If anyone had said the name ‘Bilal Kamal’ to me before Saturday night I would have shrugged my shoulders, looked more vacant than normal and said: ‘Who?’
He only popped up on my radar courtesy of a picture in my Twitter timeline. Putting pen to paper on a ‘long-term’ Canary contract stood next to a beaming David McNally.
But still he rang no bells. So, you Googled. And he’s there; on YouTube; scoring something of a worldy. For Norwich Under-14s.
And he’s just signed a ‘long term’ contract.
So you dig a little bit more; I’m now curious. And there he was, a 90th minute substitute for City’s Under-18s as they beat Southampton Under-18s 2-1.
Southampton as in Southampton the South Coast teenage footballer factory. Top six in the English Premier League.
So you dig again. Deeper this time. And there is our Bilal picking up a gong in last season’s Academy Awards. As in Colney, not Hollywood.
‘Part of the Under-14 team that beat Arsenal in the third place play-off at Premier League National Tournament before going on to win ‘Midfielder of the Tournament’,’ read the citation.
OK. Cool. Hence why the kid is there putting pen to paper on a ‘long term’ contract. Aged 15?
The interest was sparked by the story of Patrick Bamford. As in the 19-goal England Under-21 striker short-listed as the SkyBet Championship Player of the Season who rocked up in Norfolk on Friday night with Middlesbrough – where he is on loan from Chelsea.
Chelsea producing an English talent of their own? Wow. There’s a first. And at 6ft 2in tall, he actually looks the proper Premiership part.
Only, of course, Chelsea didn’t produce him. Nottingham Forest did. Born in Grantham, an A-Level student at Nottingham High School, he made two fleeting substitutes appearances for the club that had long nurtured his teenage talents before Chelsea offered £1.5m for the then 18-year-old in January, 2012.
The lad was due to be out of contract that summer; his father and his agent twice turned Forest down leaving chairman Frank Clark with little or no option but to do a deal with the Premiership Champions elect. For £1.5m.
There may well be a case of keeping Master Kamal’s talents ‘under wraps’; that maybe even writing this piece will be seen as doing the Canaries something of a disservice. ‘Shhh…’ used to be the response. Don’t make a fuss.
Fine. If the kid is winning ‘Midfield Player of the Tournament’ in a Premier League setting and beating Arsenal to boot, he will be in the little black book of every Premier League scout in the country. Already.
But, he is at least, a signed Canary player. On a long term deal.
I’m guessing. But let’s say that long-term deal is five years. Takes him through till he is 20. If he progresses at his current rate of knots, he will be expected to be in and around the first team by the time he is 18 or 19.
If he’s not, then he’s not that good. If they’re good enough, they’re old enough. I still remember an 18-year-old midfielder by the name of Jonjo Shelvey single-handedly dismantling the Canaries at The Valley one afternoon.
These are the talents that you want in your midst; kids that are home-grown; kids that care; kids that can make all the difference at that Premier League level when the alternative is to place your faith in the next Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
But here’s the fear. If Norwich start to finally churn out the kind of talents that can compete at that level, how long will they be here?
Clearly, given the reported £150m prize that is membership of the EPL, City will be far better placed to see off the advances of a Chelsea or an Arsenal than Forest ever were when the King’s Road came a-calling.
But money won’t matter if the opportunity on offer is Champions League football. And a big pad over-looking the Thames. It will take an extraordinary young man to say ‘Nah, I’m fine here…’
In a Norwich. Or a Nottingham.
Strikes me that as Colney appears to be delivering in terms of this young man and his FA Youth Cup winning peers, you’re damned if you do… and damned if you don’t.
Damned to rely on a RvW if you don’t produce your own; damned to watch a Patrick Bamford walk if you do.
What the answer is, I’ve no idea. But congrats on your new deal, Bilal.