Given that second-season syndrome is a bitch to shake off; it’s therefore no surprise that two of the men who quite comfortably avoided playing a part in the relegation contention party have opted for more illustrious places to earn their money next season. Paul Lambert did state that his Norwich team would have to work harder still to even equal last season’s achievements. Such hard work in fact that he probably couldn’t be bothered to do himself as he’s now bossing Aston Villa.
Good on him. Brendan Rodgers has done it too. It’s not to question the ideal of loyalty. Let’s face it the only loyalty in top tier football (an atttitude that is now working its way down the league ladders) comes from people kept on the periphery of the game: the supporters. Rodgers and Lambert both enjoyed exceptional debut seasons in the Premier League. Their stock was high, vacancies came up and they were happy to be plugged by Liverpool and Villa. No one would really aim too many derogatory remarks at the duo as they’d traded up. Their moves do contain an element of risk but either way they’ll be rewarded either with success or handsome pay-offs. Furthermore if they both fail at their new clubs, they’ll be able to trade off of last season’s exploits for at least one year further so routes back into the game won’t be too difficult for a bit.
What happens to what they’ve left behind? Norwich’s appointment of Chris “Nice Chap” Hughton to replace Lambert shows the Canaries want to be everyone’s second team. The Swans have gone up-market with an appointment that has aroused fantasy in the minds of a fair few: Michael Laudrup. A mixed record as a manager doesn’t detract from the sporting values and the playing achievements of the Dane. No sir, he’ll carry on what Rodgers had taken on from Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa. Whether it will be successful or not who knows but at least it’ll be entertaining.
While Norwich and Swansea create feelings of warmth and joy for the masses, the other team in the Sophomore Slump boat, Queens Park Rangers, seem to be cold and unwelcoming.
The blame for that lies squarely at the moneyed launch pad which might well see them spend their way out of second-season syndrome’s clutches. Tony Fernandes tried to sell the caring, considerate approach to people and it was never going to be too hard to appease the supporters following the previous regime. Mark Hughes took over and opted to throw some cash in the direction of players of decent if unspectacular repute. Safety was achieved nonetheless but visibly throwing money at the game is always viewed in a negative light by everyone else.
The realistic expectation would be that with Hughes in charge, Q.P.R will get caught in that safety net of mid-table, earning tuts, shrugs and boos along the way. While Norwich and Swansea will continue to receive goodwill but both will be battling it out to avoid relegation. Unfortunately, smiles of encouragement are not a bankable commodity.