Life under Lambert: Strict times for Villa players with no laptops and no phones at training
21:30 GMT, 23 August 2012
There are reminders of former Aston Villa boss Ron Saunders in Paul Lambert’s actions. The hard-line Merseysider, who won the First Division title 31 years ago, revelled in the role of tough guy. His chosen sport was boxing and he instilled a barrack-room mentality into the club.
But times have changed. Players have become all powerful. Managers have to fear where they tread.
However, Lambert has clearly defined his own territory. And that, basically, means the club’s luxurious 9million training base.
My rules: Paul Lambert has defined his territory at Aston Villa
The latest intelligence from Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training base is that the Scot has banned his players from taking their mobile phones and laptops into work.
‘If you are a professional footballer, then it’s not your hobby, it’s your job,’ he told a fans’ meeting this week. ‘I think it’s important. You are at the training ground to work.
‘If you train the way you play, then I don’t have a problem with it. But iPhones and iPads are a distraction.
‘I’m here to win football matches not to play on a phone or computer.’
It is not as if those who have found themselves surplus to Villa — or Lambert — have little idea of his focus.
Emile Heskey and Carlos Cuellar were out of contract and due to leave as Randy Lerner chopped a wage bill that was close to spiralling out of control.
But James Collins has quit for West Ham and others are under no illusions as to their future roles.
Left back Stephen Warnock was taken to one side on Monday and told by the manager that he would have to train with Villa’s development squad. Alan Hutton has not been used at all since the first pre-season friendly at Burton Albion.
It appears harsh, but such is the current financial climate that such decisions have to be taken.
Of course, this should come as no surprise to many who have been involved with the Glaswegian before.
Strict: Lambert says training is the footballer's work-place and as such there should be no distractions
The erstwhile Champions League winner has marked himself down as a one-off from the days when he was one of the first to take advantage of the Bosman rule and win himself a contract at Borussia Dortmund, playing under legendary coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Lambert kept a pad at his side during those training sessions and made notes.
Indeed, he was so impressed by the Teutonic approach that he eventually snubbed the opportunity to take his coaching badges in this country and returned to Germany.
But there can be no doubt also of the influence of another former Villa boss, Martin O’Neill, upon Lambert’s thinking.
The Northern Irishman comes to life on match days. He is still referred to as ‘the gaffer’ by his successor at Villa Park and similarly courts a strong team ethic in all of his sides.
That trait runs through O’Neill’s teams and it was almost like stepping back in time for seasoned observers of the club when Lambert said: ‘Team spirit is absolutely vital.
No talking: Lambert has banned players from speaking to the media too close to a game
‘It’s about 90 per cent of your game because, if you know the guy next to you is going for it for you, then you will do exactly the same and it will transmit to everyone else in the dressing room.’
But it is the idea of stamping his own identity on the club which has been a hallmark of his reign so far.
At Norwich City, the training ground was out of bounds to outsiders. Those not directly involved with the players were actively discouraged from entering the manager’s place of work.
It is similar here. He has banned any player interviews taking place within 48 hours of a match.
At Villa Park, the most outward sign of his authority has been moving the dug-out over the halfway line to be nearer the club’s core support in the Holte End.
And it was noticeable before kick-off at Upton Park last week that Lambert has also cherry-picked another idea from one of his former clubs. The pre-match ‘huddle’ was used at Celtic Park while Villa’s boss was a player under O’Neill and Darren Bent performed his captaincy duties by addressing his charges prior to kick off.
Not, in the end, that it made much difference. But the point is that Lambert is providing his players with the focus and environment in which to perform.
Whether they are up to the job in hand is another matter.