Since becoming Norwich manager in 2009, Paul Lambert has achieved great success with the Canaries. Having got the Canaries promoted last season as League One champions, Lambert is looking to achieve a similar feat in the Championship this year and get Norwich back in the Premier League.
As part of their partnership with the League Managers Association, Yahoo! got to speak to the Norwich manager about his time as a player and a manager and his future aspirations. Here is Paul Lambert on Norwich, possible Premier League promotion and playing abroad in an enlightening interview…
Did you envisage Norwich doing so well on their first season back in the npower Championship?
I think we had the foundation to have a decent season with the crowds and the fan base we’ve got. We had that backbone. Whether we are going to do as well as we are at the minute, we’ll have to wait and see. You can never predict what’s going to happen. I’m delighted by what has happened at the football club since we’ve been here. The rise has been pretty quick.
What’s behind the success of the campaign? Did you believe that the team’s style of football was better suited to that division?
I think League One is a very hard league to get out of in the first place. It was a very tough thing to do. The football we’re playing at the minute is very, very good. I think the npower Championship is a terrific league, and I think the difference between the Championship and League One is vast. I think one of the main things we’ve got here, as well as our ability, is a great team spirit to try and win football matches. To be fair, the fans have only helped us.
Is there a part of you concerned that, should you gain promotion again, that it might be too much, too soon?
No. I’d rather worry about that if we got up, rather than not have that worry. We’ve come a long way, but I’d rather have that worry than not, that’s for sure.
How confident are you that you will be able to keep your team together – several players have attracted attention. Do you hope to sign Henri Lansbury permanently at the end of the season?
Well, in the team there are a lot of lads under contract. Some of them have come in and others have extended their contracts, so that’s great for the club. As for Henri, I think Arsenal are the main players in that one. He’s a Barclays Premier League player. He’s at a terrific football club, and he’s learning all the time. I think we’re a long way from being able to ask Arsenal if we can take him permanently. He might have a big future at Arsenal.
Just before you came took the job at Norwich you gave them a real battering as Colchester manager (a 7-1 win at Carrow Road), and then the reverse happening when you returned to your former club (a 5-0 victory). How satisfying was that for you?
I think going to Norwich with Colchester, everyone presumed and expected Norwich to win. It was the first day of the season, and Norwich had just been relegated from the Championship to League One, where Colchester were established and knew what the league was like. I think people misread that game, and thought we were just going to turn up and get beaten. Obviously what happened then happened.
Sometimes the game can be a bit surreal. The result probably changed the fortunes of Norwich for the last couple of years. I never expected that to happen. We gave it everything we had to try and win a game of football. We knew what it was going to be like, that the fans would be right against us and – the way Norwich were going – that it would be a really tough game. But, fortunately, it turned out the way it did.
Then, with myself, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa coming here from Colchester and going back there, we knew it was going to be a bit hostile. But to do that, to win 5-0 there, was a phenomenal achievement for the lads.
How highly does that rank among results you have achieved as a manager?
I know it’s a cliche, but at the end of the day it was three points. We just went there and played really well. The lads played brilliantly, especially when the game was nearly called off due to the rain, so to put that one to bed was very satisfying for everyone at the football club.
Do you think your highly-decorated career as a player gives you more gravitas among your squad?
You are probably better off asking them that. My career is only for my memory. It’s not for me to say I’ve done X, Y and Z. I know what I’ve done, I know what I’ve won. I know the players I’ve played with, I know the clubs I’ve played with. I think if you start to spout off what you’ve done then people turn off, and it’s boring for myself saying it. That’s the way I look at it. My (playing) career is finished. It was terrific when I had it. I was fortunate to enough to play with some world class footballers and terrific sides. It was a career only for my memory, and not for anybody else.
As a player, when your contract was running down at Motherwell, were you surprised when you heard the German champions were interested in signing you? Had you had much interest from other clubs?
No nothing. I didn’t have anything. Thats why I had to go abroad. I had always fancied going abroad, and so I went over to PSV Eindhoven and trained with Dick Advocaat for a week or so and played two practice games. I played wide in a four-man midfield, and I wasn’t really a wide midfielder. I never had any real great pace. The next trial was at Borussia Dortmund, and I had four practice games there. They liked what they saw when I played in the centre of midfield on trial with them, and it all went from there. It’s an absolutely fantastic football club, the fan base is special.
You played in the 1997 Champions League final against Juventus, up against Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps, two greats of the era. What was it like playing against them, and coming out on top?
To be honest, I was never bothered that they were playing. I knew I had to look after my game, first and foremost. But I also knew that, in my own team, I was playing with people that had won World Cups and Serie A and Bundesliga titles. So, for me, the team I was playing in was as good as anybody else’s, no doubt about it. I had Andreas Moeller playing, Matthias Sammer was there, Steffen Freund, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Paulo Sousa… I had phenomenal footballers beside me. I knew that Juventus at that time were very powerful, and I knew the players that they had, but I also had the belief in my ability that I could handle being in that company.
What do you think makes the competition so special, and what does it take to win it aside from having the best team on paper?
I think you need some luck. When you play at home you try not to concede that away goal, because you know that if you can nick one away then they have to get two back. It’s the best club competition in the world, there is no doubt about it. Everybody wants to win it, and people spend millions and millions of pounds trying to do that. The prestige of it, the media attention of it, the global appeal of it is vast. You come up against some brilliant teams and brilliant footballers.
What kind of reception did you get when you joined Celtic soon afterwards as the first Scot to win the competition (under the current format)?
Not many British people – let alone Scottish people – have won it, which I am probably proud of more than anything. I think people saw it as a great achievement. I’m lucky to be in the same company as the likes of John Robertson, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, and all the Lisbon Lions. Scotland’s a small country, so for me to be in that group makes me very proud.
Several other Scottish players have gone abroad in recent years. How important is it for players to broaden their horizons, and why don’t more British players do it?
It’s OK going abroad, but I think you have to go to the right club. I think that’s vital. I was fortunate enough to walk into a place where I knew the size of the club and the fan base because I had played against them. German football was really on a high at that time. I knew the players I was going to play with, and they weren’t your run of the mill, they were world class. They were a group of winners. Anyone can go abroad and make money then decide they don’t fancy it and come back, and that’s fine, but I wanted to win things and learn a different culture and a different way of playing football.
I think British players sometimes find it hard to adjust to a certain way of living. It’s you who has to adapt to them, not the other way around. You have to learn the language, you have to eat different food… there are loads of things you have to adapt to. If you can do that, and you can find the right club, then I would recommend going abroad to anybody.
What do you consider your main strength as a manager? What do you think you have had to improve on?
I think there are loads of things. You are always learning and looking for things to benefit the team. I have a really good backroom staff with me, which really helps. They are a major part of what has happened here. Ian and Gary have been with me since Wycombe, which is the best part of six years now. They know how we work, and that is vital to me. I think you just have to pick the best players and get the best out of them.
Do you see yourself as more of a motivator more of an authoritarian?
Again, I think you would have to ask others. I think there should only ever be one voice in the place, but you can’t go over the line. You put your arm around people and try and make them feel better about themselves. That’s what I try and do.
Ultimately, what are your ambitions as a manager? Would you ever consider taking the Scotland job?
At this moment in time I think club football is what I want to do. I want to try and do as best we can with Norwich. Where that is going to take us remains to be seen. I just want to try and do everything as well as I can here until something tells me otherwise, whether that be good, bad or indifferent. I want to strive for the best that I can be.