MARTIN O’Neill says he has taken great satisfaction from the way his former player at Celtic, Paul Lambert, has shone as manager of Norwich City.
And he is backing the young Glaswegian to keep the Canaries flying high above the drop zone at the end of the season, as the East Anglians close in on their first ambition of the season which is staying in the Premier League.
Lambert spent five years as a player under O’Neill at Celtic before going into management in 2005 and the Sunderland boss says the 42-year-old could hardly have had a more impressive start to his career in the job.
Lambert managed Scottish side Livingston and then moved south of the Border to take charge at Wycombe Wanderers then Colchester United before taking over at Norwich in 2009 and leading the Canaries to back-to-back promotions.
Norwich have enjoyed an excellent first half of the season back in the Premier League and O’Neill knows Sunderland will have their work cut out against City at the Stadium of Light tonight, especially with the visitors having not lost away since early December.
“Norwich have kept their momentum going after winning promotion and that’s not easy for a newly-promoted team to do,” reflected O’Neill – himself a former Norwich player and manager.
“Somebody asked me if I was surprised at how well they have done and sometimes I think it has been a surprise and at other times I think ‘why should it be a surprise?’
“Paul has done exceptionally well there and he is the type of character who would want to keep the momentum.
“They’ve taken to the Premier League so easily and so comfortably that you can’t see them slipping up now.
“Paul has won two successive promotions with Norwich, which is not easy in itself.
“Many times a club will go up into the Premier League and after an initial little charge, will fall by the wayside.
“But that hasn’t happened to Norwich.
“The way Norwich have handled the Premier League is a great credit to their manager.”
In the last year of his contract at Celtic, Lambert was allowed to leave the Scottish Premier League giants to take his coaching badges in Germany – where he’d previously enjoyed a successful stint as a player with Borussia Dortmund in the 1990s – winning the Champions League in 1997.
O’Neill said: “I had Paul at Celtic in the latter stages of his career, but he was far from finished and played in some big matches for us.
“It was just in his final year there that he started looking at going into coaching and he asked me if he could take his badges in Germany because he had a great affinity with the country because of his time with Dortmund.
“I said yes, he went over there and did them and I realised then that this was what he wanted to do.
“He stepped into it and I think he has done very, very well indeed – as results would suggest.
“I’ve kept in touch with Paul and he would give me a phone call every once in a while but certainly not to give him any major advice or anything like that – he doesn’t need any!”