Paul Lambert’s work cut out to replicate Norwich job at Blackburn
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | November 15, 2015
Lambert lay-off ends in Lancashire
Returning to work nine months after being axed by Aston Villa at a club under a transfer embargo, and that possessed total debts a shade under £80m at the start of 2015, can hardly be said to the easiest of jobs taken on by Paul Lambert.
Blackburn Rovers, 8/1 with Coral for a top six finish, are not the only Championship club to have been looking to make an appointment recently, with west London rivals Fulham and QPR also seeking new bosses.
Yet it is at Ewood Park – a place where the manager can only deal in free transfers and loans, so effectively with one hand tied behind his back – where Lambert has chosen to make his comeback.
Making a name at Norwich
Dire straits are something this Scottish coach even appears used to. Lambert took over a Norwich City side on its knees, playing at its lowest ebb and level for half a century after his Colchester United smashed seven past the Canaries in the opening game of the 2009/10 League One season.
From the ashes of that Essex embarrassment inflicted on a dumbfounded Carrow Road crowd came an East Anglian phoenix, powered by ex-midfielder Lambert’s daring diamond formation and the prolific Grant Holt up top.
Beating Huddersfield Town away the following March, with the Terriers unbeaten all campaign on home turf, made an incredible turnaroud in fortunes not only possible but probable. The League One title followed.
Norwich’s revival and return to the Championship took just nine months under Lambert. There was bullish talk in Norfolk of going for back-to-back promotions – a dream that became a reality when the Canaries won half of their 46 games, losing just eight.
Canaries hero and then a Villan
There was no doubting Lambert’s credentials, but could he keep Norwich in the Premier League? He could, and Villa came calling in the summer of 2012 when former Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish finished the campaign two points above relegation.
American owner Randy Lerner’s early years in the West Midlands were characterised by exorbitant spending and tilts at the top four under Martin O’Neill. Villa entertained, but ultimately came up short of fulfilling this ambition, so the cutbacks and sales thereafter had an air of inevitability about them.
Lambert was still allowed to spend some £10m on recruiting Ron Vlaar and Christian Benteke, who were individual improvements on what he inherited at either end of the field, but mid-table mediocrity continued.
Morale inside Villa Park suffered, especially when Benteke spent a lengthy spell out injured and Lambert froze striking alternative Darren Bent out of the first-team picture. Another bleak winter last mid-season cost the coach his job.
Blackburn will be a battle
Just as in his last position at Villa, Lambert takes over a team occupying 16th place, but without the room for manoeuvre and monetary means to replace key performers that have been sold.
Rovers managing director Derek Shaw has previously said the club are close to coming out of their Financial Fair Play embargo, but another big money exit is the price of that.
And Lambert will surely realise it is fellow Scotland international Jordan Rhodes that the Blackburn hierarchy have earmarked as their cash cow. There has been plenty of previous interest with the likes of Wigan Athletic, Fulham and Middlesbrough all making approaches before.
All Rhodes lead to Ewood exit?
Sheffield Wednesday are the latest team to be linked with Rhodes, and the Owls’ intention appears to be to pair him up front with Gary Hooper, who Lambert’s old team Norwich are happy to do without.
Any raid for Rhodes leaves Rovers desperately short on proven striking options at this level, leaving Lambert looking to squeeze all he can from forward players like Craig Conway, Nathan Delfouneso, Tom Lawrence and Ben Marshall.
Blackburn’s motto on the club crest reads Arte et Labore; by skill and hard work for those of us who cannot read Latin. Lambert will need to be worthy of those words if he is to avoid a similar slide to fellow Lancashire teams Blackpool and Wigan happening on his Ewood watch.
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