‘If he wants a quick fix I may as well just pack my bags... You need three or four transfer windows’ – Lambert reveals his strong words for Evans
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:37 01 August 2019
Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert has given an in-depth interview about the past, present and future ahead of the new season. STUART WATSON spoke to him about how he nearly didn’t take the Blues job, the strong words he had for owner Marcus Evans and his plan to get the club going again.
Blackburn, Wolves, Stoke... Paul Lambert's last three jobs have all lasted less than a year.
On every occasion he was parachuted in midway through the campaign to steady the ship. On every occasion, having done the job asked of him in trying circumstances, he moved on at the end of the campaign.
"You can't keep fire-fighting all the time," he says. "It just wears you down. Time erodes everybody. It's one job, then anther job. You get tired.
"I understand why managers don't go into jobs halfway through a season because you have so many things to sort out, especially at a club that is ailing. You do all that fire-fighting and then you hope to kick on, but I haven't had that opportunity.
"I've been a manager since 2005 - that's a hell of a long time the way the business is. You do get to a stage where you think 'how many more knocks can I take?' because you're never getting a fair crack or sustainable run at it.
"When you don't get that time it's not healthy - not for the manager, not for the club. The longevity of managers in Britain is not good."
Labels stick in football. One minute you're the young boss with fresh ideas, the next you're perceived as the experienced guy to call on in an emergency.
"Do you know what, I'm never quite sure what the general perception of me is," says Lambert. "I never get caught up in that. I know the real circumstances of what happened at the clubs I was at.
"I knew there were was problems at Aston Villa towards the end and what, inside, was going on. They ended up going down after I left. Wolves have obviously done great, but Blackburn and Stoke both dropped down."
It would be completely understandable, therefore, if Lambert reverted to self-preservation mode; Do what's best for his short-term reputation, rather than what's in the long-term interests of his employers.
The Scot - who turns 50 next Wednesday - is not interested in survival mode though. He wants to build something of substance. It may well prove to be career suicide, but this is a man who would always choose to go down fighting rather than tiring on the run.
"You're right what you're saying," he says. "I could decide to go down the self-preservation route and say to Marcus (Evans) 'forget the training ground, forget the stadium, forget the kids, we'll just keep going with six, seven loans and just try and win games'.
"I'm the wrong person for Ipswich if that's the case. I may as well just pack my bags and go home. That wouldn't be a problem.
"If you're not going to spend money then the football club needs a structure, the football club needs the young ones to come through, the football club needs to stop the loans.
"Ok, one or two is fine, it's not a problem, but the football club needs the good academy kids. If Marcus says we can't spend money, then we can't spend. Fine, then we need to find another way."
I met Paul less a week after he'd taken the Town job. One of the first things he proclaimed, gesturing to a television screen on which he'd just concluded a video link-up with Evans, was 'he might just sack me after that'. I remind him of that and venture he's clearly prepared to speak his mind when it comes to dealing with the boss.
"I am - because I'm not in football just for the sake of having the job," he says. "This is not about me just needing football.
"I speak my mind because I think it's right for the club. It's not what's right for me.
"I couldn't just sit there and see the club really fall with the way it was going. The training ground looked terrible, the stadium was run down. You could tell why it was where it was.
"For the football club to lose its community trust and lose a generation of supporters, for me, is absolutely diabolical. It should never have happened.
"The football club was falling on is feet. You've seen that. Nobody was coming, it was quiet, everything was wrong. Somewhere along the line someone has to say 'this has got to stop'.
"I told him he needed to see it with his own eyes, rather than being 3,000 miles away or seeing it on a Facebook page or in a newspaper. No, come and have a look and then see.
"Listen, Marcus has spent *puffs cheeks out*... Dear, oh dear, I dread to think what's come out of that man's pocket - millions and millions, it won't just be a £40 job - but if you don't care or take care of the infrastructure then you're setting yourself up for a fall.
"You can have a great team with terrible infrastructure, then if your team falls then it's going to fall to rock bottom. If your infrastructure is good and your team starts to fall, then it only falls a little bit and bounces back again.
"The club, for me, was too run down. There was no TLC there. There was nothing there."
Off the back of those early robust conversations between manager and owner, Lambert wasn't sacked. Evans listened and has been at the club at lot more. He gave a wide-ranging interview to this newspaper and is giving far more updates via the club website.
