Editorial: U`sed & Abused? Lambert Leaves Essex An Anti-hero
Yesterday, Colchester United initially must have felt to most fans like a club with a death wish – as Chairman and owner Robbie Cowling later admitted in a statement, losing both boss and team captain in the space of a morning doesn`t represent an overly good day`s work. In hopping north to Norwich, after just over 48-hours of eventually indiscreet flirting, Paul Lambert morphed from manager to public enemy number one.
The newswires went from red to white hot as the balmiest day of the summer so far turned into by far Essex`s most barmy. Tuesday morning`s motif leached violently between potentially glorious to irrepressibly grim as the man set to mastermind a best start for five years instead became the third in fifteen responsible for walking out while still under contract. The Norwich-to-Lambert link had sprouted a-few-too-many seeds the previous evening for a tame dismissal as some idle rival`s non-joke.
You can hardly blame United`s caretaker, Joe Dunne, therefore, for his refusal to look beyond the 24-hours spanning Gillingham`s league visit on Tuesday. This was a game for which both the fans and club had expected Lambert to take charge, to the point where he`d filed his programme notes and probably already picked the team. Next moment – gone.
During Saturday`s perhaps unnecessarily narrow win over Yeovil, it had all been so different. Smatterings of United`s home support began signing, in dribs and drabs, a common soccer-shanty in tribute to their now bedding-in boss, whose summer groundwork was set to seal a second league win in as many games. The afternoon`s wholly decent result, alongside a thoroughly stunning 7-1 score against those courting him, had plenty gleefully belting out not only the manager`s name, but about how there was only one of him.
It didn`t resound around Lambert`s redesigned pitch at the Community Stadium, however, as much as get caught in the wind. That image shows saying Lambert enjoyed a universal popularity during his spell as manager would be false; he`d spent the summer re-arranging a squad comprising a smattering of established names – Johnnie Jackson, Dean Gerken, John White – before the Championship Manager generation who almost to a man thought they knew better.
Whether you think Lambert`s brand of tough-love made sense in his all-too brief tenure depends largely on if you think watching football is about winning games at whatever cost ahead of getting partial towards specific players.
Lambert came to Colchester United to get results, laying out the team and tactics he alone designed, while flying in the face of flimsy and ever-changeable community opinion. Fandom was for others – hence why he was rarely seen at PR functions and recently avoided an appearance on an all-new flagship radio show.
As a Scot built in the mould of the modern game`s great power-wielders, Roy Keane, Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho, Lambert showed signs of moving mountains in his months with the U`s, especially when thrashing his next employers, 7-1. While Lambert may not yet have the track record to merit such casual comparisons, he has their same swagger and demeanour; a confidence that allowed him to forget professional ties and saunter swiftly into the Canary`s conference room on a rolling deal, technically still registered as Colchester United`s manager.
For U`s fans the hurt ran high because Lambert`s move showed a lack of compassion for the club as well as fundamentally undermining his own summer-long trumpery. Repeatedly came the insistence that Colchester could scale the play-off places; David Fox even told disbelieving supporters that he was convinced to join from Blackpool once the manager explained he intended to win League One outright.
The doubt evaporated at the start of this season when a new complement of players started to shine (Fox, Magnus Okuonghae) alongside last season`s most promising recruits (Simon Hackney, Ashley Vincent and Marc Tierney). But if Lambert actually reckoned his new team could do all he suggested and more, why didn`t he stay and see it through? That`s irrelevant now, because the sum of his scattergun exit means those empathic statements resonate as one huge empty promise.
Although admittedly sitting on presently a far-bigger infrastructure than Colchester, Norwich after all do currently hover haphazardly around the same division`s relegation places.
The man`s mentality was clearly to build what to outsider observers looked like a boot-camp. Yet, the amount of praise Lambert kept conferring publically to his players in the opening games suggests he was both defending them against attacks for the media mob and massaging their in turn egos, so to nurture some spirit and self-belief.
That`s why the crowd responded with such a siege attitude during the Gillingham game; they were protecting against the possible psychological impact behind losing someone prided on being an arch-motivator to his chosen core; the U`s though went on to prove a degree of self-motivation during last evening`s match by winning in spite and not directly because of Paul Lambert`s influence as a leader of his troops.
They rode the storm and supporters bore the scars from an episode in which an entire novel of melodrama compressed itself into just a single day. As supporters responded vocally in the stands against the affront to their judgement, that had mere hours ago allowed them to consider ushering Lambert`s way unconditionally into their hearts, Pat Baldwin`s cavorting and cajoling around the Colchester pitch spoke of something much deeper.
It was a symbol of life going on, as well as a reminder that it had done so before; Baldwin`s service to the U`s predates nearly every other first-teamer in the side. Meanwhile, Lambert was cast out as the anti-hero who traded his chips on Colchester`s fine first-day win much sooner than he had either intended or expected.
United always knew Lambert would use them as a means to end, though. It just wasn’t expected quite as quickly as all that.
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