Lambert plays the numbers game

No question Paul Lambert knows how to pick a team. City's promotion to the Premier League will now test his ability to mould a squad.

The Canaries' rapid elevation from the Football League during his successful tenure produces a by-product – playing by the same rules that govern the biggest and best in the land.

Since the start of last season, every Premier League club must declare a maximum 25-man squad of contracted players.

Exemptions are in place for younger professionals as part of the drive to encourage more 'homegrown' talent. 'Homegrown' as in Spanish World Cup winner Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal. Go figure that one.

Lambert now has until the end of August's transfer window to finalise his list of senior professionals with Norwich's top flight fate at their talented feet.


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In theory, three Premier League games against Wigan, Stoke and Chelsea to see who can sink or swim in the deep end.

In practice, Lambert has arguably already settled on his squad. Bar one or two exceptions.

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You don't become the first manager in a decade to clinch back-to-back promotions into the Premier League through making it up as you go along.

'It's a new experience for me,' he said, when questioned at the official unveiling of Bradley Johnson, Anthony Pilkington and Ritchie De Laet. 'It's the first time I have experienced that but it is something at the back of my mind that we do know.

'That is the rule. There is no point me harping on about something you can't change. It is the same for everybody but I am delighted with the group that has been assembled. It's not just good players, it is good characters I am looking at that is important. In any dressing room, they have got to be good strong characters in the dressing room.'

City's accelerated transfer dealings have given Lambert a head start. Five new permanent signings and Man United defender De Laet on a season-long loan.

None below the particular age of consent that matters when it comes to complying with the Premier League's 25-man grand plan. Only players aged 21 on or before January 1, 2011 are exempt from the arbitrary strictures in place.

Lambert never gives too much away before the ink is dry on the paperwork but the City manager did suggest another possible defensive addition might be on the agenda at that recent press call to welcome his latest three recruits.

Should number seven walk through the Carrow Road doors in the pre-season weeks ahead, Lambert would have 30 senior professionals on the books. You don't need a GCSE in maths to work out that leaves some of his current personnel surplus to requirements.

Steven Smith spent the second part of last season playing regular first team football at Aberdeen after Lambert openly admitted the left-back had struggled to settle south of the border.

The versatile De Laet's arrival alongside the likes of Marc Tierney and Adam Drury hardly pushes Smith up the pecking order.

Owain Tudur Jones is another solid citizen who has had to take the loan road in recent times. Three league starts for Norwich since joining the club two years ago tells its own story. Ditto Stephen Hughes who has fared only marginally better.

The arrivals of Johnson, Pilkington and Elliott Bennett take City's midfield contingent of 'senior' players up to 11 – that's without Korey Smith or Tom Adeyemi or even younger prospects like Matt Ball and Josh Dawkin.

Similarly, City's purchases of Steve Morison and James Vaughan have replenished the club's striking stocks. Lambert was happy to sanction a Plymouth trial stint for Luke Daley, who was briefly farmed out to Stevenage towards the end of last season.

Peterborough have made little secret of their interest in Cody McDonald following his goalscoring exploits at Gillingham in League Two.

Lambert cautioned during the predator's purple patch last season that the step from the lowest tier to the Championship was a big one. The additional leap to the Premier looks a chasm.

Hence Lambert's conundrum. He needs every last man standing in that 25-man senior party to put their shoulders to the collective wheel.

For newly-promoted clubs the Premier League is no place for passengers. Lambert knows that better than anyone.

The 25-card trick is trying to find the harmonious balance on the training ground, out on the pitch and inside the dressing room. The 'good strong characters' he talks about.

Time will tell who he thinks fits the Premier League bill.

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