City boss Peter Grant tonight admitted that “it was like hitting me with a sledgehammer” when he was told of Sunderland's impending ?1.5 million bid for Dickson Etuhu on Saturday night.
Speaking hard on the heels of this evening's 12-0 rout of Lowestoft Town, it was clear that the Canary chief had endured a miserable 72-hours as his best-laid midfield plans went up in smoke – or rather, went up the A1 as 25-year-old Etuhu was officially unveiled as a Sunderland player this morning.
“I'm very disappointed to have lost Dickson – there's no doubt about that,” said Grant, bemused by the number of people who know think that the powerful midfield player is now the best thing since sliced bread – having barely given him the time of day for much of last season.
Grant stood by his man through thick and thin – a fact that merely deepened his own sense of frustration at seeing Etuhu follow Robert Earnshaw out of the door, get-out clause in hand.
“It's amazing the number of people who support him now – but wanted him out when I came to the club. That's the thing that's interesting,” said Grant.
“I just wish people would have seen that for longer – while he was here. Because he's a top player and, unfortunately, he's gone into a club that I feel we're more than capable of being on a par with.
“And speaking to the big fella' he's really, really disappointed with the way that it's came. But on Saturday you could have knocked me down when I got the phone call saying that an offer was coming in – because it was a big, big disappointment for me.
“That was the first I knew about it and, like I say, it was like hitting me with a sledgehammer.”
Etuhu's trip to the dentist – which ruled him out of the trip to Exeter on Saturday – was genuine enough; it would appear, however, that sometime in the last 72 hours he was also making a trip up north in time to be posing with his new Sunderland shirt at the Stadium Of Light this morning.
Back at Carrow Road and Grant's careful summer planning – in particular, bringing in Julien Brellier to act as Etuhu's combative midfield foil – has come to nothing; it's back to the drawing board.
“I think you've seen the way that I have tried to balance the side and, obviously, he was going to be a big part of that – and it's a massive blow. I've tried to base the team on him being there,” said Grant, with the Canaries understood to have offered the 6ft 3in midfielder a new contract last week that featured a 50% increase in wages only to find Roy Keane's Premiership cheque book hoving into view.
And with an offer that was bang on the money in terms of that ?1.5 million get-out clause.
“The pull of the Premiership – there's nothing you can do about that. And, obviously, he's got an agent that's worked very well in the background to keep it as quiet as he did.
“And to be fair to Roy Keane, he phoned me yesterday and said he was surprised how everything happened so quickly and he was just disappointed that he never got to me before I got the call on Saturday evening. So fair play to Roy in that respect.
“But he's got a terrific player and somebody that I'm sure will be a tremendous success for them.”
That said, Grant wore his disappointment, like his heart, on his sleeve.
“Saturday and Sunday was very difficult for me – it was a big blow for me. To lose a player of his quality. And as a guy, as a person.
“I'd supported him through those difficult times and he returned that in his performances.”
The whole Etuhu episode was made all the more messy by Darren Huckerby's intervention yesterday as the Canary favourite made his feelings known in a way that only Huckerby can. He shoots from the lip on occasion – but always straight from the heart. That's what makes him such a one-off.
“He thinks he's doing it for the better of everybody,” said Grant. “He thinks he's doing it for the better of the club, the better of the players. He thinks he's doing it for the better of the team, the better of the manager.
“And I can understand his frustration – because we all want to be playing in the Premier League. That's the bottom line – that's where we all want to be.
“But it was a tough decision for Dickson. But he's made his decision to play in the Premier League – and who can fault him for that?
“But I understand Darren's frustrations – he wants to play with the best players, I want to be coaching the best players because you become a better coach if you've got better players round about you.”
There was a definite sense of Grant drawing a line in the sand; of moving on, of dusting himself down and going again as the Canary boss – not yet into his first full year of club management – learnt just what an unforgiving beast this game can be.
“We've lost him. We've got to deal with that; we've got to get on with it. And we've got to try and replace him,” said Grant.
“It's happened. It's been a tough couple of days – thankfully I was away in Holland yesterday looking at the training facility because it let me clear my head a little.
“But now I've got my feet back on the ground. We know we've got to replace him. Players come and go; supporters are always here; clubs are always here. And we're just hoping that we can replace him with top quality.”
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