City boss Peter Grant has handed 23-year-old centre-half Jason Shackell an extra challenge this summer – to show that he has the right stuff to lead the Canaries into Championship battle.
With regular skipper Adam Drury sat in the stands for the opening 45 minutes of Norwich's pre-season debut at Exeter City on Saturday, it was Shackell who led the visitors out at St James' Park – the first time that the one-time Canary trainee has sported the armband at first team level.
Afterwards Grant suggested that opportunity knocked – provided that Shackell himself now stepped up to the plate and grew into the role.
?I just look at him and I think that Jason has an opportunity to lead this club – if he prepares right and does things like that,? said Grant, clearly hoping that one young man can blossom into a genuine leader of men.
?I think he's got something to come in his game and there was a rawness in his game today, but he has got the attributes that he could be a leader.
?He's has got to show that more consistently, but it's an opportunity for him now and it's something that he can grow into.?
Shackell himself was delighted at his new-found role – even if it was just for the first friendly of the summer. Nothing at this stage would appear to be set in stone; as in many other aspects of his thinking, the City chief is clearly using his first, full summer break at the helm to toy with a few ideas; to see what may or may not work.
Certainly Shackell was taking nothing for granted. ?Just for today,? was his immediate response afterwards.
?I don't know if the gaffer was trying me out – it's obviously only just a friendly, but still very happy. Very nice to have that on for the first time,? he said.
?I've had it for the ressies, but that was the first time for the first team so that was very pleasing.?
In fairness, if straight-forward honesty is one attribute that Grant might be looking for, then Shackell's own assessment of Saturday's opening run-out will not have done him any harm.
The first ten minutes or so weren't great as City's Conference-standard hosts raced into a 2-0 lead as they looked both smarter and sharper than their Championship visitors. Indeed, but for Joe Lewis' reactions Grecians' striker Jamie Mackie could have bagged himself a hat-trick.
The fact that both goals arrived down the Exeter right – the first after Shackell and stand-in left-back Robert Eagle had haplessly collided together – found City's skipper-for-the-day holding his hand up for his part in Norwich's early downfall.
?We made a few mistakes; I made a few mistakes,? said Shackell. ?And I thought Exeter looked sharp – especially in the first 10, 15 minutes. We were a little bit sluggish. So we're a bit disappointed – we never like to lose a game.
?But we're just finding our bearings again. Overall? We got a good little work out and Exeter played well today as well.?
It is, says Shackell, now a case of translating all that summer fitness work into match sharpness; that and developing an awareness of the needs of half a new team as Grant continues to slot his new pieces into City's 07-08 jigsaw.
David Strihavka and Jamie Cureton were the two new-boys on show at St James Park. Canary fans could yet get a glimpse of Julien Brellier, Jon Otsemobor, David Marshall and Matt Gilks over the next 72 hours as the Canaries' pre-season preparations continue this week with games against Lowestoft Town and King's Lynn.
?Like I say, we were just finding our feet today and, hopefully, we can go into the next few pre-season games and improve; all get a little bit sharper. At times I thought we looked a little bit leggy today,? said Shackell.
?But it's all coming together – we've just got to keep working hard on the training pitch and then push on in the next few pre-season friendlies.
?We had a tough programme over the summer; all the boys have come back, having done it and looked good, to be fair.
?And the first few days were tough. But we've just eased off over the last couple of days. Now, with the games, we'll hopefully just keep it ticking over in training and put some better and sharper performances in the games and look forward to the start of the season.?
Grant suggested that he will use the forthcoming trip to Holland to start to bed down his likely starting XI for the real opener away at Preston North End on August 11. The Carrow Road games against West Ham United and Vitesse Arnhem beforehand will provide the time for any last minute fine tuning.
The basis of a team should be established – injuries permitting – by the time City return from Holland at the end of next week.
?Holland – probably in Holland,? said Grant, asked as to when he hoped to start pinning his August 11 outfit down.
?That's the time that you start looking at it and you start to put things into players' minds.
?There's a lot of fitness work going in there, a lot of leg work going in there – it's been four times a day, sometimes.
?The next two games will be a bit like today – it'll be mix and match; getting 45 minutes here and there – but once we get over there then you'll see people get a little bit longer time and then the two games when we come back,? added Grant, still happy to have players force his hand in other directions – if their performances merit it.
?That's what we're saying to the boys at the moment – that's the challenge, to get as close as they can to that and give me a problem.?