There are many reasons why Stoke fans may not be overjoyed by the appointment of Paul Lambert in the dugout at the Bet365 Stadium. There’s the fact that Lambert is – at best – third choice, with Gary Rowett and Martin O’Neill both having turned down the job. Then there is Lambert’s spell in charge of Aston Villa, by the end of which the team looked disjointed, tired and ready for relegation (which duly followed, after Lambert had been sacked).
Add to all of this the fact that Lambert is not one of the more chatty, cheerful managers – no-one will ever mistake him for Ian Holloway – and you have a recipe for fans ready to vote with their feet and stop turning up. Given that Stoke are in the midst of an impressive tenth consecutive season in the Premiership, that may seem drastic. Is Lambert really that bad?
The evidence suggests that, despite the poor state of Villa when he left, the Scotsman may be due a reappraisal.
Paul Lambert’s career to date has been characterised by small moves upwards – from Wycombe to Colchester, then to Norwich, then to Villa. This has tended to mean he takes control of teams that are battling the odds. Having taken Norwich from League One to the Premier League, he then kept the Canaries in the top flight; no small achievement given their tendency to yo-yo between the divisions.
While his time in control at Villa is not remembered fondly, it is also worth remembering that he inherited a side that had been pulled to within two points of relegation by the hapless Alex McLeish, and oversaw an improvement there on his arrival. Stoke need something similar right now. A club which has conceded fifty goals in 23 games and is a perennial Betting.net tip to lose heavily … maybe they need a firefighter?
People forget how poor Norwich were before Lambert got there. Not only had they been relegated to League One, but they had lost their opening game in the division 7-1 to Colchester. Who were managed by… Paul Lambert. Norwich duly hired him, and the result was two consecutive promotions and Premier League stability.
Even since his time at Villa, it may be worth noting Lambert’s most recent jobs. In the past two seasons, he’s taken over at Blackburn and Wolves after they had sacked their managers, with the clubs facing relegation. Both clubs avoided the drop so, again, maybe he’s just what Stoke need.
Although Stoke have been playing relegation football, it would be harsh to say they have a relegation squad. Plenty of teams in a similar position would welcome the likes of Joe Allen, Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay. Lambert won’t expect a great deal of money for transfers, but as we have seen with David Moyes at West Ham, sometimes a gifted squad simply needs a different manager to get them playing better football. Who knows, perhaps Lambert will be the man to get Saido Berahino scoring again?
If nothing else, the appointments of Moyes and Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace have shown that managers who may not attract huge enthusiasm are doing a surprising amount of good this season.
With all of the above taken into account, we could yet be surprised by Paul Lambert at Stoke.