Let's get one thing straight before we dive into this: I am not a fan of much of what Paul Lambert has done at Aston Villa, and I certainly won't be heartbroken if he is sent on his way after the season end. But in the past couple of weeks I've begun to wonder if it might actually be a good idea to keep him around for the last year of his contract.
Paul Lambert's Future
Lambert not sure if club will keep him
Despite the fact that he has successfully shepherded Aston Villa to Premier League safety, Paul Lambert still cannot confirm whether or not he has a future with the club.
Paul Lambert's Future
This season has been an unmitigated disaster. With the exception of some fun wins against top-four clubs, most fans will want to forget everything about it. And to be certain, much of the misery can be laid at the feet of Paul Lambert. His often perplexing team sheet decisions have been compounded by a substitution system that is devoid of logic. After being late to a team practice, Matthew Lowton was fined and subsequently sent to the bench for a few months. There was insistence from Lambert that Lowton was not being punished, but in the face of the facts that Lowton certainly should have been played a few times due to depth issues (if nothing else), that is hard to believe.
And then we had the Ian Culverhous and Gary Karsa incidents, whatever they may be. Regardless of whether or not they did anything to deserve their suspensions (we're still awaiting word of the investigation), the mood around the team was universally reported to have lifted with their departure. That alone is a strong indictment that the duo were not fit for the club. On the surface, this seems like a problem with two coaches, but then we remember that they were hired by Lambert. They were his subordinates. If there were problems, he should have dealt with them earlier.
I'm not doing a great job of making a case for a Lambert extension. Left un-delved into are the record number of losses at Villa Park, the lack of depth in many parts of the squad, and the seeming inability to communicate well with the public. If he is sacked after the season, the club will certainly survive and could quite conceivably be better.
But I can't put aside this feeling that a lot of Lambert's shortcomings have been the result of the parameters within which he has had to work in his time at Villa. Parameters that have been forced upon him by ownership and by luck. He's been given little money in each of his transfer windows and has had to overhaul nearly an entire roster with it. Mat Kendrick reported that Lambert has had £40 million to play with, and has signed 15 players with that, or £2.66 million per player. You will be hard-pressed to find major impact players at those prices. But he actually has found some great role-players: Matthew Lowton, Ryan Bertrand, and Ashley Westwood to name a few.
When he has gotten players who have even more quality, they seem to fall to freak injuries. Charles N'Zogbia (not his transfer, admittedly) and Jores Okore missed the whole season (or practically the whole season). Libor Kozak, who looked like a competent striker while covering for an injured Christian Benteke, broke his leg in training, and Benteke has suffered twice this season from injuries, with the second cutting his season and World Cup hopes short.
Do we really think that a Villa club in which Nathan Baker is replaced by Okore and in which Benteke is starting up front (with N'Zogbia possibly helping to hold down the midfield) loses 4-1 to Stoke and Swansea? If so, you're already far enough in the "Lambert out" wagon that I'll never convince you.
And yes, he has shown a bit of one-dimensionality in his tactical approach (bunker and counter), but we've seen moments of that wavering and producing some aesthetically pleasing football. What if his inflexibility is a result of the squad he has on hand? That's what has me wondering if he should be given another year. Fans have accused Lambert of being unambitious, but given his recent interviews that is clearly not true. "We have to kick on, we're going to need money, the club's too big," Lambert said in April.
"Players I've looked at for next season aren't cheap but for this club to move on it has to go to that end of the market... I'd still want to stay even if there was no money. But this club has taken knocks for too long now. We've had four years of mediocrity at this club, that's the bottom line.
Villa deserves to be a lot higher but it needs investment to go and compete that's for sure. Money won't always buy you success but it means you can compete with the top end. I certainly want to be better than this, it has been two years and that's too long."
He obviously wants to take Villa to the next level. Given his eye for talent on a bargain, I'm intrigued to see what he could do with a big war chest.
There is one other upside to reaffirming Lambert's role at the club: stability. As fans, players, and the manager himself wonder what will become of the club over the summer, confirming that Lambert will stay at Villa Park would take away one of the points of instability that will follow Villa over the summer. It would still leave the question of whether or not Randy Lerner is staying around, but it's better than wondering about both manager and owner.
Lambert, by all accounts, has the support of most of the players. He's shown an acuity in the transfer market that could be magnified with a larger budget. And he's got the sort of ambition for the club that most fans want to see. Keeping him around would be a point of stability in a tumultuous time at the club. If he goes, it will be entirely understandable. But I'm not sure that sacking him is as wise as the general consensus would have it. Maybe we should give him one more year.