“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken…”
This will come round to Norwich – bear with me. But first, a brief detour into literary criticism.
Analysing novels, one critic drew a distinction between two types of character: sincere man and authentic man.
Sincere man is sociable, dependable, responsible – the sort you’d be happy if your daughter brought home. Authentic man is something different: a free spirit, where animal instinct and energy take precedence over conventional social behaviour.
Heathcliff and the Phantom of the Opera are authentic men.
They’re not easy to live with, but they have an animal magnetism.
The closest to authentic man I’ve seen in real life was when my wife-to-be took me to the ballet and we saw Rudolf Nureyev.
As a man, Nureyev was unreasonable, demanding and notoriously unfaithful. As a dancer, he was untidy and imperfect.
Yet he provoked the same reaction in men and women alike: you couldn’t take your eyes off him.
In football, perhaps the most obvious one is Eric Cantona.
Of course his kung-fu attack on a fan abusing him from the stand was unpardonable. But – let’s admit it – there was also something magnificent about it.
The most authentic player I can remember in Canary yellow was – well actually, he was the one not in Canary yellow.
Kevin Keelan was animal in movement, and in character. You were likely to see him make a breathtaking feline save; it was also quite possible you’d see him decking someone.
Of course, it’s a literary device to put different qualities into separate characters.
In reality, we all have a bit of authentic man and a bit of sincere man in us. Two more recent City players perhaps underline the point: Darren Huckerby and Wes Hoolahan.
I know Hucks to be a modest and well-mannered man, and have no reason to think Wes is anything different. But on the field they’re authentic men par excellence.
Hucks was thrilling to watch, but everyone knew his heart wasn’t in tracking back. For the left side of our team to work, while giving Hucks free rein, required the presence of that archetypal sincere man, Adam Drury.
Wes is much the same. From the Sheffield Wednesday game, you could produce a two-minute video making Wes look a complete liability.
You could also produce one making him look a world-beating playmaker.
We can love them. If they were complete players, they wouldn’t have been at Norwich. Let’s not deny their flaws, but let’s also relish the special things they do before us.
Authentic is exciting, but sincere is sometimes admirable.
On Saturday I was part of Robin Sainty’s Canaries Trust group which met with Ed Balls and Joe Ferrari. The wide-ranging and constructive discussion confirmed some of the reasons I’m proud to support Norwich City.
Our club is genuinely committed to being a leader in anti-discrimination issues, being part of the community where it’s based, and engaging with its supporters.
Frustrating as it sometimes is for us fans awaiting new players, the club acts with financial integrity.
Much of the media still don’t properly recognize, in my view, the difference between us and, for instance, Bournemouth.
To recap: in the season when Bournemouth and ourselves won promotion to the Premier League, they breached the rules of Financial Fair Play.
Actually, ‘breached’ is a huge understatement. Clubs were allowed a maximum deviation (in effect an operating loss) of £6m.
Bournemouth lost a little over £38m, largely because the wage bill of £30m was more than double the entire turnover of the club.
The owner knew a fine would come but – correctly – judged that it would be a small fraction of the windfall for going up. For driving a coach-and-horses through the rules, they were fined £7.6m.
You could argue that Bournemouth played the system smartly. If it was Norwich, we’d try and find ways to justify what we’d done. But it’s not right, and it’s not something to be proud of.
Having said all that, and being proud of much that our club does, the worst-kept secret in football is that we need reinforcement in the striking department. It’s crucial to our chances of success.
Let’s hope we see a new striker soon.
And that he’s an authentic one…