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From an Aston Martin to a Lambertghini in 2 years


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by BOF

Paul Lambert today became Randy Lerner's latest managerial appointment at Aston Villa.

OK so we've had a 2nd hand Renault and a Reliant Robin in between our 2 supercars but that just makes us appreciate the new wheels all the more.

Right, that's enough of the poor motoring puns.

Meet the new boss. Completely different to the old boss. Barely 3 weeks after Alex McLeish's departure, Lambert takes over a squad in dire need of a shot in the arm. Randy Lerner has been impressively efficient and systematic in finding the replacement that he believes can turn around the fortunes of an under-performing squad and turn them into the vibrant winning and entertaining team that the fans have craved for so long.

As soon as Alex left, the fans had drawn up their own wishlist. On balance it is fair to say that Lambert topped more lists than any other name. Apart from a mad week where Solskjaer grabbed the imagination, Paul Lambert was always a name that the fans wanted to come here and re-invigorate this great club.

As a result, one thing that the board will no doubt be very relieved about this time is that fan reaction will be hugely supportive and enthusiastic. This is in stark contrast to the scenes 12 months ago.

I personally believe Paul Lambert is the 'next big thing' in British management and that, all going well, even Villa might have a hard time holding on to him. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

First things first. Lambert is a winner. He has been a winner as a player and he has so far been a winner as a manager. We won't go through his entire list of honours other than to say 11 major titles the most impressive of which was his Champions League title with Borussia Dortmund in the 1996-97 season.

As a manager, despite a poor start north of the border with Livingston, he has gone from strength to strength in England. He took League 2 Wycombe to the League Cup semi-final where they held Chelsea before going out and he also steered them to the League 2 playoffs. He then almost took Colchester United to the League 1 playoffs the following season and when they started the 09/10 season with a 7-1 win over pre-season favourites Norwich, he was quickly poached to replace the fired Bryan Gunn at Carrow Road. Norwich were fined £200,000 for doing so and also forced to pay another £425,000 compensation to Colchester. It turned out to be more than worth the penalty paid, because as we all know, he has since guided Norwich to consecutive promotions and a season in the Premier League that made them look like they'd been there for years.

There are plenty of articles on the net that attest to his character and to what makes him what he is. Traits like 'hard working', 'perfectionist', 'thorough'. Not the most verbose of managers and sometimes according to Wycombe chairman Ivor Beeks he can be 'hard to understand', but most say he is a brilliant man-manager and motivator who can get the best out of a mediocre set of players and can use the carrot and the stick whenever appropriate.

Comparisons to Martin O'Neill are lazy at best. Whether being used to promote or to denigrate Lambert, they are at the most superficial. Lambert of course played under O'Neill and they do share some mannerisms. They have both won the European Cup as players. They are both animated on the sideline. They can both get 100% from their players. Neither suffer fools gladly and both can by bloody-minded if things don't go their way.

But the differences are far more important and relevant to us. Lambert doesn't play the O'Neill way. Lambert doesn't rely solely on counter-attacking football. He has far more than one string to his bow. O'Neill's trick is a good one, but it's all he has. Lambert can play the passing game, the patient game, the possession game or he can be direct. Lambert also doesn't rely on one starting line-up for the whole season. He rotates his squad. A lot. He often changes a line-up and tactics depending on the opposition. This has the dual benefit of keeping his own charges on their toes and also guaranteeing that they aren't burnt out by March (sound familiar?). So if you are one of those who sees him as just another Martin O'Neill then please just open your mind and be willing to re-learn because he just isn't.

I'm not usually one for hyperbole but I think Aston Villa and Randy Lerner have made an absolutely outstanding hiring here. With all of the other candidates there were plusses and minuses. Could Martinez transform an anti-football side without a fortune to spend or years to do it. Was Solskjaer ready for a Premier League team. Is Benitez past it after trailing off at Liverpool and failing at Inter. But with Lambert I genuinely see no minuses.

