There’s still plenty of work to be done in this transfer window and without doubt we’ll all breathe easier when we see some strikers through the in-door, but there was one player in particular whose signature I felt was essential to the success of City’s campaign and that was Moritz Leitner.
When he originally signed on loan I was told by a senior Club official that the German players at Carrow Road were amazed that City had landed him and were somewhat in awe of a player who had made 24 Under-21 appearances for Germany and been on the bench in a Champions League Final at the age of 18.
It was evident from his first Carrow Road cameo as a substitute that Leitner had something special. I remember him playing a quick one two then freeing Josh Murphy with a pin point 30-yard first time pass before sprinting into the box only to miss the resultant cross by inches.
Of course, a combination of injury and the fact that James Maddison’s free role in City’s midfield meant that he frequently occupied the areas in which Leitner clearly wanted to play resulted in the German having to play second fiddle in most of his appearances. But there were signs of class whenever he was on the pitch, although there were also occasions when his speed of thought seemed to be some way ahead of some of his teammates.
I have seen some criticism of his signing which revolves around his lack of physicality being unsuited to the Championship, but that was never a problem for Wes Hoolahan, and Maddison was hardly renowned for crashing into tackles.
Obviously, a team needs plenty of muscle in this league, but it can only take you so far, and without guile it’s hard to go all the way as Sheffield United and Millwall discovered last season. However, with the likes of Tom Trybull, Ben Godfrey and Alex Tettey alongside him I don’t see too much of a problem.
Maddison bestrode City’s midfield like a colossus last season and as a result of his desire to be on the ball whenever possible it was always difficult for others to do any more than follow his lead, but now that he has made his inevitable Premier League move the man I wanted to see in our midfield most of all (and with no disrespect to Kenny McLean or Emiliano Buendia, who both look like cracking additions) was Mo.
Of course, Leitner is not a direct Maddison replacement. For a start, he’s not a natural goalscorer, as his career record illustrates, and he’s certainly not a natural “number 10” although he can play there, but he seems to prefer a deeper role from which he can initiate attacks. The fact that he prefers a short passing game with lots of give and go’s should blend well with Mario Vrancic’s ability to use the longer ball effectively and McLean’s strong running.
There is no doubt that after a stellar start to his career Leitner lost his way somewhat (which is why he finds himself at Norwich rather than Bayern or Dortmund) but that was also the case when Trybull arrived at Carrow Road summer as an unheralded free agent only to become a firm fan favourite. And there is no reason why we should not expect Leitner to do the same, because at 25 he has his best years ahead of him.
It would certainly seem that City’s midfield will have a different shape this season, and while I don’t expect any one player to replicate Maddison’s goal return, both Buendia and particularly McLean – who scored 5 times in 15 appearances after being loaned back to Aberdeen – have goals in them. And, whereas last season the side suffered when Maddison was below his best ( as he was for much of the run in), this time around it should be more difficult for opponents to stifle City’s creativity by singling out one player.
However, that will, of course, count for nothing unless Stuart Webber succeeds in bringing in better striking options to finish off whatever chances the midfield is able to create, so I’m not going to get too excited just yet, but the return of Leitner has certainly increased my optimism.
What has really endeared Leitner to me though is that throughout the summer he has been posting images on his Instagram account of him training alone in Germany wearing his City kit.
This is a young man who wants to be at Carrow Road, and after seeing so many players using the club as their fall-back choices in recent years (Steven Naismith being a prime example) I am glad to see a player of such quality really pushing to be a Norwich City player.
Welcome home Mo!