Norwich City need another masterstroke
David McNally was credited with pulling off one of the biggest masterstrokes in years when he appointed Paul Lambert as Norwich City manager in August, 2009.
Now City's chief executive has to prove it was no fluke as the search begins for a replacement.
Lambert's departure has prompted the inevitable frenzy of speculation as to who will fill one of the hottest seats around. McNally had Lambert in place within days of Bryan Gunn leaving the club – will he be able to do the same post-Lambert?
The club always works a couple of transfer windows in advance so one assumes that as soon as McNally realised the sharks were circling on his gifted young manager he was preparing a list of possible replacements – and keeping it up to date. What City don't need is the tortuous saga that has befallen Liverpool, but, equally, it goes without saying that it is vital to get it right.
Former City Darren Eadie believes Norwich must be patient.
'Norwich are on a stable footing, they don't need to rush,' he said. 'The new manager needs a little bit of experience, but most of all he needs to be keen.
'Those kind of people seem to get the best out of the sort of players we've got at Norwich at the moment. They must be driven and want to succeed.'
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'I would go for another up-and-coming manager.
'There are a lot of people who have been around the block a few times and haven't succeeded.''
So who's in the running?
There will be the usual suspects – the bookies have Steve Bruce as second favourite, with Alan Curbishley, who has been on the 'next Norwich manager' list on numerous occasions over the years, not far behind. Mick McCarthy and Alex McLeish – the man whose job at Villa Lambert now looks set to take –get honourable mentions, but below them it quickly descends into the realms of fantasy: Andre Villas-Boas, Nigel Worthington, Roy Keane.
There's a preference for City old-boys, with Malky Mackay the hot favourite. Mackay is a popular figure among City fans, a bit of a gentle giant. Whether his experiences at Watford and Cardiff, who he took to the play-off semi-finals, is enough is a matter for debate, as is the wisdom of bringing in an 'old boy'.
Lee Clark was at City as assistant to Glenn Roeder and while the senior man's period in charge was tainted and ended in acrimony, Clark emerged with some credit. The players liked his training methods, and the only reason he is out of work now is that Huddersfield decided that a record of three defeats in 55 games but, vitally, no promotion, wasn't good enough.
Mackay is around the 2-1 mark with the bookies, Clark between 10-1 and 20-1. Right behind Mackay is Birmingham's Chris Hughton, who had been in the running to take over at West Bromwich Albion. Birmingham are clearly keen to keep hold of him, but the Blues have an uncertain financial future, with owner Carson Yeung losing an appeal against the freezing of his business accounts in Hong Kong. Several of their players are being eyed by bigger clubs and if Birmingham sell off their prized assets, Hughton may decide to move on.
Ian Holloway is mentioned in despatches after his sterling work with Blackpool, but one interesting name is that of Ian Culverhouse, who was assistant to Lambert. There is no word on his future at Carrow Road, or any of the remaining members of the management team, but the assumption is the former City player will follow in Lambert's footsteps.
Compensation will be involved in this whole process somewhere. Something should be coming City's way if Lambert puts pen to paper at Villa, but they may have to pay it out, depending on who comes in. While the quality of the manager will be uppermost in their minds, if the paying of compensation does become an issue then some are clearly more favoured than others.
McNally has experience of these things: he appointed Roy Hodgson at Fulham and was involved on the top floor at Glasgow Celtic, one of the football's biggest institutions. He knows the demands of the Premier League. When he appointed Lambert the task was to get City out of League One. It was achieved. Now he has to find a man who can keep City in the top flight and establish them as one of the country's elite.
• Selected odds:
William Hill: Chris Hughton 5/4, Malky Mackay 7/4, Steve Bruce 3/1, Lee Clark, Ian Culverhouse 10/1, Alan Curbishley, Ian Holloway, Gus Poyet, Gianfranco Zola 14/1.
Sky Bet: Mackay 11/8, Hughton 7/4, Bruce 6/1, Culverhouse 9/1, Clark, Poyet 10/1, Ian Holloway 12/1, Dougie Freedman, Karl Robinson 14/1.
Stan James: Hughton 7/4, Mackay 2/1, Bruce 6/1, Culverhouse, Curbishley 10/1, Poyet 12/1, Zola 14/1