After guiding Norwich City to back to back promotions, manager Paul Lambert is gearing up for next week’s Premier League kick off. Norwich open the season against Wigan Athletic so the former Scotland and Celtic midfielder will spend his 42nd birthday tomorrow watching the Latics in friendly action against Villarreal
THE timer is ticking down, the heat is on. Sitting in Paul Lambert’s office is like being inside one of Delia Smith’s more spacious ovens.
An electric fan is brought in, by an attentive employee who refers to Lambert simply as “gaffer”. On the back page of the Eastern Daily News, the local staple, a box informs readers that there are only “ten days to go”. Not until Christmas, although Delia, domestic goddess cum joint majority shareholder at Norwich City, probably has that well in hand as well. It is the Premier League season which has heaved into view. Preparing for this feast is a Martin O’Neill mini me, who, at his present rate of progress, threatens to out do even his own mentor. Lambert himself still only refers to O’Neill, who he played under for five years at Celtic, as “the Gaffer”. That’s one part of his life he won’t leave behind. wholesale jerseys Mostly, though, Lambert treats the past with a ruthlessness that marks him out as someone only interested in where he can go, not where he has been.
Lambert turns 42 tomorrow. O’Neill was 43 when he took over at Norwich, and tasted England’s top division for the first time as manager. Of course, Lambert has not made the comparisons any harder to resist. We shall know him by his tracksuit, the bottoms of which are tucked inside socks, and also the spectacles, which, he points out, are not an affectation. “I wear glasses because I need them,” he says, reasonably. “I need them to see long distance. That happened in League One I suddenly realised I couldn’t see the scoreboard! I thought: ‘I need to get my eyes tested’. And the tracksuit is just something I feel more comfortable in.”
Yet it is a familiar look, one fashioned by O’Neill, the man held in such high esteem by Lambert. It’s not hard to understand why there is such admiration. Aside from making Lambert his captain, he also allowed the player to skip training for the majority of his last season at Parkhead in order to attend a coaching course run by the German FA. It was a remarkably generous gesture by both O’Neill and the club, who continued to pay Lambert’s wages while the player darted back and forth to Germany, where he had once played with such success for Borussia Dortmund.
“I showed the Gaffer all the dates and the times and everything,” recalls Lambert. “He looked at it and said: ‘God you are away almost the whole season, from Sunday to Thursday’.
“The reason I went to do it was that I wanted to know how the Germans produced managers, or what they call trainers over there,” he adds. “I learned about orthopaedic stuff, about medicine and about psychology and also sports science. It wasn’t just about football.”Lambert is now reaping the benefit. Perhaps Celtic will, too, one day, although Lambert, despite the furnace like conditions in his office, still manages to sound cool on the subject of a return to Parkhead. He is, instead, looking ahead. Not that he needs those spectacles to do this. What Lambert has spent his entire summer focusing on is now staring him back in the face. Next Saturday it’s Wigan away, on day one of a Premier League adventure that seemed inconceivable just a year ago, when Norwich were new boys in the Championship. It’s why Lambert knows exactly how he will be spending his birthday this weekend. “I’ll be watching Wigan v Villarreal,” he says.
Lambert will hope to identify the weaknesses which helped Blackpool to a handsome opening day victory at the same ground last year. Where Norwich hope to avoid emulating Blackpool is by surviving more than a season in the Premier League. As with Blackpool, Norwich are popular arrivals in the top tier, where their day glo canary coloured jerseys will be an equally colourful replacement for the tangerine clad, Ian Holloway led seasiders.
Holloway was entertaining enough but his own moderate football career meant he never felt quite at home in the self styled greatest league in the world. With Lambert, there can be no denying the credentials, nor is there any doubt about where he’s from. The bottle of brown sauce on each table in the superbly appointed training academy’s canteen is something which might appal Delia, but points to Lambert’s roots in a country which continues to churn out top rated managers.
Lambert bucks a trend in that he was also a top rated player, one whose career reached a crescendo with a Champions League win, and which, significantly, did not then fall away again. Six years later he made it to a Uefa Cup final with Celtic. He might never have played in the English Premier League, but he slapped the ‘This is Anfield’ sign prior to a 2 0 victory against Liverpool en route to Seville, on a run which also accounted for Blackburn Rovers. He also spent a season and a half in the Bundesliga. Lambert has the ultimate put down. However, just don’t ask him to show you his Champions League medal, won with Dortmund, because he genuinely appears to not know where it is. Just a year earlier he’d been playing for Motherwell, under Alex McLeish.
“You can play in all the qualifiers, the early rounds, the semi final, but you don’t realise what the final is like until you are in it,” he says. “You have to win it to properly realise just what a competition it is. You can play in the earlier rounds, but to actually win it. Coming from where I came from, it was surreal. Someone said to me a few months ago that I was the first British player to win it with a foreign club, and you think . ‘my god’?”
