24 July ~ Paul Lambert may have led Norwich back to the Premier League after two successive promotions but that has not spared him from criticism over the summer. The discontent is rooted in a transfer policy of buying “young and hungry” players. Lambert’s time at the club has been punctuated by shrewd acquisitions – notably of striker Grant Holt from Shrewsbury and Peterborough full-back Russell Martin – but his most recent signings are causing frustration in Norfolk. After all, you do get £50 million for going up, don’t you?
The grumblings, perhaps in part caused by the persistent linking of fellow new-boys QPR with Premier League nomad Peter Crouch, illustrate a wider issue – whether newly promoted sides need to recruit “Premier League experience” in order to survive. After all, the Blackpool team that nearly beat Manchester United back in January was hardly steeped in a wealth of top-flight nous. But having laughed off a reported interest in Miroslav Klose, the biggest problem now facing Lambert is placating fans that believe that he is preparing a squad with imminent relegation in mind.
Alongside the 29-year-old Millwall striker Steve Morison, little-known wingers Elliot Bennett and Anthony Pilkington and Leeds midfielder Bradley Johnson, Lambert’s only purchase with Premier League experience is the injury-prone James Vaughan. The squad has been bolstered by the loan signings of perpetual Old Trafford reserve Richie De Laet and Tottenham's serial loanee Kyle Naughton but the trio have amassed no more than 50 Premier League starts between them in ten-odd years.
Yet last summer fans were complaining that Norwich didn’t have a squad capable of sustaining a Championship play-off push. Admittedly, the Premier League is a vastly different level, but why destabilise a side that has proved its resilience?
Norwich’s recent history provides part of the answer. A club that has been hurtling between divisions in recent years can hardly be expected to splash out on unknown quantities. And with such a high premium now placed on the British talent that Lambert would clearly like to sign, the merits of buying players from lower levels and integrating them into a successful system are obvious.
It will take at least two years of stability in the top flight before Norwich could compete with the likes of Wolves in the transfer market. With such budgetary constraints in place, the chances of signing even a Jonathan Greening or Jason Roberts are reduced significantly. Josh Clarke