Aston Villa a challenge that Paul Lambert simply couldn’t resist
Breaking up is never easy and the soul searching rarely helps – but only those Norwich City fans with a heart of stone will have resisted the temptation since yesterday morning to ask 'why now?' and 'why there?'…
So without continuing the teenage relationship metaphor any further than necessary, and removing those yellow tinted – and by now possibly misty – glasses, it's probably worth sitting down and trying to work out the same questions Paul Lambert sifted through after things moved up a few gears on Monday.
Let's start close to home with the club he dragged from the floor of League One to Premier League survival in three years.
Lambert is the one and only manager to achieve that feat since the tap marked 'top-flight millions' started dripping in 1992.
The rise was a meteoric one so, with the prospect of competing in the same division in successive seasons for the first time as Norwich manager, stability would have been a key component to 2012-13. Wholesale changes were never on the cards; just a few summer signings to give those lads the hand that's worked out so well since 2009.
The transfer budget was reported to be similar to last year – no real surprise given City are committed to debt reduction off the pitch, while their major incomes are unlikely to rise much between Premier League years one and two.
Every manager wants the boat to be pushed out a little more of course, especially when they are only interested in moving up the ladder – something that clearly makes a driven man like Lambert tick every morning.
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But as Grant Holt and John Ruddy said minutes after the lap of appreciation that wound down Lambert's apparent competitive swansong, next season the aim will once again be survival. It has to be.
Some may laugh at 'second season syndrome', but the concept exists for a reason. Many a club has fallen foul – whoever was going to be in charge of Norwich next season would have its avoidance as primary aim come August.
That's not to discredit what is currently at City. Not a comfort zone, rather solid foundations that the canny recruitment policy of Lambert, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa would – you feel – have taken on again. That was what the summer planning, which had been tentatively started, was geared towards achieving.
But for many supporters it is not so much the fact Lambert looks like leaving Norwich they have questioned – more that he seems set to leave for the job at Aston Villa.
A job where Lambert's own 'Gaffer' saw acrimonious departure – no doubt Lambert and Martin O'Neill have chatted it out, but bear in mind Lambert is most definitely his own man.
A job where the debt burden is as high as the supporter antipathy. Season ticket sales mirror that at Norwich; their performances on the pitch last season as abject as Norwich's were ebullient.
But this misses a few key points – ones you expect Lambert will share too.
You cannot avoid the size of Aston Villa. The fan base is huge – expect to hear that if/when Lambert is unveiled. And it's true.
Villa Park holds almost 43,000. The club has rarely been outside English football's top flight in the last 35 years, and they currently have a striker on their books they shelled out �18m to sign.
Don't be fooled into looking at last season's Premier League standings – that is the same argument Colchester United fans were fumbling over when Norwich came calling for Lambert in 2009. Different circumstances, but the point stands.
Villa are clearly at a low ebb – so what better challenge than to take them on, shake them up and finally get the fans and players all on side. That kind of ethos at that kind of club, and Villa can easily do what Newcastle United managed this season – they will certainly have the manager with the ability to do it.
But in truth, that other summer vacancy may also have got Lambert thinking. His name was fairly conspicuous by its absence in the long, rather public list of Liverpool interviewees. There was barely a mention after the opening five minutes after Kenny Dalglish's departure.
If not being in serious contention for one of the top jobs was the reality for Lambert while at Norwich, a man with such lofty ambitions will have thought about the best way to change it.
There are not many jobs sandwiching Norwich and the likes of Liverpool and above – but the Villa job is definitely one of them.
For some City fans, Lambert's 'betrayal' will always be too much. Others might accuse the board for not doing enough.
And then there will be a pragmatic few, accepting the football food chain as the circle of soccer life and preparing for the next honeymoon period to arrive.
At times Norwich City's love affair with Paul Lambert felt too good to be true – but whatever the reason that made up Lambert's mind to move on, Canaries fans should always remember that it was true, and it was good.
The best there has been.