‘Super model’ manager arrives at Villa Park
When my ex girlfriend told me she was seeing someone else I felt like I’d been kicked square in the gonads. We’d had good times, great times even, but none of that mattered anymore. She’d waltzed off into the arms of someone else, someone who probably had a bigger wage packet and a flasher mode of transport than my humble bus pass. The past was gone and the bitterness and resentment I felt massively outweighed it all. With that in mind I can sympathise with Norwich fans.
Losing Paul Lambert will be feeling like the end of a good relationship. After all, the Scot had steered Norwich to back to back promotions and has just finished their first season back in the Premier League comfortably in midtable. They did, to all intents and purposes, have a good relationship. But while Norwich will be reeling, all Villa fans will be grinning like the hunk who has just bagged a supermodel having spent a year unwittingly punching well below their weight.
The feel good factor is back at Villa Park and the sale of 2,000 season tickets on the day Lambert’s appointment was announced is testament to this. A few weeks back I talked about the merits of Lambert’s tactical nous and it’s something I’m excited to see him implement in the coming season. Last term Lambert started matches with seven different formations, looking at the oppositions strengths and deficiencies and setting his team out accordingly to combat these. An understanding of the game which extends further than the McLeish mentality of ‘they’re a good team so we’ll need to play six defenders’.
For all the talk of Paul Lambert making a sideways or downward move, the appointment made sense from both his and Villa’s perspective. Norwich may have finished above Villa last season but outside of the Champions League teams it remains one of the best jobs in the country. There’s a saying about swallows and summers that springs to mind. If Lambert has designs on taking one of those elite jobs in the future, and let’s face it his track record certainly points to an unrelenting ambition, a good spell at B6 could put him in the thoughts of the top chairmen.
One thing in the new man’s favour is the fact it won’t be a difficult task to improve on his predecessors tenure. Last season’s performances and points tally belied a squad, that while lacking in depth, still has a spine of experienced and able Premier League players. Player for player even Delia Smith would be at odds to suggest Norwich were the better outfit.
The difference is that while the Canaries had a manager who was able to get his players performing above themselves, our previous manager managed to create an ethos of introversion (on the pitch at least, Gatecrasher gate is something of an exception). All Lambert really needs to do is get the players playing to something like their normal standards and we will undoubtedly improve. Plus he has that most coveted of qualities in a Villa manager – he isn’t Alex McLeish.
With a better starting base, funds available, and a higher profile this is the perfect job for a young manager to carve out a name for himself. After last year’s disappointment the fans will be patient with the new manager, he has one of the league’s most prolific goalscorers at his disposal and the board surely realise the importance of backing him financially. Mistakes have been made at the club over the past few years and Lambert stands to be a major beneficiary of this. In turn the club as a whole will benefit.
One task which will need to be addressed immediately is the team’s vulnerability from set pieces but we seem to have appointed the right man for that job given the stats. A full 47 per cent of the goals Villa conceded last season came from dead balls, the highest in the league. Conversely Norwich conceded only 17 per cent of goals from set pieces, the lowest in the league – again pointing to an in depth tactical knowledge and level of organisation the new man will be bringing with him. You can make your own cliché about the ruthless efficiency of a manager who studied and played in Germany.
Fans expecting us to start playing tiki-taka next season are likely to be disappointed, our tactics are likely to be varied and while entertainment-wise it will undoubtedly be an improvement, occasionally that won’t be so easy on the eye. The important thing is the fact that the football is likely to be changed to suit the needs of a particular match, be it personnel or formations.
We are about to embark on a new era and Lambert’s understanding of the game leaves me with no doubt that we will be troubling the top half of the table in ten months’ time. He is what we all want in a manager, a man who understands tactics, a student of the game, above all – a footballing man.
Norwich will move on and ironically it is now Birmingham City fans that will be feeling like jilted lovers. The second pre-season in a row in which an Aston Villa managerial appointment has left Blues managerless. Even after the worst season in our Premier League history we remain far and away the region’s top dogs, so much so that when Paul Lambert fancied a step up, Chris Hughton saw the vacated Norwich post as an equally big draw. I bet the Blues fans will be even more envious of that hunk down the road now.