Paul Lambert is one of the more respected managers in English football. The 45-year-old Aston Villa boss stepped into his position with the Birmingham club two seasons ago and has safely navigated his squad from the trap door of Premier League relegation during both seasons.
Prior to his two years working at Aston Villa, Lambert led Norwich City to successive promotions while steering the Canaries to the English top-flight.
He left Norwich at the end of the 2011-12 season to take charge of Villa and, despite a horrendous losing streak towards the end of the 2012-13 season, he was able to lead Villa to safety while fielding the youngest starting eleven in the Premier League.
The Villans have finished 15th on the BPL table during the Scottish manager’s first two seasons in charge.
Those are respectable finishes for a club whose owner has put the club “on the market” and has spent little to no money towards bringing in new talent to Villa Park during his tenure at the club.
Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has piled up cumulative losses of £217.7million since he took over the club in 2006.
Despite his club being in limbo, Lambert was able to convince his talented Belgian striker, Christian Benteke, to stay at Villa Park. But there have been no significant additions made to the squad, including this summer.
Aston Villa’s owner did sign off on a big name acquisition this summer. But it came in the form of an assistant manager when Roy Keane was hired away from his duties with the Republic of Ireland’s national team.
The appointment of Keane looks to be a solid decision since the former Manchester United captain has previous experience in the league, both as a player and a manager.
Lambert himself approached Keane about joining his staff, and the Villans boss expressed his excitement upon the former Republic of Ireland international’s arrival.
“Roy has a great knowledge of football, on the coaching side as well, and he’ll be a great asset and a big help to everybody here at Aston Villa Football Club,” Lambert said.
“I’m really looking forward to working with him and I’m delighted that he’s here. The players will love working with him.
“He has worked under some great managers, some of the most successful in the game, and he’ll be a great help to myself as well.”
The former ITV pundit and Republic of Ireland assistant manager was brought in because he would provide Lambert with a strong assistant who could help sort out several high-earning, underachieving Villa players; as well as lending his knowledge and footballing philosophy to the club’s younger talent.
But Keane’s arrival, mixed with Aston Villa’s unsettled ownership, lack of signings, poor home form and a difficult opening fixture list for the 2014-15 season; may lead to the manager being shown the door from Villa Park.
Aston Villa open the campaign with a match at Stoke City, before home games against Newcastle United and Hull City. Then the Premier League fixtures leave Lambert no room for error.
The next five matches read: Liverpool (a), Arsenal (h), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h), Everton (a). A trip to Loftus Road offers some respite of sorts before Tottenham Hotspur visit Villa Park.
All of that said, and the fact that Lambert is also entering the final twelve months of his contract with Aston Villa, has the manager standing on shaky ground.
According to the bookmakers in England, Lambert is among the favorites to be the first Premier League manager sacked this season.
He must hope that Christian Benteke returns from injury ahead of schedule (which the manager has said, “he will”) and hits the ground running.
Lambert must also find a way to hold on to Dutch international Ron Vlaar, who has been the subject of transfer rumors since his standout performances during this summer’s World Cup.
And the Scottish boss needs to continue the success he’s had against some of the Premier League’s top clubs during his first two years at Villa (beating Arsenal at the Emirates, Manchester City and Chelsea at home, while drawing with Liverpool at Anfield last season) or he could be facing the “scythe” from the Birmingham club.
There’s no question that Lambert hired Roy Keane with the intention of helping his squad.
But he might have inadvertently invited ‘Death’ into his home.