Why Paul Lambert was right not to join in deadline day dramas
Act in haste, repent in leisure could be a fitting epitaph for many a managerial brush with the transfer deadline day.
Paul Lambert wanted no part of the madness so loved by fans and Sky Sports reporters up and down the land on the final day of the August window. The Scot adopted a counter purchasing policy to many of his Premier League contemporaries.
Swift off the mark once promotion had been assured with many of the key players elsewhere in the industry gearing up for their holidays. First James Vaughan, then Steve Morison and finally Elliott Bennett before mid-June had arrived.
Bradley Johnson headed south from Leeds once his contract expired at Elland Road at the start of July. Anthony Pilkington traversed the same strip of motorway from West Yorkshire less than a week later. Sir Alex Ferguson had already let Ritchie De Laet out to play on a season-long loan by this stage. Lambert had six of his new men in the building before the pre-season shuttle runs moved into meaningful gear. Plenty of time to integrate before the serious business of punching above their collective Premier League weight began in earnest.
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Kyle Naughton arrived from Tottenham under similar terms of reference to De Laet. Dani Ayala's move from Liverpool was a surprise as much for his identity as the timing – coming three days after City's opening league draw at Wigan.
Central defensive injuries and John Ruddy's pending suspension for the West Brom game on September 11 raised the prospect of a realistic, if unplanned, late foray. But that is not in Lambert's nature. The attacking adventure which so characterises his footballing philosophy fuses an inherent caution and measured approach to the work of reconstructing a club languishing in League One when he arrived.
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Rest assured City's hierarchy will have done the rounds on deadline day. Perhaps even made a few phone calls. Lambert chose not to dabble, but you sense the Canaries would have been ready should the right opportunity have presented itself. Lambert's success and that of Norwich under his stewardship has been founded on a longer-term strategic vision. Talk of seven-year plans in the boardroom interspersed with Lambert's desire to build a young squad capable of collective growth on the pitch.
City's relative inactivity in the closing hours, minutes and seconds – as the self-proclaimed 'home of football' broadcaster constantly reminded us – should not disguise Lambert's proactive summer spend.
The Norwich boss is meticulous in his player recruitment drives. Ability on the ball is but one factor; as is 'hunger'. Reprise any of the player unveilings during this recently-closed transfer window or before that and you detect a common theme. They have to be the right characters. They have to fit into the group. The dressing room dynamic. Lambert doesn't do high maintenance footballers. Which means homework. And plenty of it. Which is why you will never see helicopters waiting on standby to ferry prospective new clients to Carrow Road or Colney for the finishing touches on a breathless late deal – a scenario reportedly the case with one of City's Premier League rivals on Wednesday chasing a prospective target in talks elsewhere hundreds of miles distant.
Nor should Norwich fans dwell on comparisons with the over-active approach adopted by fellow new boys QPR. Neil Warnock brought in proven Premier League performers like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand alongside the freshly-acquired midfield enigma that is Joey Barton.
However, Warnock had little choice but to bulk buy given the protracted and unsettling takeover by F1 team boss Tony Fernandes which cast a destabilising shadow over his attempts to bolster Rangers' squad during the summer. Warnock, unlike Lambert, now has little time to integrate so many fresh faces into a cohesive unit. No getting to know you sessions on German pre-season training camps. No opportunities to bond, to enhance an already solid team spirit.
Swansea counterpart Brendan Rodgers dipped into the continental market for two deadline day signings from Austria and France. Another imponderable to factor into a manager's buying policy.
No, Lambert was right to remain cautious. Deadline days past are littered with the highest profile examples of marquee signings which can turn sour. Robinho to Manchester City. Torres to Chelsea. Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United. Players with wonderful pedigrees who swept into the biggest clubs in the land in the early hours – in the case of the Spaniard and the Bulgarian they remain talent largely unfulfilled at their latest employers. City operate in substantially less rarefied corners of the transfer market, but the basic premise holds true. Deadline day favours the gamble rather than the sure-fire bet. No sign of any late forays from Sir Alex Ferguson this time around.
Consider one further point which tends to go unnoticed amidst the television graphics and the late night fan collectives outside stadiums and training grounds. City brought no-one in, but no-one left without Lambert's blessing. The departed trio of Stephen Hughes, Cody McDonald and Anthony McNamee were clearly destined for pastures new. Norwich's manager retained his frontline troops, the ones you build a team, a dressing room around. City's squad remains at this embryonic stage a largely untapped resource at the highest level. How many outside Norfolk fully realise the true value of a Wes Hoolahan or a Grant Holt? Lose that type of player and survival becomes much harder – particularly when there is no time to replace them. Does anyone seriously think David Moyes wanted to see the back of Mikel Arteta? Or wonder why Ian Holloway fought so tigerishly to retain Charlie Adam's services in the January version of the transfer window for an ultimately doomed relegation battle.
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce was one of the perceived 'winners' on the latest deadline day after cutting deals which included season-long stays for ex-Norwich loanees Henri Lansbury and David Bentley. But read his thoughts on the stresses and strains from a managerial perspective and you understand what a difficult situation Lambert and Co must face.
'Managers in my position dread the final few days of the transfer window. It is the fear of losing one of your best players, and losing them so late in the day that it becomes difficult to find a replacement. But I see it (the window) as a fact of life. It makes the job harder, but you have to deal with it, buy well and avoid a panic buy that becomes a sacking buy. '
Lambert has no fears on that score. The next few months may just underline how right he was to resist the temptation for late inward investment. Until it starts all over again in January.