Of all the young and vibrant managers that Villa were looking at, it’s difficult to pick a better young manager that seemingly could sync in so well with the club. In many respects, Paul Lambert is a polar opposite in that respect, compared to the last Villa managerial appointment.
Ron Saunders omen
For starters, a certain Ron Saunders managed Norwich at a similar age to Lambert, before making his name at Villa Park. This point is more for the superstitious, but still, it’s a great omen.
Has played under Alex McLeish
Lambert played under McLeish at Motherwell between 1994 and 1996 . It was McLeish’s first job in management, with Lambert arriving at Motherwell a year earlier having played for seven-years at St. Mirren. This will give Lambert a degree of insight and understanding into what the Villa player’s experiences were last season. In the short-term, in terms of the club making the transition from last season to the new one, this will actually be useful experience.
A European Cup Winner like the Villa
After playing under McLeish at Motherwell, he spent a very successful season at Borussia Dortmund in 1996-97, where his sterling performance in as a defensive midfielder, first against Manchester United in the semi-final, then man-making Zidane against Juventus in the final, saw Lambert pick up a Champion’s League Medal with the club.
For the sentimental and traditionalists, it’s a good fit to have a manager who like the club have lifted European club football’s top honour. If nothing else, it means he can think without limitations in terms of potential success. Plus, if/when Villa qualify for European football again, it won’t be alien territory.
The Martin O’Neil Connection
After Lambert won his European medal, he signed for Celtic, immediately helping them to stop Ranger’s run of nine consecutive SPL titles. It was there where he would later have five years working under Martin O’Neil, whom he still calls ‘gaffer’ to this day.
“It was an incredible learning experience under him during those five years at Celtic,” Lambert told Football Focus in April. “I hear the comparisons, and if I could just have a smudge of his success, I’ll be doing alright.”
The comparison with O’Neil has been a popular one, and not just lazy journalism, when you consider that Villa is the fourth club the two men have in common. As well as their Celtic connection, they both managed Wycombe Wanderers in the early stages of their management career and O’Neil also had a brief stint as Norwich manager before he swiftly moved to Leicester.
With the two on friendly terms, it’s pretty certain that Lambert would have at least called O’Neil to rule the roost over the club, and in particular Paul Faulkner and Randy Lerner. So add to that, Lambert’s experience under McLeish, and there’s no manager that could have taken the Villa job with better insight into the club.
More than MON mk II
On top of the fact Lambert’s cites MON as a mentor in management and their similar career paths, there’s also the physical resemblances with their active touch-line management style. With the comparison added to with their glasses and mutual penchant for wearing polo shirts under jumpers!
Whereas it could be argued that MON was a little one-dimensional tactically at times and a buy-British mentality may have enhanced this, Lambert who has a similar single-mindedness, brings a different mindset though. Having worked under German managerial great Ottmar Hitzfeld, who managed Lambert at his successful season at Borussia Dortmund, Lambert actually did his coaching badges in Germany. His appreciation of a different European approach and the value of foreign players to the domestic game can only help at Villa Park.
Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov was in the same Celtic team with Paul Lambert for the best part of six years, so hopefully Lambert’s appointment would have brought a smile to Stan’s face and lifted his spirits. The Villa & Celtic connection is almost getting to the level of family with the increasing links over recent years. At the end of the season, Lambert’s Celtic links with Celtic manager Neil Lennon (also a Celtic teammate of Petrov’s), resulted in a preseason friendly between Norwich and Celtic. With both Villa and Celtics supporters desiring a tribute game or two between the two teams, it seems to be an increasing reality (better to have an ex-Celtic legend than an ex-Rangers boss for this!). It’s hard to imagine when it comes to next preseason, that the game wouldn’t be the first one to be locked in, all being well with Stan.
So for Paul Lambert, on paper at least, it all looks good. It’s still going to be a tough job, but you get the feeling Lambert didn’t take the job just to have Villa finish mid-table.
We wish him the best of luck.