"I don't care what anybody says, the club needs Marcus," says Lambert. "It needs him more than the club needs me or the staff. The football club doesn't need me. It needs the owner to be the custodian of the club and be saying 'we make this decision'.
"Lee (O'Neill) is doing great with his role (as general manager of football operations). But we need Marcus because there's only one owner. There's only one guy we can rely on.
"I told him all that. If he had said 'okay thanks very much, you can leave' that wouldn't have been a problem. I'd have walked, because I know what I'm saying is right.
"My professional level wouldn't allow me to just say 'this is great being manager of Ipswich, everything's poor but I'll keep my mouth shut'. I can't do that.
"I get on really well with him. Maybe that's why we get on well - because I won't just sit there and say everything's great.
"I want to be at a club that is driven and where the support is vibrant. Okay, it might not win every game, but you excite people, you excite the fans, you make them feel included. You get the atmosphere and the whole thing going.
"When we do leave here, whenever that is, I want people to say 'Ipswich have got a better structure now'. "What we're doing at the minute is putting the foundations in at the club."
Which all begs the question, how long does Lambert think he needs to get Ipswich Town going again?
"Six months is not enough time to say 'this is my team'," he said. "It's impossible. You need three or four transfer windows to say 'ok, this is our strong team'.
"It's different if you spend a hell of a lot of money. But if you don't spend money and you're developing things then people can't expect instant success. It doesn't happen.
"Your project is totally different to a team that has spent a lot of money. You have to build. Just because you're a big club, it doesn't matter.
"That's not to say you can't have success and can't create your own destiny in football. But money does change the whole project."
- - - - - - - - -
It is all still a little surreal.
Paul Lambert, Ipswich Town manager. Paul Lambert, feeling the love of the North Stand. Paul Lambert, trying to fight the entire Norwich City back room staff at Carrow Road.
He didn't know it would turn out like that though. In fact, he very nearly didn't take the job.
"My agent phoned me and said Ipswich had been in touch," recalls the Scot. "And I went; 'I can't, it's crazy, it just doesn't add up'.
"Marcus then phoned me, I had a discussion with him and he said 'listen, it's a long ago you were at Norwich'. I totally understood where he was coming from.
"I think Ipswich then won against Swansea and I never heard anything for a few weeks. I thought 'thank God that's blown away'.
"Then they lost to QPR and Leeds, obviously Paul (Hurst) lost his job and Marcus phoned me again and asked me to meet him.
"I went to meet him, I went away and for a few days I went yes-no, yes-no, yes-no in my mind until I said to my agent 'ok, I'm not taking it'. That was it. I just said 'it just doesn't add up with the connection with Norwich'.
"Then, I don't know what it was, but one thing just triggered in my head and I went 'aye, let's go for it'."
Did he expect to get a rough reception?
"You're never quite sure when you go in because you could get with both barrels, you know?" he says.
"I thought 'okay, it might be a little bit murky waters at first, but you'll come through it'.
"I took it on and the biggest thing for me was to get those fans. As I've said before, I watched back that Middlesbrough game and thought 'this is no good'.
"We met big Terry Butcher, George Burley, Mick Mills, Russell Osman, Johnny Wark because those guys epitomise what Ipswich is to this day. I met them, not for a PR stunt, but to find out why they didn't feel connected to the club anymore.
"All of a sudden things gathered speed. People were saying 'he's connecting with legends'. Then it just went from there. I don't know what changed or why, I don't know.
"I think it's a brilliant club, I really do. You were at the games. You'd never think in a million years that we were where we were. I had people here in Germany contacting me saying 'how have you created that atmosphere?'
"It's vital that continues. We need that support. It makes such a difference."
- - - - - - - -
Paul Lambert's playing career primed him for pressure. His managerial career choices suggests he's now addicted to it.
A senior debut for St Mirren aged 15. A Champions League winning stint at German giants Borussia Dortmund. Years satisfying the Celtic fans who demand silverware.
He took on the role of player-manager at Livingston aged 36. He moved almost 400 miles a year later to take charge of Wycombe.
Jumping from Colchester to Norwich, days after masterminding a 7-1 opening day win at Carrow Road, was bold. Engineering a switch to Aston Villa in 2012 caused a stir too.
