Legend is a term that gets bandied around all too frequently these days. Wes Hoolahan, however, deserves that label and more in a Norwich City context.
A few years back I casually wrote a tweet saying I thought Wes was our most overrated player of all time. I have also written a joke tweet wondering whether he had an inner ear infection due to the number of times he spins in a circle.
I have even stated that all of our managers have dropped Wes at different points while in the Premier League (note: I didn’t say I agreed with that) and have dared to criticise him when at times he (1) slowed the game down too much, (2) beat a man for the third time with strikers waiting or (3) gave the ball away on the halfway line.
I was also guilty of suggesting his goal tally isn’t as good as it should be for a player of his talent and I’ve also been known to be critical of him during the Hughton era and the potential move to Villa. I was at Villa Park when he didn’t celebrate scoring and the “s**thouse of a club” comment annoyed me, but I understood it was born of frustration at not playing.
I should have known better. The backlash of those jumping to conclusions and filling in the gaps allowed by a limited character format whilst wearing their Westacles was swift and harsh, but not necessarily just.
I was labelled a Wes-hater! Back in the real world, nothing could be further from the truth.
I love Wes. He’s given us some truly magical moments on the pitch, moments no other player I’ve seen since I started watching in City in 1985 could do.
Wes is hands down the best attacking-midfielder I have seen play in yellow and green.
When I said he was our most overrated player of all time, I certainly did not mean he was a bad player, far from it, he’s obviously not. That tweet came off the back of being involved in a conversation where fellow City fans claimed that Wes was better than Ozil, Silva and Bale based on some half-baked unsubstantiated stats.
I found this totally ludicrous and tweeted as a result. I was also quite drunk.
I also believe no player should be beyond criticism, so have pointed out the flaws as well as the magic. As one of my friends once stated when I asked how we’d played today, “We were OK, Wes was Wes, awful one minute and absolutely brilliant the next!”.
Wes has had tremendous support from the crowd, as he stated in his open letter; when he makes mistakes the crowd accepts it, whereas the same mistake by Nathan Redmond or Josh Murphy will be met with a series of groans around the ground.
This is not Wes’s fault, of course, and maybe his magic gives him that grace. I would say, however, that Carrow Road would be a much better place for everybody if all players were treated similarly to Wes, especially younger developing players. Food for thought.
The end of an era when a successful manager like Paul Lambert or player such as Hoolahan moves on gets you thinking. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought ‘wow’ while watching Wes play.
It got me thinking: why have managers dropped him in the Premier League? And why hasn’t he played for his country more often?
The sad reality of that is that neither City or RoI have been considered good enough in their respective environment to play a CAM regularly. He’s been deemed a luxury player. And that probably has something to do with his pace and physical stature.
Personally, I think that’s a crying shame and a missed opportunity for both. With the benefit of hindsight, I would much rather have seen the team built around Wes and as we went down anyway a few times, do it in a way that was enjoyable.
I remember him having a cracking game with Gary Hooper against Man Utd under Chris Hughton, only to get dropped in the next game.
So while I understand the dilemma, if you play a CAM you can be less structured and organised, whereas if you play players like Wes anywhere else – for example on the left wing of a 4-4-2 – you lose your shape when he goes wandering. But being blunt, I don’t care!
I’d rather have players like Wes on the pitch than not. I admire defensive organisation and structure, but it’s not exciting at all. Life’s too short, play creative players and ride the roller coaster!
Alas, there is no point lamenting the past. What I’d like to focus on is the joy in being able to witness the best attacking-midfielder this club has ever had. It is sad, but also inevitable.
Sure he had faults, but don’t we all? I, for one, am glad he did, as without faults he would be up there with Ozil, Silva and Bale and dare I say it even Messi, and we certainly would not have seen him play for a decade at Carrow Road.
It’s a shame that we could not have found a player-coaching role for Wes given that players like James Maddison have stated they have learned a lot from him. But given our financial state there’s sadly little room for sentiment.
This also got me thinking of my best ever City squad and thought it would be fun to share. The rules are you have to have seen them play yourself and the formation/players must work in the real world so to speak. It’s really difficult and I’ve changed my mind even from my tweet the other day on the same subject, but here goes:
Culverhouse, Bruce, Watson, Bowen
Huckerby, Hoolahan, Eadie
Subs: Gunn (Bryan), Drury, Fleming, Maddison, Bellamy, Fox, Holt
I can pay Wes no higher compliment than including him in my best ever City XI and when you consider players like Roberts, Robins, Ekoku, Phillips, Sherwood, Townsend, Green, Channon, Barham and more haven’t even made the list it shows how tough it is!
So, in summary, I’d like to say thanks Wes, I’ve loved watching you play football and will miss your moment of genius; my personal favourite being when you put half of the Rotherham defence on their backsides before calming stroking it home.
Good luck with whatever you’re moving on to and I hope to see you back here one day.