Norwich City boss Lambert’s debt to McLeish
Norwich City boss Paul Lambert wants three Premier League points at Aston Villa today – but is prepared to trade an apology to Alex McLeish in return.
Lambert revealed he left McLeish high and dry during his playing days when he invoked the 'Bosman' ruling to see out his Motherwell contract prior to joining German giants Borussia Dortmund.
McLeish was the manager of the Steelmen at the time and together the pair had played an integral part in helping Motherwell temporarily break the Old Firm duopoly to finish an historic second in the SPL. Lambert has since carved out his own successful managerial niche at Norwich – and can now see things from the other side of the fence.
'I left Motherwell without telling Alex where I was going,' he said. 'I thought I would like to try somewhere else. I went on trial to PSV Eindhoven and then Dortmund but Alex never knew where I was.
'I never really sat and spoke to him about it. Billy Davies was keeping me informed of what was happening at Motherwell. He never knew. I could understand him wanting me to stay. Looking back I should never have done it. I had an opportunity to go abroad. It could have gone wrong. I could have come back to Motherwell with my tail between my legs, but it worked.
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'Players being players, I had been there three years. I was out of contract and I wanted to try abroad. Never in a million years did I think the agent I was involved in would have got me to Eindhoven and Dortmund. I thought I would end up somewhere in Luxembourg or Afghanistan – not those type of clubs so I guess Alex only knew when I had signed at Dortmund.
'We had some great times there. It was a terrific club to be at, at that time with the players we had there and Alex was there and he was great for the club.'
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McLeish also opted to head south along with Lambert after similar success both as a player at Aberdeen and manager with Rangers and the Scottish national side. Lambert believes McLeish's spell at Ibrox prepared him well for his controversial decision to cross the 'Second City' divide in the summer from Birmingham to Villa.
'When you are manager of Rangers or Celtic, if you can manage those clubs then I think you can manage most places because of the demand up there and the size of those clubs,' he said. 'I don't think it will disturb him too much. I know the hostility between Birmingham and Aston Villa and that is their derby game but if you can manage the Glasgow clubs you can handle most things.
'He did brilliant at Rangers to be fair, fantastic with the national team and did great with Birmingham. Any manager going in after Martin O'Neill had one hell of an act to follow. I think Gerrard Houllier went in and for health reasons stepped away. It is a huge football club. They had some terrific years under Martin when he was there.
'This will be the first time really coming up against him for a number of years. I saw him at the League Managers Association dinner at the end of the season. I'm looking forward to it. It's not just Alex, I know Stilyan Petrov from playing with him at Celtic. I know one or two of them up there.'
Lambert ranks a trip to Villa Park right up there with previous visits to Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool during City's early season voyage of discovery.
Lambert yesterday reported no fresh injury concerns ahead of this afternoon's latest test. The City chief, however, was keeping his line up under wraps – the players will be the first to know. That includes Grant Holt and Steve Morison.
'Whatever system or team I pick I expect the lads to go out and perform,' he said. 'I don't think anybody is safe or complacent that they are going to be picked every single time. If I could pick every player in there, I would but I can't do it. We have to push each other to be in the side. Grant has been great. Steve has been exceptional since he has been here. He seems to be getting better every single game. I don't have a problem playing the two of them together at certain times. It's just whatever team can win us a game.
'It's the same group as we had last week and we'll go up there and see what happens. Touch wood, the injured lads are doing fine. The longer terms like James (Vaughan) and Korey (Smith) are still a bit away.
'This is a really tough one. Going to Villa Park will be a great experience for ourselves. The stadium is lovely, they have a vibrant fanbase as well and a new manager. It's a tough, tough game - but as I have said before we are playing well enough to win.'
City's latest late show to salvage a draw against Blackburn again underlined it matters little which 11 wear the shirt.
You can take some qualities for granted. The same does not apply to picking up league points.
'The players have that spirit but they also have that attitude that if they are going to get beat, then somebody is going to have to do it to you,' he said. 'The new ones seem to have grasped it and the ones in the changing room who were already here know it as well and have done it for the last couple of years.
'The news ones have bought into it. They seem to have that spirit to keep on going for me – as a manager it's great. I think the crowd play a big part in it. Nobody seems to leave the stadium 10 or 15 minutes to go. They can sense it.
'The players knew exactly what sort of game they were going into. It's everywhere else where people think you are just going to turn up and win. I've never known a game to be like that.
'You have to work really hard for it and the pleasing thing was we kept on going. We were 3-1 down with ten minutes to go. We were caught with a wee bit of lethargic play, but we managed to turn it around. We weren't complacent.'