Taking on mid-season gigs at Blackburn, Wolves, Stoke and Ipswich in trying circumstances was yet further proof that the Scot loves to throw himself in at the deep end.
"I'm not scared of pressure," he says with a smile. "I'm never frightened by it. I enjoy it. I enjoy having incredible pressure on my shoulders.
"My experiences in football have taught me to be unbelievably mentally strong. I've been at clubs where you had to win and win and win every week. The pressure was always on you 24/7.
"I played at a high octane level football and the pressure that comes with that is huge, but you get immune to it and you get used to it."
Asked where his desire to lead from the front comes from, he thinks for a moment.
"The Glasgow upbringing, 100%, played its part in that," says the Town boss. "I grew up a stone's throw from Parkhead. At that time it was probably a rough area. Mum and dad moved out of Glasgow and we were rehoused into a tower block.
"I've always been a captain. I've always wanted to lead.
"I just try and teach the players to be good people. I don't have all the answers, I don't know everything that goes on and I don't pretend to know everything that goes on, but when I walk into a room for a meeting, or when we train, my philosophy is to just have high standards.
"It's not about being some kind of tactical genius, it's about setting standards in your own life, doing things right, and hoping that it rubs off on your team.
"You want the players to see how you operate and think 'dear, of dear, we have to behave properly'.
"If they don't want to behave properly and respect the club then they can go, they can leave the club or they can train with the Under-23s. That's fine. That's their choice.
"I'll never fall out with anybody. But if you don't train and behave properly then that's it. But that's my take on life in general, not just football. You do things right.
"That doesn't just go for the players, it's for the staff as well. Behave properly."
Lambert continues: "People will say 'he's really head strong' or 'he's aggressive', but what I won't ever let happen is for people to walk over my clubs. I can deal with whatever comes my way, but I will never let people degrade my football club.
"It's the Glasgow thing. The Scottish mentality is to work hard and be strong. If you're a leader of anything you have to be at the forefront.
"I'll never have anyone say we're inferior or whatever. I think that's disrespectful. The football club has earned its right to be a big name because of what's happened in the past and those great teams they had. You just don't let that part of your history go."
- - - - - - - - -
Talk about limiting loans, battling budgets, improving infrastructure and developing homegrown talent is all well and good, but Ipswich Town are among the bookies' favourites for League One promotion for a reason.
The Blues' wage bill will be among the highest in the division. The squad contain players proven at this level and above. A lot of the homegrown players aren't kids anymore.
I put all of the above to Lambert as the counter-argument to his articulate preach for patience.
"Yes, some of them are 21, 22, but a lot of them haven't played that many games," he says. "Myles Kenlock, for example, and I never realised this until someone pointed it out to me recently, he played 17 games in a row for the first time in his career recently. That's incredible for somebody who is 22.
"Teddy Bishop is 23, but he missed two years of football. Jack (Lankester) is only a kid, 18/19, and has a stress fracture in his back. (Andre) Dozzell had the cruciate.
"They haven't played hundreds of games. They are under 80 games, which is not much. It's different if they'd all played 150 games - but they haven't.
"That's the way it's been, because the club has brought in six or seven loans throughout the season. So you're caught between a rock and a hard place.
"I'd rather go with the kids and trust them than get people in for the short-term who perhaps don't care as much and are only really here for their own development. I don't want to develop other teams' players.
"When that stops the development of your own players then it becomes a problem."
He adds: "If Marcus said to me 'Paul, there's 10, 12 million…' then okay, I would understand it if people started saying 'you've not won today'.
"If I'd brought in somebody from Liverpool, somebody from Tottenham, somebody from Man City, somebody from Arsenal, them, okay, I'd understand it.
"But when you don't (have lots of money) and you are still developing young payers who are learning the game and the way I want them to play, then you have to be given a period of time.
"I think what the fans will see is that the team will be exciting and they'll be quick. All the things they saw last season will be there again.
"The great thing is we've had a pre-season with them now. Whether it works or not, nobody knows.
"We have to win more games - a million per cent that has to happen. And if we can keep the same intensity and the same atmosphere we has last season then will win games, without a doubt.
"But we'll still make mistakes and we'll still lose games. People have to realise that.
"The main thing is we'll be at it. I think this is a really good set of players. Let's see what happens."