Did Lambert Bring Success or Did McNally?
Now the dust has settled following Paul Lambert`s clumsy exit and the club`s swift, polished replacement in the summer, it very much seems as though it`s business as usual at Carrow Road.
In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking nothing has changed. It makes you wonder how much influence Paul Lambert actually had on the 'best turnaround in football`, as he so put it in his post-season speech. Is this unfair? Let me explain.
The recipe for success since August 2009 has been the product of a contribution of a number of elements. Some of which Lambert and his coaching staff have influenced, some of which they perhaps didn`t.
1) An attacking, positive mentality
In his first game in charge, Lambert set his stall out. A 5-2 win over Wycombe had the promise of open football and the team didn`t disappoint in that League One season. In fact, in all of Lambert`s 3 seasons in charge he played expansive football and never once sat back… and it worked.
2) Positive, early changes
Our last successful manager Nigel Worthington, was a different kettle of fish entirely. Worthy would look to keep a clean sheet first, and only attack if absolutely necessary. What he also did way too often was 'wait and see`. Early on in the 04/05 season it was clear to most fans what was wrong - the midfield needed more creativity, and we needed a big target man. However, Worthy didn`t change this until it was too late, leading to relegation. Lambert has only picked the same starting XI on very rare occasions, and would always change things if it wasn`t working. His use of impact substitutions was also excellent.
3) Young, hungry players
The transfer policy since Bryan Gunn left has been very transparent. Young, hungry (mostly British) players with a point to prove such as Pilkington, Marc Tierney, Ryan and Elliott Bennett are just a few examples of which there are many. Mostly it has been young, hungry players in the final years of their contracts or available quite cheaply too.
We all thought it was Lambert making these decisions, but who was actually pulling the strings? Who told Grant Holt he was 'too old` for a 3 year deal, who is presiding over every transfer, every contract at the club? Who has ROI tattooed on his chest? Step forward David McNally.
Since Hughton joined, we have signed Robert Snodgrass (young, hungry and cheap), Jacob Butterfield (ditto), Steven Whittaker (free), Michael Turner (not so young but a point to prove, and very cheap). You could be forgiven for thinking Lambert was still signing our players.
Contrast this to who Paul Lambert has signed at Aston Villa. Matt Lowton aside, Villa have signed 27 year-old Moroccan Karim El Ahmadi, 28 year-old Australian Brett Holman and most recently 27 year-old Dutch defender Ron Vlaar. Are they Norwich City signings? Would Lambert have signed them if given the money? No, he wouldn`t.
It appears as though our transfer policy was not Lambert`s after all.
4) Financial stability
Over the last 3 years, wages have remained c.50% of turnover, whilst revenue has grown dramatically. Alan Bowkett and David McNally have committed to pay off the debt if we are still in the Premier League next season, and have been very single-minded in their approach. This has helped the club thrive as there has been less attention on the financial situation, which can be a distraction. Just ask Leeds United fans.
5) Togetherness on the pitch
The togetherness over the last 3 years has been obvious. The players are fighting for each other. There`s been no in-game bust ups, lots of banter on Twitter and you get the feeling they are all (mostly) mates. Lambert and co can take some credit for this, but largely I feel this has been a product of our success both on and off the pitch and a siege mentality ingrained since the League One season. In a sense togetherness is the product of the other four elements.
What we do know is that Lambert kept himself apart from the players. He had a watching brief from the side-lines, leaving his team to coach. He would often come across as aloof, and would make his own way home from away games to Scotland. So some of the togetherness was due to management style, some was due to coaching, but I think most of it was due to the players themselves.
So, how much influence has Paul Lambert had on our success? I`m not going naively to argue that it was all McNally, or it was his coaching staff that did the hard work. Paul Lambert was a great manager, but he was one element of what has made this club great again. A very large part of the club's success has been due to the transfer policy and the way the club is run as a cut throat business, and it would appear that this is credit to the Suits, not the Tracksuits.
We have replaced one great manager with another great manager. With everything else remaining equal, the players have stayed, the foundations of the club are stronger than ever; there`s no reason to think we`ll do anything other than 'go again`, and improve on last year.