Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lambert engineers Norwich City's Premiership promotion

How much credit a manager can take for a club's results finds its definition with Norwich City boss Paul Lambert. Yesterday, his Canaries defeated Portsmouth 1-0 away to clinch promotion to the Premiership. In doing so, they secured their second successive promotion, the first time such a feat has occurred since the Premiership's bourgeousie nouveau riche Manchester City did so in 2000.

Although the former Scotland international, now regarded as English management's brightest of bright young things, won the European Cup as a player with Borussia Dortmund and had a storied career at Celtic, he is best known south of the border now for his exploits in East Anglia having helmed the club to it's highest point in eight years after joining while at it's nadir.

He took the reins after the first week of the 2009-10 League One season, a season which saw Norwich City in the third tier for the first time in forty-nine years and after a match which saw Norwich thumped 1-7 before their own fans at Carrow Road by Colchester United. Lambert managed Colchester that day and was appointed to succeed Bryan Gunn, who fell on his sword after the heaviest defeat in Canary history. His first task was to stem the haemmorhage and then focus on promotion.

Rather than subscribe to dour play, he utilised a 4-4-2 Diamond formation based around the attacking play of Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan. While the season started slowly - in late September they sat in fourteenth position with only two wins and four draws from nine - the Canaries suddenly began a rampage with sixteen wins and two draws from nineteen matches, planting them firmly atop the League One table. They ended the season nine points clear of Leeds United as Champions, with a goal difference 10% greater to their nearest rival's. For the last twenty rounds of the season, Norwich had occupied first position.

This year in the Championship, they've been no less spectacular. They again lead the league in Goals scored (six more than nearest rivals Cardiff) and, should the FA decide to impose a points sanction on QPR for signing Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin from a third party, they may end the season as Champions again. Canadian Simeon Jackson's late-season form surge helped Holt secure the goals that led to vital wins time and again, while the Canaries are a much fitter outfit and more financially stable. What cash crises have plagued them in the past should, with adept fiscal management, be things of the past.

Norwich City's achievements are so heartwarming because their initial expectations for the season consisted of no more than staying up. Now, like Blackpool before them, they will take on perhaps Europe's most intense league. They'll do so boasting a squad with a combined total of 38 games of Premiership experience and only 26 EPL starts. Twenty of those starts belong to three defenders Rob Edwards, Elliot War and Leon Barnett. Several of their number, including their captain Holt, begun their careers in non-league football. For them to gel so wonderfully for one man pays homage to his motivation and tactics.

For years, pundits asked of success if it's the players, the coaches, or even the shoes. There's no doubt that a upgrade in manager - or even just a change of tune - can make a serious difference to a club's performance: Inter Milan crept up the table when Rafael Benítez was displaced with little player turnover. This isn't to say that Benítez is a bad manager - a Champions' League title says he's not - but that he either assessed the situation poorly or wasn't able to win over the dressing room with his motivational or tactical style. Where Rafa failed with big club, Lambert has succeeded in spades with a smaller one. With only moderate financial backing, he has orchestrated one of the key feats of this nascent footballing decade.

For that he should be congratulated.

Photo courtesy: www.guardian.co.uk

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