During his 17 months in Dortmund Lambert learned enough German to be able to return nearly a decade later and take his coaching badges. The association also persuaded him to be coaxed out of Scotland retirement by Berti Vogts, who believed Lambert had German blood in him in any case due to the name. “Really, what made me go back was that I knew how hard it was being a foreigner coming to a different country, like he was,” says Lambert now. “I knew I had needed help when I went to Germany. I thought: ‘I am going to try and help him’. So I came back.”
Even though he insists he is Glasgow born and bred, there is something quite Germanic about Lambert. He deals with his emotions effectively, and is completely unwilling to wallow in nostalgia. He is not without sympathy for Bryan Gunn, his compatriot and predecessor at Norwich, and who he usurped after his own Colchester United side came to Carrow Road and inflicted a 7 1 defeat on the home team. What goes around, comes around. Lambert had once been on the end of a 7 0 thrashing from Hibs during his brief spell as Livingston manager.
Surprisingly, however, he says he has not met Gunn, whose son Angus recently left the Norwich academy to sign for Manchester City. “He was a cult figure here for what he did for the football club and rightly so,” says Lambert. “When you become a manager you are in the firing line every time. You have to try and get results. I have never met him (Gunn]. “Whether or not they needed a Glaswegian here I am not sure,” he says. “They needed some steel. They needed a bit of help, that was clear. The key is the players, it always will be. If you have good players then it makes things a lot easier for yourself. I have some disappointed ones who don’t play but as a group we have stuck together.”
Included in the discontented corner were Steven Smith and Stephen Hughes, both now very much surplus to requirements at Carrow Road. A feature of Lambert’s time in management in England is that, unlike some, he has resisted the temptation to clog up his side with Scots, or at least players he previously knew from north of the border. This was something Craig Levein did to his cost at Leicester City, likewise Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough. Going back further, Jimmy Nicholl’s Scots dominated recruitment policy at Millwall led to him being chased all the way back up to Scotland again. “I just thought the nucleus of my team needed to be, at this minute, people who know the league and know the Engish game,” he says. “That’s why I went down that road. I see more English lads playing now.
“It’s up to the players to get into the team and then do their utmost to stay in it. I don’t have any favourites really. http://www.cheapnfljerseysonsale.top/ As a group they have been brilliant.” His seven signings so far this summer have been rigidly non stellar. “They’re hungry, they have a desire, which is important for me,” Lambert says, while also scotching the rumour he had been interested in taking Michael Owen from Manchester United.
He sounds immersed in the game south of the Border. Perhaps a reason why appears on the flat screen in his office, as news of a man’s arrest for alleged internet sectarian offences against Neil Lennon flashes up. “It’s totally different here.,” says Lambert. “I don’t see myself. I love it down here. I am in the best league in the world, where the best players are. Would I ever want to go back?. No. At the minute I am happy where I am.
“I don’t see much of Scotish football, I really don’t. I keep in contact with Lenny, and I am glad he’s doing well. Other than that, I don’t miss it. I don’t miss what you call the hothouse. It’s great to walk down the street and not have someone shout at you.”
Refreshingly, Lambert has avoided becoming a professional Celt in the sense of being prepared to offer endless comment on the club. Indeed, he reveals he has only been back to watch one game at Parkhead since leaving the club in 2005. “I’ve not been back really because I never want to be one who hangs around a club,” he says. “The ones who are there now don’t want to see old players hanging around the club. No one wants comparisons. It’s a hard enough club to play for already. They take pressure every day of their lives, when they walk around the city. They can’t go out. That’s why I would never criticise an Old Firm player. I know how hard it is.”
Sometimes it feels as though Lambert’s whole career has had a fairytale aspect to it. Even when it went wrong, it went right. He walked away from Livingston after steering the side to just two wins, though managed to leave with his dignity in tact. It also gave him the chance to move south. He ended up at Wycombe Wanderers, where his recovery began. Did he feel he had become damaged goods in Scotland? “To everyone else, absolutely,” he says. “Scotland’s great for tarring you with the same brush. One person says it and then the next person says it and then it sticks.”
He was never put off to the extent that he considered walking away from management completely. He was just persuaded it was time to leave Scotland again, as he had done to great effect in 1997. “I was like: ‘let’s go and try something new again’,” he says. Keeping him rooted to his home country are four children, aged between eight and 17. They remain based in Scotland and the commute has taken a toll on Lambert, who, it was reported in one Sunday tabloid in May, has recently split from his wife, Monica. The pressures of the job can be just as intense in Norfolk as in Glasgow, even if the bucolic scene outside Lambert’s open window where mowers, green and yellow coloured John Deere ones, naturally, tend to the lush grass hints at something more peaceful.
“We are the only team in the county here,” he says. “So you are never really away from it. I know what you are saying, we are in a greenland area here, it’s secluded a wee bit. But when you are in the thick of things it is a different animal. Whether we are playing Manchester United or Tranmere Rovers tomorrow, there will still be 27,000 people there.