Well, according to City manager Pep Guardiola, Sterling “could” have helped the referee and admitted it wasn’t a penalty.
“Referees must be helped,” he said. “They want to make a good performance but the game is quick and players are more skilled.”
Social media was awash with its contribution to the debate: should he or shouldn’t he?
The decision really is not one for Sterling to make - especially when there was an official behind the goal who had a perfectly good view. It puts the player in a terrible position. He is vilified if he doesn’t own up. But if he does, he suddenly loses a bit of that special edge that sets the very top sportsmen apart from the others, that need to win almost at all costs.
It is up to his manager to do something: why couldn’t Guardiola have got a message to the penalty taker to roll it into the keeper’s hands, thus avoiding embarrassment all round? It is easy for Guardiola to speak after the event, but Sterling is the one who will get it in the neck.
Whilst it hasn’t done the official behind the goal system any good at all, it has advanced by some distance the case for VAR to be used in all matches in football’s biggest competitions. The fact it isn’t borders on the scandalous.