How Lambert has dealt with pressure in his managerial career: Is there any evidence he can turn things around at Ipswich?
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert is under increasing pressure at Portman Road. Here we look at how the Scot has dealt with pressure during his last four jobs and look for any sign of evidence that he can turn things around.
Aston Villa (2012-15)
Paul Lambert was a man in demand after three seasons of non-stop success with Norwich City, as the Canaries won League One, were promoted from the Championship and then finished an excellent 12th in the Premier League under the current Ipswich boss’s watch.
That’s success he’s simply not had since.
After a long courtship he eventually joined Aston Villa in 2012, where his two full seasons yielded 15th-placed finishes at time when owner Randy Lerner’s millions were drying up and the American admitted ‘losing interest’. The end of the second season saw supporters begin to turn on Lambert and the away end mock him and his team as the campaign finished in a 3-0 defeat Tottenham.
He clung on to his job, to the surprise of many, into the next season but some of the criticisms will be strikingly familiar. The Scot was charged with having a muddled philosophy, switching between systems, being unable to turn an obsession with possession into goals (Villa averaged just one per game during his tenure), asking players to play out from the back with mixed results and having to be the club’s frontman ahead of an absent owner.
Pressure built during the 2014/15 season but questions on it were regularly swatted aside: “Football has been my life,” he said. “I don’t know anything else. If you can’t handle the pressure, you are in the wrong game.
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“I have been fortunate in playing at the top level in European Cup finals and things like that, so pressure has been part and parcel of my nature. You have to handle it. I am strong enough to handle it. You meet it head on; you don’t walk away from it. You fight it.”
Lambert lost trusted assistants Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa following an investigation into alleged bullying at the training ground, while a bumper new four-year contract was followed by a run of two wins in 20 league matches.
It was also suggested Lambert conceded privately that he had simply underestimated how big a job he had on his hands and how big the club was following his arrival from Norwich.
Supporter protests, aimed largely at Lerner but also at Lambert were planned, with the Scot calling for calm. Asked how he felt about calls for him to be sacked, he replied: “It’s not great. I’m human, like everybody else, but I’m also big enough and strong enough mentally to handle it. But what I don’t want it to do is affect the players.
“The fans have been great with me up until late and I guess now they are waiting for something to go wrong. All I would say to them is stay behind the side. We need their support when times are tough.”
He made it clear he wouldn’t quit, though: “I want to make a success of this. I’m obviously not happy with the way things are going, with what’s happening in the last third of the pitch. But anybody that knows me knows I’m not one for downing tools and walking away. I’ve never done that in my football career, and I don’t intend to do it now.”
There were fall-outs with local journalists and swipes at comments on social media before, with the writing seemingly on the wall, and following a 2-0 loss to Hull, the Birmingham Mail called for Lambert to be fired on February 11, 2015.
He was fired the following day.
Blackburn Rovers (2015-16)
The first of three jobs lasting less than a year saw Lambert bid to get back in the game at Blackburn in November 2015, arriving at a time when Rovers were £80m in debt and under a transfer embargo at the height of the controversy surrounding its owners - Indian poultry firm, Venky’s.
And rather than deal with pressure from supporters, it was issues with his owners which ultimately pushed Lambert out of the club just six months later.
After emerging from embargo, Lambert pushed for investment in the team, which never came. He maintained a positive persona throughout his time in charge, talking of ‘thriving under pressure’, ‘giving the club a lift’ and how ‘great the club could be if it got going’.
However, broken promises and a lack of investment prompted the Scot to walk away at the end of the season, despite doing a solid job and keeping Rovers stable, with supporters seeing his departure as a damning indictment of the club’s owners rather than a huge loss from the dugout.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (2016-17)
Lambert was clearly battered and bruised by his previous experience in the Midlands and there is a feeling that he became a little more self-aware as he headed to Molineux while also trying to present a different image of himself. Something of a charm offensive.
He was the second appointment of the mega-money Fosun era, following the failed experiment with Walter Zenga, as the quick-learning Chinese owners turned to a tried-and-tested British manager.
For years Wolves fans felt the club’s expectations fell well below their own but, under Fosun, the tables flipped and internally there was pressure to deliver well beyond what was expected on the terraces in lightning fashion. That’s where Lambert fell foul as he struggled with the expectation level, both on the pitch and in the transfer market where ownership wanted flash new signings and he wanted hardened Championship players.
To his credit, Lambert did well to integrate successive club-record signings Ivan Cavaleiro (£7m) and Helder Costa (£13m) into the side, but the marriage was an unhappy one.
The pressure came from the boardroom level and not the fans, with opinion on Lambert fairly neutral.
In many ways his tenure will be completely forgotten, given current boss Nuno Espirito Santo was the next man in and took Wolves into the Premier League and then Europe.
Stoke City (2018)
Lambert was firefighting again when appointed by Stoke in January 2018, replacing Mark Hughes at a time when the Potters were 18th in the Premier League, just a single point from safety. The Coates family turned to the Scot having previously targeted Martin O’Neill, Gary Rowett and Quique Sanchez Flores.
There was a sense he had inherited a ‘hospital pass’ given the team’s position in the league and discontent within a squad packed with players performing well-below their inflated salary levels.
For that reason there was little expectation on his shoulders.
He won his first and last game in charge but none of the 13 in-between as the Potters were relegated from the top flight at the end of the season. Lambert had hoped to stay on as boss but ultimately the club went in a different direction, securing Rowett’s services at the second attempt.
The Stoke owners were said to be impressed with the spirit he was able to bring to a failing squad and took his advice regarding a clear-out, but decided he wasn’t the man for the job.
Five months later he was in charge at Portman Road, where he is now facing pressure from supporters he hasn’t had to deal with in more than half a decade.