We've hired a 100% bona fide winner who has played and won at the highest level. Someone who knows what it takes to get there and has now taken to management like a duck to water.

With the financial shadow left behind by Martin O'Neill's tenure all but gone this summer, it means Lambert will inherit a wage bill and a squad that he can add to much more easily than previous managers could. With most big earners either gone or going, he should have the freedom that hampered Houllier and McLeish in their attempts to create squads to fit their own plan. Time will tell to what extent he will be backed financially by the board, but with the aforementioned wage bill in better nick than it has been for a while, you would hope the purse strings might be loosened slightly. Not least because some of those big earners simply need to be replaced with quality. Add to that the fact that the board seem to have genuinely made progress and learned a lot based on recent evidence.

Firstly, they acted quickly once the season was over to get rid of McLeish. More impressively, they very magnanimously admitted to errors outlined in the subsequent club statement. Errors that they didn't have to admit to. That's a humility that goes a long way with this particular fan. They also went about appointing McLeish's successor in very much the right way in my opinion. But probably the most important progress; as has been evidenced by the transfer dealings of the past 2 years; is that they can't have failed to learn how to manage the wage bill and keep finances (and managers) in check. Without wanting to damn them with feint praise, they do seem to know what they are doing at this moment in time.

So that's why I think there really are reasons to be hopeful for the future.

Maybe it's blind optimism on my part but I just think we might be about to see the start of Randy's "Villa project #2". The slate is clean again. There's a new and popular manager. There's a more manageable wage bill. There is (you would think) the know-how to manage that wage bill and there's the general know-how that only comes from making the odd mistake along the way.

I think Villa just became exciting again. It's a great feeling and a huge relief.

Welcome to the club Paul.

Up the Villa !

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Yes, I'd just like to relax and stop fretting about what's been happenin' at VP.

There's plenty of cause for hope - assuming synergy between PL and RL.

The appointment has just arrived in time for entry into my club history, "Aston Villa - The First Superclub"!! :-) - out by August.

Good luck to our 6th managerial appointment this millennium (not counting the various stand-ins).

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Great article BOF, it sums up my feelings and thoughts entirely. My only concen is that some sections of our fans give him the time to get things right which may not happen overnight.

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Great article.

The only area where I slightly disagree is under performing squad. Aside of Bent I see very little quality. Sure Gabby , Ireland, Nzog have talent - but seem unable to reproduce it often and consistent enough. The expecation of our Academy kids to take up the mantle is IMO unrealistic.

The mooted £15m kitty is great. but will only buy 3 prem quality players- so Lambert has his work cut out to keep us above half way.

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Completely agree. Exciting times ..... hopefully.

The only area where I slightly disagree is under performing squad. Aside of Bent I see very little quality. Sure Gabby , Ireland, Nzog have talent - but seem unable to reproduce it often and consistent enough.

I read this as a contradiction? How can you disagree with the underperforming squad and then list three key attacking players that you say have been underperforming?

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I think it's absolutely right to be optimistic just now. We can have every hope that Paul Lambert will build on the good work he did with his previous clubs and get our team back into good shape. I'm even hoping he can find a way to make Makoun effective in Premier League games. Paul Faulkner's statement after the sacking of McLeish was a clear sign that the board may be learning from its mistakes.

However, I wouldn't say there is much evidence yet that the board know how to manage the wage bill. They have reduced it over the past two seasons, but in a very choppy fashion which has seen us flirting with relegation twice in a row and has left us with a squad with some glaring gaps.

This is the big worry for me. The squad is in a very unbalanced state after two wasted seasons with a few high earners (not currently performing very well) and a lot of youngsters who show promise but have yet to prove they can really shine in premier league football. The big challenge is to get a better balance of youth and experience capable of pushing back into the top half of the table. Just don't know if Lerner/Faulkner are up to providing the support Lambert will need in this, although, as I say, you have to hope at present that the omens are better.

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Houllier's spluttered a lot, never got going properly then sadly broke down and McLeish's wreck had no forward gears at all and even when offered a jump start used to lose the leads.

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