I love that feeling in August when football is back and the season is about to kick off. There is no better time of the year for optimism and actually feeling relaxed and excited about what lies ahead. You know that there will be highs and lows, but come the end of the season, you want something that as a supporter you feel is a good finish for your team.
As this season reaches its climax some fates have already been decided and there is no starker contrast than what happened in Monday’s games to Norwich City and Cardiff City. The Welsh side have had a great season having assembled a squad that is worthy of promotion, however they choked losing to Middlesbrough, handing second place and automatic promotion to Norwich City.
What has happened at Norwich City is nothing short of remarkable this season. A team that only two seasons ago was relegated from the Championship to League One. This in itself was a big surprise, a huge club who had once lit up the Premier League in the days of Chris Sutton, Ruel Fox, and who could forget Jeremy Goss!
Some of you may not remember, but in the inaugural season of the Premier League Norwich were the standout team for the majority of the season, leading the league and only faltering in the final weeks of the season finishing third behind Aston Villa and champions Manchester United – a great achievement. The season after they were in the UEFA Cup, a few may remember Jeremy Goss’ spectacular goal against Bayern Munich, a tie in which they won giving them the accolade of being the only English team to beat Bayern in their old ground the Olympic Stadium.
Since those glory days at Carrow Road a lot has changed. The club slipped in to decline since and became a regular in the old Division 1. They did gain promotion back to the Premier League romping home as champions in the 2003/04 season, only to be relegated again. What has happened at the club this season is nothing short of a miracle and reminds me of what happened to Watford under Graham Taylor in the mid 90’s.
Paul Lambert was brought in at Carrow Road following the clubs relegation to League One in the 2008/09 season. Since then he hasn’t looked back as he won League One in his first season and has now managed to take the club to the Premier League. Paul Lambert had a distinguished and varied career as a player, a career that took him from clubs in the Scottish league to Borussia Dortmund where he became the first British player to win the Champions League.
His managerial rise has been a rollercoaster ride: He studied for his coaching badges in Germany, one of the few non-German’s giving the dispensation to do so. He was mentored by his previous Dortmund manager, the highly-successful Ottmar Hitzfeld, and is one of the few British managers who can boast having such a varying degree of experience in Europe as well as Britain. He has worked under Wim Jansen and also Martin O’Neill, so his rise as a top manager following early disappointments may come as no surprise to some.
An insight in to what Lambert is about was recently given by Hitzfeld: “What was most critical is that Paul was a very good team player. That is one of the most important qualities as a coach and manager of a team.”
Lambert seems to have to the important attribute of being able to get the best from his players, according to Hitzfeld he has always been a motivator: “Paul was one of the players responsible for keeping a good mood in the dressing room before a game,” he said. “And after a defeat, he was one of those who knew how to address a situation or any problem.”
But it is not just the leadership of Lambert that has played a vital role in guiding Norwich City back to the Premier League. There is another leader in the ranks in the form of striker and captain Grant Holt. Very few had taken notice of him before he signed for Norwich in 2009.
Holt’s journey has been as big a story as Lambert’s and Norwich’s. He was once a journeyman of non-league and a tyre-fitter, before two years and a lot of goals dragged him in to league football. The 30-year-old has already had 10 clubs, but finally seems to have settled at Norwich. Holt was selected in the PFA team of the season the last 3 years running and will hope to keep this form going as he finally becomes a Premiership player.
There is no doubt that Lambert’s, Holt’s, and the teams achievements in back to back promotions is nothing short of miracle stuff. Norwich have the support, the stadium, and the infrastructure to be a Premier League side. The only question that will remain now is have they got the players and the money to make the step up and bring in the personnel needed to survive. Maybe this achievement can banish the memories of the ‘let’s be ‘avin you’ incident. I am just looking forward to having one of Delia’s pies!