Lambert’s early moves go against the trend
Chris LakeyPaul Lambert's willingness to apparently forego his summer holidays and instead concentrate on signing new players for the Championship challenge has raised a few eyebrows among City supporters and observers.Chris Lakey
By CHRIS LAKEY
Paul Lambert's willingness to apparently forego his summer holidays and instead concentrate on signing new players for the Championship challenge has raised a few eyebrows among City supporters and observers.
There aren't many who are used to the sight of unfamiliar faces holding up nice, clean City shirts for the benefit of the back pages. It's a refreshing change, but the trend isn't one that is catching on just yet in the Championship.
Only Derby County have been busier, with Nigel Clough adding five new recruits - although one of them, Dave Martin, was already there on loan anyway. Lambert's are all brand spanking new.
But why the rush? Indeed, is it a rush, or simply a calculated tactic?
First of all it needs to be reiterated that Lambert appears to have a certain knack when it comes to player selection: it's hard to find a genuine flop among those he brought in to Carrow Road before the end of the season, while his ability from the touchline to select the right time for a substitution and the right personnel was uncanny. Years of moaning at wasteful changes finally came to an end.
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Presumably a football manager can either stick with what he's got in the summer, twist nice and early and begin to change his cards, or gamble a little and wait until the new season draws closer before declaring his hand.
Lambert has taken the first option: that way, the likelihood of player son his shopping list being available is far higher than, say, the end of June, when they may already have signed for other clubs. Elliott Ward, for example, was never going to be at a loose end for very long after being allowed to leave Coventry. Strike while the iron is hot and you have a very good players on your hands - wonder how many other Championship managers were planning to give his agent a call over the next week or two only to find they'd been beaten to his signature.
City won't be signing World Cup quality players, but the argument in the past has been that once a major summer competition is out of the way, the big boys start splashing the cash, and the minnows then slot in to the footballing food chain at the appropriate point. But with Manchester City and Chelsea talking in ridiculous telephone numbers, by the time the rest have their say the price will be too high. Have City refused to allow others to dictate the market to them?
There's also a certain comfort in knowing that for once City don't find themselves in a public bidding war over a player: the artificial auction that is created does no one but the agents any good.
Then there's the benefit on the footballing side: Lambert already has four new players in and wants more. And he wants them to be busting a summer gut at Colney on July 1 when pre-season begins. He wants all the new boys to start on the same day, when even the current players walk in refreshed and looking forward to a new challenge of their own. That way there are no outsiders and the team has a chance to bond on the same level - and if it doesn't gel straight away then they are whisked off to Germany for a training camp - no fans, no media, just Norwich City people.
That way, come August 7, Lambert should have a squad of players who know each other, who know each other's game, who trust each other - not a rag tag bunch who run out tanned and spruced up and then go and reveal all their weaknesses at once. The team that started he first game last season had six new faces in it - seven if you count Chris Martin, who'd been away for the whole of the previous campaign. They played like strangers and while it taught everyone of a yellow and green persuasion a harsh lesson, it won't have been lost on Lambert either, whose Colchester team inflicted the wounds which prompted one of the biggest sea changes in the club's history.
What will undoubtedly happen at City is that Lambert will announce at least one a loan singing: goalkeeper Fraser Forster would be ideal, but don't be surprised if there are one or two others.
If the right deal is put in place then Carrow Road, as Forster proved, is a good place for a young loan player. Newcastle, Norwich and Forster all benefited last season. Get the right player from the right club and you could have a one-season bargain.
Lambert isn't keen on loans, for reasons which City fans witnessed on the way down to League One. Better the men you know and trust. But there are advantages to be had - and once again, City will rely on Lambert's knack of choosing the right men for the job.
Down the road at Ipswich, manager Roy Keane Keane has mixed views.
'Some managers I have spoken to are not great lovers of the loan system and question whether players are 100pc committed when they come in,' he said. 'That's not been my experience at all at Ipswich. The loan players that came in last season all gave us a lift.
'We can't depend on loan players next year, though. You never know when they will be called back. I was dreading a call about Asmir Begovic and it came. We will need one or two loan players no doubt, but our focus will be on permanent additions.'
That's the problem: when the player doesn't belong to you, you're all too often at the mercy of his parent club.
Of the 24 clubs in the Championship, only 13 have already done any recruiting, and seven of those have signed only one new player. Will those who stick it out and wait fare better than those who have acted early? Will their choice be as wide as is currently available, or will they discover that all the good ones have gone and they're left to pick through the coconut ones?
It can induce panic buys just to appease supporters - and that can prove to be the wrong signing.