x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fear factor keeps Paul Lambert on edge

Having tasted success the hard way, the former Borussia Dortmund player, now the manager of Norwich City, does not take it for granted.

Paul Lambert has enjoyed success at Norwich City.
Paul Lambert has enjoyed success at Norwich City.

In the summer of 1996, as the Scotland international team were preparing for the European Championships in England, Paul Lambert was on a family holiday wondering where his career was going.

As he lay on a sun bed beside a swimming pool in Spain, he decided the answer to that question was: absolutely nowhere.

Lambert was not even in contention for that modest Scotland squad. The most exciting thing that had happened to him that summer was the offer of a pay rise from Motherwell, his club at the time. "I think I was going to go up by £50 [Dh290] a week," Lambert later said.

"I can't remember how much my wage would have been after that, but it wasn't a lot."

By this time he was 26 years old and enjoyed a fine reputation in the Scottish Premier League, but was little known outside the country.

So without telling Alex McLeish, the then Motherwell manager, the midfielder left Scotland in July, just after Germany won Euro '96, to try to win himself a deal with a European club. He had no agent, no contacts, no real plan, just some faint hope that things would work out.

"I called PSV Eindhoven [the Dutch club] out of the blue and asked if I could go on trial with them," Lambert said. "But they had too many midfielders already and there was nothing for me.

"Their coach at the time, Dick Advocaat, was good enough to put me in touch with [Borussia] Dortmund, who asked me to spend a few days with them."

Lambert did enough to impress Ottmar Hitzfeld, the coach, won a contract and 11 months later was named man of the match in the German side's Champions League final victory over Juventus, the first British player to win that trophy with a foreign club.

"I have no idea what would have happened to me had I stayed at Motherwell," Lambert said. "That year in Germany changed my life forever and for the better, and I'll always be grateful for what they did."

The Lambert family missed Scotland and wanted to go home so the boyhood Rangers fan joined their Glasgow rivals, Celtic, in October 1997. He went on to win four Scottish league titles, five cup finals and captained the team to the 2003 Uefa Cup final, which they lost 3-2 in extra time to Porto in Seville.

He played in the 1998 World Cup, by now a regular in Scotland's playing XI, and also wore the captain's armband at international level.

Now, Lambert is viewed as a rising star in management. He moved to Norwich City from Colchester United over two years ago (Colchester beat Norwich 7-1 on the opening day of the 2009/10 season) when the Canaries were second bottom of League One, the third tier of English football.

He led them to the title in that campaign and then, remarkably, took the club back to English football's top flight last season with a second successive promotion, when Norwich finished second in the Championship to Queens Park Rangers.

"It comes as no surprise to me that Paul, first of all, got into management and that he has been successful," said Martin O'Neill, his former manager at Celtic, who allowed Lambert, in his final year as a player, to spend a large part of time in Germany on a coaching course. "Not only was he a wonderful footballer but he had a rare intelligence. He could read a game and see things other people could not."

Lambert still calls O'Neill "the boss" and he has even taken to dressing a little like his old mentor. Lambert's match-day attire is a scruffy tracksuit, football boots, rimmed spectacles and a day's growth of beard.

Just like O'Neill.

That year in Germany has had an enormous influence on Lambert, from the moment he made his debut against Bayer Leverkusen on August 21, 1996.

"We were winning 4-0 and I was actually starting to venture more and more in the offensive bit," Lambert said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph before the start of this season.

"But then I heard Jurgen Kohler say: 'Na, na. Stay'. At 4-0.

"Mr Hitzfeld said to me: 'Paul, you get the ball and give it to Andy Moller. If Matthias Sammer comes out from the back, you cover'. It was as simple as that.

"I wrote everything down. I knew I was going to learn and I kept the book. I absorbed everything.

"The fear factor of staying in that Dortmund side was astronomically huge. If I was in the team, then Steffen Freund or Paulo Sousa wasn't, so I thought I am going to have to play [well] here to stay in. I had that fear factor. I still do," he said.

"I never think I'm safe. I always live in fear I will lose. When I came here, some of the Norwich fans may have thought 'not so sure about Paul Lambert, maybe we should have gone for somebody more experienced'. It was up to me to prove myself to them."

And he has done that.

"Paul will be a success whatever he does," Hitzfeld said in the Glasgow Herald in August.

"I sent him a good luck text before the start of this season, but he doesn't need luck. I can see him at a top European club within the next five years."

ncameron@thenational.ae

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