‘Paul Lambert new contract’ not the most popular four words amongst Villa supporters at the moment. MOMS aspiring sports legal eagle Matt Rogers looks at the situation round the proposed new contract for Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert
When Paul Lambert arrived in the summer of 2012 he faced an unenviable task. He had to trim the wage bill and rebuild a side after it had suffered consecutive relegation battles. In short, as Lambert has since stated time and time again, the club would be undergoing a ‘long-term project’.
Surely there must be short-term goals within such a plan though? And fighting relegation should not be one of them. At what point will the project be termed a success or failure? So a new project can be initiated to improve things.
After over 18 months into his job, sections of the supporters are already beginning to doubt Lambert’s ability to make it work before his second season is finished, so why have reported contract negotiations started now with Premier League safety not even a certainty?
One reason may lie in the terms of Lambert’s contract, which could include a clause giving the manager an option to negotiate his contract after a certain duration of time.
Alternatively, Lerner may have wished to open contract talks to maintain stability in the club and give his manager and the team confidence, which is welcomed given the managerial changes at the club in the last three years and those of other Premier League clubs, most notably Fulham and Swansea, in recent weeks.
Off the pitch, Villa are balancing the books but are still 6th in the Premier League Net Spend table over the past five seasons. The naivety and rashness shown at the start of Lerner’s reign has now become a more measured approach of investing in youth and maintaining a workable model in a similar mold to that seen at Arsenal and Tottenham, albeit on a lower scale. As of yet, however, there is no evidence to suggest that this approach is working on the pitch.
Let him wait
Obviously the logical choice is to offer him the new contract at the end of the season, when the situation can be reviewed with clear heads and on firmer ground.
If Lambert was to agree a contract extension before the end of this season and Villa are relegated this could cause a major rift between the supporters and the board. Even Lambert’s most loyal advocates will have to admit a managerial change is necessary and it would be difficult to see any other option for Villa chairman Randy Lerner.
A compensation package would be due, much larger than if his original contract was terminated which would have a year left to run as of this summer. With the efforts Villa have put into balancing the books it would be a major step backwards to have to pay off another manager especially after the departures of Alex McLeish, Gerard Houllier and Martin O’Neill cost the club £18m in compensation.
An alternative to a contract extension would be to let Lambert’s contract run down until it expires in August 2015 and then reassess the situation. If performance related targets for the 2014/2015 season are achieved this would justify a contract extension. Simple targets could include attaining a certain amount of points or finishing in the top-half of the table.
Martin O’Neill was allegedly always on a one-year rolling contract at Villa, which when analysed, has both advantages and disadvantages for both a club and a manager.
If the club is making progress, the manager will look to stay on another year, but there is a risk that other clubs may wish to poach him without paying hefty compensation. On the other hand, if the club are not making progress in line with the board’s satisfaction and the manager is not achieving set targets, the club are able to relieve him of his duties with a pay-off likely to be smaller than that of terminating a fixed-term contract.
It would appear, however, Martin O’Neill was a special case. Whilst at Villa he admitted to not having an agent, negotiating the contract himself with his lawyer looking over his contract. In today’s game the agent is an integral part to getting the best deal for himself and his client, the manager. With the long-term vision in place at Villa, it is likely Lambert would want assurances he’s going to be a central figure of the project in the long-term.
How long for Lambert?
If Villa take the route of a conventional extension it’s unlikely to be as long as Alan Pardew’s at Newcastle, yet many Villa supporters will question whether he deserves a contract extension of any length until he proves the club are heading in the right direction.
If Lambert is to be rewarded with a contract extension, subject to Villa’s survival, the duration will be most significant. With just under 18 months left on his current deal, a contract extension of two years would be most likely.
Looking ahead, Lambert’s third season was always going to be a defining year. The wage bill would have finally been trimmed with the last of the bomb squad detonated, and in theory Lambert would have money to spend in the summer to supplement his young side with some key quality additions.
First and foremost a creative midfielder is vital to Villa’s progression. After missing out on such a target in two transfer windows now, this will now be a priority this summer and the pressure will be on the Villa board and Lambert to deliver. Getting the right players in during the summer, would certainly go a long way to sway favour back on his side.
When it comes to the question of ambition, it’s very simple, good signings will be seen as a statement of intent. For which, Villa fans have always preferred actions rather than words
At the moment, off the field, Lambert will be seen as a success in the board room, as next year’s balance sheets will show. Maybe the understanding for the rebuilding program was loosely – ‘just avoid relegation in the first two years, then we can kick-on’?
Villa face a tough March and depending on the results, could find themselves in a red alert relegation territory during April, when they go toe-to-toe with their lower league rivals.
Contract negotiations can take a long time to finalise and there’s no doubt that recent question marks over Villa’s potential league status next season, has added to that. It would be surprising if there is an official announcement before the end of the season.
Imagine if Villa lose in the upcoming game at home to Norwich City. Offering a new contract anytime soon after that would potentially lead to a more intensified unrest amongst supporters; the opposite to the stability a new contract is meant to bring.
There’s no rush. Lerner, Faulkner and Lambert have plenty of time to reassess the situation when a clearer picture of Villa’s Premier League status for the 2014/2015 season has formed.
For the board to offer a contract any time before that, could be seen as a potentially disastrous decision. One which many supporters may believe wouldn’t be the first under the current regime.
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