So a hearty welcome to new Villa manager Paul Lambert, after we finally got to see him face the cameras this week when he proved inscrutable enough not to make too many promises, he is likely to be reminded of later. He is definitely the safe choice and his appointment is indicative that Villa are sticking with their rather modest plans for the next few years.
It was the fans’ pragmatic acknowledgement of this reality which is probably why he was their first choice, and although there would be many who yearned for the rather more exotic promise of an AVB, or such like, they would have set such dreams aside in their realisation that Villa are not travelling first-class these days, and a candidate more used to cutting his cloth to suit a meagre budget, was the better choice.
Its a good appointment for the club because it gives the fans exactly what they asked for and no more. The fans made it clear that the only thing they objected to last season, was not the precarious state of the squad or the lack of obvious ambition, but just the style of football. And Lambert is meant to remedy that, thus all the talk about exciting the fans.
Its a brilliant job for him too and what with Villa setting their standards so low last year, and he being the fans’ choice, it would seem that the he cannot really go wrong. To blame him would suggest that the fans got it entirely wrong and should carry the can, and that is not going to happen.
Paul Lambert might not be gifted with the level of finance which enabled Martin O’Neill to enjoy Villa’s close encounter with glory but he will get the time denied Houllier and the sympathy denied McLeish. With three managers to pick from when it comes to taking the blame and with their own exoneration in mind, having got their choice, Villa’s new guy couldn’t really be in a better position.
He certainly would not need reminding that George Burley was manager of the season, after finishing 5th in the Premiership, and then was relegated the next, finishing bottom. He was sacked a year after his finest hour.
It would certainly have been difficult to repeat the same kind of gravity-defying finish again, under Norwich’s financial constraints, and it would seem likely that he would have felt it was time to move on, while his stock was at its highest. No doubt several Norwich players will have the same ambition.
These days, when it comes to managers, I am of the opinion that its very much the case of managers schmanagers, and that ultimately its the money that counts. The days when the likes of Alf Ramsey or Brian Clough could win a league title the season after being promoted are long gone and glory on a shoe-string is not on either. I have confidence that Paul Lambert can do a decent job for Villa within the narrow constraints of the club’s present finances.
But no matter how happy the fans are or how confident they feel, it would seem that that confidence is not shared by Villa’s owner and a three year contract, hardly seems to suggest they have overwhelming confidence in their appointment. And presumably their investment in the team will be equally tentative.
Three years is a pretty tight timetable to transform the present squad into something capable of more than survival. He has to produce a decent team by season two, at which point they will decide to negotiate an extension or not. For Lambert to achieve that would require rather better luck, than Villa have enjoyed for a few years since.
Such a short contract has financial implications too, as any players he signs will also be expected to have short contracts, which means their amortisation (writing down the transfer-fee) is squeezed into a few years, which is not great for the look of the books. Amortisation spread over more years makes quite a difference. For instance at Spurs, they signed Modric on a six-year deal, which proved astute when they were trying to keep him and spread his £16.5 fee over six years. Villa are not quite that bold or brave these days.
Worst news still, is that short-term contracts are usually preferred by clubs who see relegation as a real risk and plan around the contingency of contracts running out within the time frame of the period covered by the parachute payments This is what they do at the Albion.
So I see Villa proceeding with extreme caution and either signing Bosmans or older players who would not be put off by being offered a three-year contract. This would certainly justify the speculation about Grant Holt, who would seem to fulfil the criteria. So I expect the arrival of the new Sammy Morgan, rather than the new Messi.
When Paul Faulkner tells us that they are looking for ‘smart’ signings, it screams of euphemism and the fact that he said players would be sold, suggests a sell to buy policy. This does not represent a thrilling prospect.
Obviously, Faulkner weighs his words with the precision of a politician, and we have to decide what he means by ‘smart’. Does he mean quick? Or, does he mean clever, as in bargain?
The worst thing about Lambert’s appointment is the fact that any cheque Randy Lerner might hand to Norwich, by way of compensation, looks destined to end up in a Birmingham City bank account, as compensation for Norwich’s appointment of Chris Hughton. If the rumours are correct that Grant Holt is
destined for Villa and Curtis Davies will follow Hughton to Norwich, then that means the Holt fee will be used to pay for Davies, which puts more Villa money Birmingham’s way. In fact it is beginning to look like it is only Villa money which is keeping City going these days.
Anyway, I am sure we can all live with that and just be happy that Villa got their man. It is probably just as much a measure of how miserable they were last season, as it is a measure of their respect, nay faith, in Paul Lambert, that Villa fans are exhibiting the sort of mad optimism, not seen for years. I would go so far as to say that there are Villa fans wondering the streets and accosting any stranger likely to listen, who seem totally loved-up over their new manager, which is just a bit scary.
I just hope that Randy and Paul, are ready to justify this optimism because if they don’t, there are going to be tears.
But until then, some members of Villa’s barmy army will be singing in the rain:
Keep the faith!