Holiday camp to Holy Grail - Paul Lambert’s Norwich City Premier League journey
Holiday camp to Holy Grail. The sub-text to what Paul Lambert yesterday labelled a fairytale football story.
The Scot has had nearly a week to savour Norwich securing another season of Premier League football, which is why the prospect of taking on Arsene Wenger's Champions League contenders holds no fears. When you have achieved mission improbable, everything else is on a sliding scale of difficulty.
'That was the main objective, to get safe, so the pressure is on Arsenal,' he said. 'They have to make the running but they have seen it and done it. It's the old clich�, but if you can't play there in that type of stadium then you can't play anywhere. There is no fear there. Every team is beatable, and on any given day you will give them a game. They are a fantastic footballing side. They have top, top class players but what an arena to go and play football. It is one for the players and the fans to go and enjoy. One we could only dream about two years ago.
'They are vying for the Champions League and they have wonderful players who play the game the right way. They are a different animal at home to the way they are away. They are a really formidable side at home and they use that big pitch. They are going to have the ball, no doubt about it, but I just don't want to sit back. I haven't been brought up that way to set a team up. We have to make a game of it.'
Perhaps fittingly, Norwich's first Premier League assignment since guaranteeing their top flight status comes in such exalted company and stellar surroundings.
'It has been brilliant,' said Lambert. 'The lads have been absolutely terrific for us and they have earned the right to go again. I can't fault them for what they have done and they way they have played in games. I'm proud of them. If you are talking fairytale football this is the story that has happened over the past three years, to go from the bottom of League One to sustaining it in the Premier League. They have got 43 points, hopefully we can get a few more, but in the cold light of day it has been incredible. The players have made the club a lot of money because we have stayed in the league.
'I think what made us safe was the two Easter games, against Everton and Tottenham. It is hard to keep that going, but I thought four points from those two clubs was great to do that. They were two vital games. The 40 points was always the figure that people bandied about. It might not have been enough because in a couple of seasons teams have surpassed 40 points and gone down. This group has been incredible. I thank them for what they have done.'
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Lambert reiterated again yesterday he will need fresh personnel to plan a second assault on the Premier League. The core qualities in his summer headhunt will remain the same.
'That is the objective. To go again,' he said. 'We have tried to get a lot done early in the summer before but you are in a different market, a different ball game now and you are trying everything you can to bring the right ones in again. It doesn't matter if a player is 26 or 27 in my eyes, if they still have that hunger. I've always said that with footballers. As soon as you become domesticated I think you lose your hunger. And it doesn't matter what age you are.
'If you want to succeed and sacrifice a bit of your career you have to be able to want to win things. I don't want players in a comfort zone. The club was littered with them when I got here. I don't want that. The only thing that was missing from here was a red coat.'
Lambert expects to be in direct transfer competition with the likes of newly-promoted duo Championship duo Reading and Southampton.
'Yeah. I think so. I don't know the finances at those two clubs are, but I know Norwich's,' he said. 'They have done brilliantly to get up and it will be tough again which is why the club has to build and survive. If people think I am going to spend a load of money, then they better get that out of their head straight away. We'll have same amounts as last year and we need a right few in here to give them a hand.'
The City chief is well aware the potential downside to success could mean having to fend off interest in some of his own brightest gems.
'You can't stop getting the phone calls,' he said. 'People come, people go. Managers and players. That will always be the case. The club has to keep going for years down the line. There might a turnover of players, but that is the manager's choice. You might have to wheel and deal. Bigger clubs come in and you can't stop that reality. You can say no at the end of it, but finance talks.'
The Scot wants a final flourish on the pitch as much as the Canaries' travelling support this afternoon, but standing in his way is one of the modern-day managerial greats and the player-of-this-season.
Victory for Wenger in his landmark 900th Arsenal game could also go a long way to keeping Robin van Persie at the Emirates.
'If you put Sir Alex Ferguson to one side he has been at one club longer than anyone,' said Lambert. '900 games is some statistic, but his record speaks for itself. Van Persie's goalscoring ratio is incredible. If you look at that he is probably a deserved winner of all the awards. He is consistently excellent - not just for three or four months, he has done it throughout the course of the season
'But I don't make any special plans. I have never made special allowances for players. We have to concentrate on our own game. I'm pretty sure if you asked him, he would tell you he needs lads round about him to create things but when it comes to goalscoring he is definitely top of his profession.'
Defenders Zak Whitbread (calf) and Adam Drury (groin) miss out as a gruelling campaign approaches the final straight.
'I don't like saying we are fatigued or anything like that,' said Lambert. 'Maybe sub-consciously it was in the players' minds that we had done what we needed to a couple of weeks ago, which was the main objective, but I knew when I saw the fixtures and we had Everton, Tottenham, City, Liverpool, Arsenal, that was one hell of a run-in.'