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The rise and fall of Paul Lambert

Thursday 8th June 2017
Once touted as a potential successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Paul Lambert's managerial career has been in decline over the last few seasons cumulating in his recent departure from Wolverhampton. 

Why has his stock fallen so much over the last few seasons and what next for the former Scottish International?

A multiple Scottish Premier League winner at Celtic, Champions League winner at Borussia Dortmund and with 40 Scottish caps, including appearances at the 1998 World Cup, Paul Lambert's playing credentials were second to none.

Having played at the very top of the game, Lambert had the experience, knowledge and personality to become a very successful Manager. His greatest asset was the coaching education that he had retrieved in Germany that gave him a tactical and cultural awareness that few British managers had at the time.

Despite an illustrious career, Lambert was prepared to learn the managerial ropes at a much lower level. Successive appointments at Livingston, Wycombe and Colchester represented a great environment for Lambert to develop his coaching abilities.

It was while at Colchester that Lambert got his first major breakthrough on the managerial ladder. After inflicting a 7-1 home defeat to Norwich City, the club's heaviest ever home defeat, the Canaries swiftly appointing him their new boss.

Almost immediately Lambert and Norwich became a perfect fit. Loved by the fans, Norwich went on a magical journey that took them from the depths of League 1 to the Premier League in just two seasons.

Playing attractive attacking football characterised by numerous late winners. Lambert's greatest achievement came in the 2011-12 season when he comfortable kept Norwich in the Premier League with a 12th place finish.
Three years of continuous success and with draws at Arsenal and Liverpool and a win at Tottenham, Lambert's profile had soared. He was even talked of becoming Sir Alex Ferguson's long awaited successor. A big move was imminent.

That move came in June 2012 when he was appointed the new boss at Aston Villa.

Another step up the ladder with one of England's biggest clubs. However, it was a move that would ultimately harm Lambert's career and one that he has never recovered from.

Lambert did not become a bad manager overnight but by joining Villa he was in many ways on a hiding to nothing. Villa was a club in terminal decline. Since the Martin O'Neil days, the club had lurched from one crisis to another. Fans were disconnected with the club, the owner wanted out and money had dried up. A concoction that had turned Villa from Champions League contenders to regulars in the relegation dogfight.

Norwich was a good fit for Lambert, Villa not so.

To be fair Lambert did manage to keep Villa in the Premier League and a succession of youngsters progressed to the first team under his guidance. In his first season, he guided Villa's to a 15th place finish, a slight improvement from the previous season. While the following season another 15th place finish was achieved as his old club Norwich was relegated.

The treading water could only happen for so long and after a dismal 2014-15 campaign Lambert was sacked for the first time in his career. A victim of a weak squad and an alienated supporter base who had questioned the signings made and the style of football, Lambert left Villa with his reputation tarnished. Although when you consider what has happened to Villa since he left it makes you realise what a decent job he did against the odds.

The Villa job had taken its toll and it took him nearly a year out of the game for Lambert to re-group and return revitalised to take on the Blackburn Rovers job.

Blackburn represented a backwards step to the Championship after four seasons at the top level. Lambert was also joining another club in crisis. Protesting fans, distant overseas owners, a lack of transfer funds and deteriorating performances on the pitch had seen Rovers struggling in the Championship since their Premier League relegation in 2011-12. After Villa, it was a case of jumping out of the pan and into the fire.

In his six months in charge, Lambert guided Rovers to a comfortable 15th with a 36% win percentage. This time he departed on his own terms after becoming increasingly frustrated with the owners. To the wider audience his time at Blackburn would have been seen as a failure but following Blackburn's relegation the following season, in hindsight, keeping Rovers up was, in fact, a commendable achievement.

Next stop for Lambert was Wolverhampton Wanderers, another Championship club, another sleeping giant, another club with a revolving door for Managers.

Replacing Walter Zenga, who himself had only held the position for three months, Lambert guided Wolves to a mid-table finish that was probably the expectation of most in Molineux. There was a Manager of the Month award in March and that famous FA Cup victory over Liverpool at Anfield.

A successful debut season maybe but it ended with Lambert again looking for a new challenge after leaving the club after just six months in charge.

What Next For Paul Lambert?

You feel Lambert's next position is critical. It has been five seasons since his peak at Norwich, which has become a distant memory in the fast moving footballing world. His choice of club will be important. One with stable ownership and a positive outlook would be important, an environment where he can control transfers, focus on coaching and shape a team. Much like he had at Norwich.

Always linked with Celtic, mainly because of his association as a player, it is unlikely that Brendan Rodgers is going anywhere soon after their recent unbeaten season. Big vacancies are available in England but Lambert must be wary of joining a Leeds or a Sunderland despite their respective appeals.
Perhaps his future lies at international level. Gordon Strachan is probably nearing the end of his tenure after four and a half years in charge. With Scotland struggling to qualify for the next World Cup and a general apathy among the Tartan Army a change could come even as soon as this Saturday should Scotland loss at home to the Auld Enemy, England.

Lambert with his track record of working with youngsters and particularly young, hungry local talent. This coupled with his vast international playing experience and the respect and influence that he still holds north of the border means the Scotland job would be a good fit for both parties.

Whether Lambert goes for club or country you feel his next appointment is critical in re-igniting his managerial career.
Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently trying to swap a career in finance with one in football writing. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I currently have a weekly column on Norwich City website - 'My Football Writer' as well as writing book reviews on 'Its Round and Its White'.

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