13 April ~ While managers from clubs at the top of the Premier League hog the headlines, the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez have also drawn media attention through their approach to the way the game is played. Norwich's Paul Lambert, however, has remained in their shadow. Partly this is due to Lambert's more pragmatic approach to the way his team plays, but it also has something to do with temperament, his slightly diffident manner and hesitant delivery in post-match interviews.
The early stages of Lambert's playing career were unremarkable, give or take a Scottish Cup victory as a 17-year-old with St Mirren and a place in Motherwell's most successful side for 60 years. But a recurring theme in his career has been a willingness to sacrifice the comfort of the familiar for a fresh challenge. With no new contract on offer from Motherwell, he decided to look to Europe for his next move.
His onfield success at Borussia Dortmund is well known. He won the Champions League in 1997, making a goal and playing Zinedine Zidane out of the game in what some saw as man of the match performance. But focusing only on that game underplays the significance of a time in his development as a player and subsequently as a manager.
Lambert describes his move to Germany as the best thing he ever did, if for no other reason than it brought him into contact with Ottmar Hitzfeld. Former Scotland manager Craig Brown says the experience made Lambert in terms of his "game appreciation", tactical awareness and discipline. For Lambert himself, it was Hitzfeld's approach to managing his playing staff that was influential.
He completed his playing career with a move back to Scotland and had a highly successful spell with Celtic, where Martin O'Neill, another important influence, was manager. During that time his willingness to take on a challenge was demonstrated by the eight months he spent travelling back and forth to Germany to take the UEFA Pro Licence, a course conducted entirely in German. Lambert believes the breadth of approach adopted on the course and the different managerial philosophy was hugely beneficial to his development.
His first venture into management, with Livingston, was a struggle and he accepted in a Scotsman interview that it had made him "damaged goods" in the eyes of some people. Spells at Wycombe and Colchester brought some success, but also gave further insight into the man. His willingness to move on at a time of his own choosing shows up again. He left Wycombe following defeat in a play-off semi-final and moved from Colchester to Norwich in the first week of a new season.
Ever the pragmatist on the pitch, Lambert has been singleminded as he has sought to change Norwich's reputation for cosiness, or, as he put it, for attracting players who want a "nice lifestyle". He has captured his agenda for change in a simple sentence: "I don't think we can afford to be just a nice team and a nice club."
Perhaps Lambert the manager is neatly summed up by what he sees as the best piece of advice Martin O'Neill has given him: "Just win and get the players running for you." The emphasis on success, the desire to get the best out of his players and the economy of words captures the Lambert philosophy perfectly. Brian Simpson