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Paul Lambert as Director of Football?

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Before we get started, let me make it clear that's a hypothetical question, not a piece of news. Paul Lambert has not changed job from manager to Director of Football. At all.

But what if he did?

Lambert's a difficult man to talk about right now, unless you're a fan of the kind of pun that even The Sun wouldn´t publish. He's viewed by a large number of fans as Randy Lerner's puppet lightning-rod which leads to equal parts vitriol and apathy.

That insignificance of Lambert links with Gary Neville's recent article in the Telegraph, declaring the end of the ‘era of the gaffer' which got me on the lines of a Director of Football.

Discussing Southampton's structure, Neville notes that it minimises the role of the manager, subordinating them to the philosophy of the club, especially in player recruitment, which is dealt with by a Director of Football. Managers don't come in and change that philosophy - they are chosen on the basis of it, dealing instead with tactics and man-management. It's the way the majority of clubs in continental Europe are run, while in the Premier League managers have traditionally done it all. The greatest benefit of a Director of Football system is that Harry Redknapp can't come in and bankrupt your club.

If you were to think about the good things about Paul Lambert, they fit quite neatly into what I'll call the ‘Director of Football' aspects - recruitment, youth policy and financial acumen.

Recruitment

When given actual money, Lambert has what I'd call a very good record in the transfer market - better than most Villa fans might realise. Fans often have unrealistic expectations about transfers and list a string of dud buys to prove how flawed a manager is - Tonev, Sylla and Luna might spring to mind.

Well, Paul Tomkins has done the most exhaustive analysis of Premier League transfers I know of. The conclusion he came up with from thousands of deals is that on average about 40% of transfers are successes. Even with the most expensive transfers, where you might assume teams were buying proven quality, only just over half of transfers are successes.

I'm not going to attempt a full analysis of all Lambert's transfers - it would deserve a separate post and I don't have the kind of data Tomkins uses to define success. But let's take those transfers where Lambert spent over £3 million according to Soccerbase, where he was given actual money. Lowton, Vlaar, Benteke, Bacuna, Okore, Kozak, Sanchez and Gil. It's very possible all of those will be successes though question marks hang over Bacuna and Lowton. He's filled the side with young players who can be the spine of this team for years to come.

Youth policy

For better or worse, Lambert has been a believer in youth - even when that youth looked like lambs to the slaughter as in the 8-0 drubbing by Chelsea. This season the oldest regular starter is Alan Hutton at 30, joined in the fourth decade club by Brad Guzan. But it's clear that his personal instincts are to sign young players such as Carles Gil and bring others through the ranks. The signings this summer had more than a hint of being bought under protest.

We complain about Andreas Weimann's inconsistency, but he's 23 and has been a regular Premier League starter for three seasons. Okore and Clark must be the youngest central defending pairing you'll see in the Premiership. We may complain about his treatment of Jack Grealish but there are few enough 19 year olds that get a run-out in the Premiership and he'd be joining an already young side.

Lambert's not necessarily great at integrating youth on the pitch- but he does believe in it and buy it.

Financial acumen

Paul Lambert has been working all the time to strict orders: bring down the wage bill. Get the club's finances in order. No big spending.

And he's followed that. Our biggest earner is Darren Bent on £65,000 a week. Of all of Lambert's signings the highest-paid is probably Benteke, whose wages are a bit mysterious but likely hover somewhere around the £50,000 mark judging by the rumours around his last contract - that's fairly typical for the highest earner of a lower mid-table club. For reference, Joey Barton is on about £70,000 a week at QPR.

2012-13, the last year for which accounts have been published, saw Villa run at a loss of £52 million as the last effects of the previous spending spree faded away. Lambert's job has in large part been to bring an end to that era.

Paul Lambert as a manager

So if the point of Aston Villa Football Club was to be a business - sell depreciating assets, buy with an eye to future profit, trim running costs -  we might want Lambert to be in charge of it all.

But it's not. The point of a football club is to win trophies, and failing that, to play entertaining football. And Lambert's tenure has to be called an abject failure on that front. A series of Cup exits to lower-league sides has been twinned with some of the most turgid, lifeless football ever seen in the Premier League.

On the tactical side Villa have swung between extremes, at times repelled by the ball, at others so in love with it that they can't bring themselves to part with it for the sake of a goal. In terms of man-management, the ongoing spat with Darren Bent is only the latest in a string of disputes, with the Bomb Squad representing a low point in the history of subtly pushing an employee towards the exit.

At this point, barring an FA Cup win, most Villa fans simply do not respect Lambert as a manager. They have no faith in his competence. Another relegation battle and his role will become almost untenable.

Conclusions

Another season may finally see Lambert's squad fall into place and a genuine campaign for the top-half. But it could just as likely see the selling of the club and the installation of another manager, and as Tom Fox put it recently, that's a process like flipping a coin. We could get someone great. We could get Harry Redknapp.

We'd certainly lose a large part of the current squad. Benteke will go at some point, as will Fabian Delph if he keeps progressing, even though we will get a fee from his renewed contract. Most Villans already think that Gabby and Andi should be squad players rather than starters and they would be easy targets for a new manager looking to make his mark. Will this season's hopes, such as Gil, Sanchez, Okore and Clark maintain their form in that kind of upheaval?

If Villa are to preserve anything from the last five seasons, it might be time to think about how to create continuity in the side while dispelling the toxic atmosphere. Paul Lambert as a Director of Football would be an improbable way of achieving it - but perhaps not the worst.