As we enter the closing weeks of the Premier League season, many column inches will be filled with pitches as to who should be Manager of the Season. And, for me, this season’s award should go to Norwich’s Paul Lambert…
Many will suggest that Sir Alex Ferguson should win the award; after all, he looks likely to lead a transitional Manchester United side to their 20th league title with the highest points total since Chelsea in 2004/05. Alan Pardew’s impressive work at Newcastle will not have gone unnoticed, especially if he leads the Magpies into the Champions League for the first time since the days of Sir Bobby Robson. Brendan Rodgers is also a contender for the award with Swansea, who have had the media and football fans alike in awe with their skilful passing game.
However, it is the Scot – Lambert – who has impressed me the most and has outshone in his quiet unassuming fashion. The best thing Lambert probably ever did was to hammer Norwich 7-1 as Colchester boss way back on that infamous opening day of the League One season in August 2009. Eight short months later he was leading the Canaries to the League One title and into the Championship – and after a brief sojourn – Norwich were promoted to the Premier League in April 2011 after a six year absence. The ex-Celtic midfielder had just achieved back-to-back promotions with the Canaries, the first side to complete such a feat since Manchester City in 1999-2000.
Much like Lambert himself, his Norwich side have avoided much of the limelight this season – which has been hogged by the other two promoted sides – and have gone about establishing themselves in the Premier League. The squad which has been put together on a very small budget includes many players who have not even made a single solitary appearance in the top-flight before this season. On Easter Monday, Lambert masterminded a 2-1 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane in impressive fashion. All eleven players that took to the field on that afternoon had been born in England, the first time a start XI included 11 English born players since Aston Villa took on Coventry in February 1999.
The Canaries look set to finish the season in the top-half of the Premier League; currently lying 10th level on points with Fulham and are just three points behind Liverpool. The first season in the top-flight is all about survival and it is safe to safe Lambert has delivered that in a few simple ways – rotating his squad to good effect, tactically he’s been very astute, having played a wide range of formations, even changing them in game and finally, the benefit of having a proven goalscorer in Grant Holt and other players chipping in with goals – to make Norwich the 7th highest scorers in the Premier League this season. One blot on the copybook of Lambert would have to be the lack of defensive solidity with only two clean sheets in 33 games conceding on average 1.58 goals per game. Nonetheless, Lambert boasts the best win ratio of any manager in Norwich’s history.
Having won Manager of the Year for consecutive seasons in League One and the Championship, can Lambert complete the hat-trick by winning Premier League Manager of the Year also? It would be a fantastic achievement if he did, capping off a magnificent three seasons as Norwich manager.