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How to lose friends . . . and stay in a job

PAUL Lambert's future at Aston Villa might not be as deeply in jeopardy as first impressions had indicated.

Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson played together, with Paul Lambert, but split as coaches. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson played together, with Paul Lambert, but split as coaches. Picture: SNS

The Scot was given a transatlantic pat on the back yesterday from the Barclays Premier League club's American owner, Randy Lerner, a show of support for a manager that handled well the "unexpected issues" which have set off football's jungle telegraph.

If Lambert's high-profile separation from the two men he has worked alongside for the last eight years, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa, has been offered up as a signal of the Villa manager's impending departure then Lerner's support and the Scot's own resilience could easily suggest a very different result.

The former Celtic and Scotland captain had been the subject of hostility from Villa fans, some of whom called for him be sacked for the team's poor performances on the pitch. However, the club's decision to suspend his two backroom staff after allegations of bullying have since taken precedence over events on the pitch.

Lambert is thought to have been part of the decision-making process after which his assistant Culverhouse, and Karsa, the head of football operations, were suspended by the Midlands club, while former Villa favourite and development coach Gordon Cowans and Shay Given, the former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper playing for Villa's reserve side, have been drafted in to help Lambert prepare for Saturday's crucial home match with Southampton.

Culverhouse and Karsa have been with Lambert for eight years, when he appointed them to roles at Wycombe Wanderers and the 44-year-old Scot has taken the pair on every step of his managerial journey since. That has comprised spells at Colchester United, Norwich City and Villa, where they moved in 2012. However, Lambert and Culverhouse are understood to have fallen out before last week's defeat by Crystal Palace, after which Villa fans turned on the manager.

Reports of a feud between Culverhouse and Cowans - a former Villa captain - forced Lambert to enlist Lerner's help. "Our manager has been faced with some unexpected issues that could have very easily set the club back," said Villa's US-based owner yesterday.

Lambert would not be the first person in football management to fall out with their one-time close colleague. Indeed, the Villa manager only has to look in the direction of Celtic Park to see evidence of the sudden breakdown in a working relationship.

His two former Celtic team-mates, Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson, parted ways abruptly in June 2012. Thompson and Lennon had also spent eight years working together - six as team-mates and two in the management team, after Lennon recruited Thompson as his coach in 2010 - but Thompson was dismissed from his role.

Lambert will know that the backing of a club's owner is not often considered to be a promising sign and his former employers, Norwich City, last week jettisoned Chris Hughton only months after giving the coach assurances that his position was not under threat despite the team's faltering form. Hughton took charge at Carrow Road when Lambert left for Villa two summers ago.

It is understood that Lambert's job is not under threat after four successive defeats dragged Villa to within four points of the relegation zone. However, the Southampton game is an occasion when the club needed to get the fans on board - Villa's average gates have increased by 4000 since Lambert replaced Alex McLeish as manager - so needed to introduce a talisman, such as Cowans, in much the same way that Gordon Strachan asked Lennon to come back to Celtic Park in March 2008.

The fact that Culverhouse also reacted angrily to supporters after the Boxing Day defeat by Palace at Villa Park, launching a foul-mouthed tirade at those seated behind the home dug-out, meant that his stock was low. Lambert has been given the endorsement of Paul Faulkner, the chief executive and conduit between Birmingham and New York, where Lerner lives.

In truth, what the former Scotland midfielder yearns for is the sort of system which exists at another of his former clubs, Borussia Dortmund. There, the director of football, Michael Zorc - an old team-mate of Lambert's - is a former footballer, rather than a financial specialist like most chief executives at British clubs. Lambert, who took his coaching badges in Germany, has kept in touch with Zorc and the Scot also took his Norwich City side to Dortmund in 2011 to see Jurgen Klopp's side win the Bundesliga title and refresh his enthusiasm.

Lambert is not the sort to run away from any contest. So, Lerner's backing might offer the breathing space to turn things around at Villa.

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