Scratch the surface of Peter Grant and right now he still bleeds Dickson Etuhu.
The exit of the Canary powerhouse to Sunderland in the second of this summer's controversial, 'get-out' clause deals left Grant feeling very raw. He had big plans for the big man – plans that, it now appears, also included the appearance of Jimmy Smith in City's midst.
The 20-year-old Chelsea youngster was always in the manager's mind; he was not a rushed-in replacement for the departing Etuhu.
“If he'd have been here, I'd have looked about this group and what we have here and I'd be thinking to myself: 'Yeh, we'll be there or thereabouts,” said Grant, fresh from presiding over another morning training session on the club's pre-season tour to Holland.
What is interesting talking to Grant is where his transfer priorities now lie in the wake of Etuhu's exit; that had he stayed firmly put, the City chief clearly believes that he would have had a little bit of everything in that midfield mix. Now he has a sheer physical presence to replace; something that Mother Nature never designed Smith to do. On first impressions, the 20-year-old looks like Jody Morris – minus a fire extinguisher.
“We'd still be looking to bring one or two in if he was still here – now that's changed a little bit,” said Grant, who has long ruled out further additions to his strike department. It's what tweaks he makes further back that is now of interest; that vacant No5 shirt still lurks in the background, as does a potential Etuhu replacement. He did, after all, bring seven goals to the party last season – as well as that 6ft 3in frame.
“Now, perhaps, we have to have a little different thought process in the middle of the pitch to make up for that – because we still need goals from that area of the pitch,” said Grant, left to mix and match the rest of his midfield options now that the No1 certainty belongs to Roy Keane.
“We've brought young Jimmy in who looks terrific at doing that and we're still looking at one or two other aspects of it; the small parts that Julien Brellier has taken part in, you can hear the other players talking and they can see the quality he has; Safri's come back and looking excellent; he's looking sharp; Fotheringham's been first class and he's obviously champing at the bit to put his claim down in the central midfield area.”
None, however, bring what Dickson did to the party. And as much as one or two punters may remain wholly unconvinced about Etuhu's efforts or abilities, Keane clearly saw something in him – and he wasn't exactly the worst midfield player in the world.
What Grant saw was a player who covered yards and yards of ground in the Canary cause – in those huge, green acres that invariably opened up between Safri sat back in front on the Norwich back four and Darren Huckerby doing his usual 'left-ish' thing.
“People were very critical of Dickson last year and I thought he was terrific for us. And I think if you looked at the balance of the team, if you played with Safs in the middle and Hucks on the left – and no disrespect to those two – but Safs wants to get on the ball and Hucks wants that freedon to go express himself,” said Grant.
“So Dickson would run into the box, but then he'd have to recover to outside left, then he'd have to cover to the centre of the pitch, then he'd get the ball, then he'd need to get back into the ball again – so there was a lot of work put on him.
“So even if Dickson was still here, even though I'd brought Julien in I'd have still been looking to bring another one in; I'd be looking at Jimmy – because I felt we'd need someone to give him a breather in the middle of the pitch and then they'd be looking forward trying to get goals. And Jimmy brings that to us.”
Ergo, Jimmy Smith is no longer Etuhu's apprentice, he needs to be the wizard himself. Hence why you sense Grant still feels one body short in midfield.
“We're maybe two players short of where I'd feel comfortable – where if I got two players in in certain positions, then I could change the system with the players I have on the pitch, without making a substitution, and I think that's what makes you a better team.”
Digging out another potential 'free' diamond Brellier-style is Grant's next quest. “We're getting together a group of players that we can afford to bring in, but are still quality and to do that you've got to have your finger on the pulse on what's out there and what's available – like Julien Brellier.
“We'd watched him last season; I knew there were the likes of Rangers and that very much interested in him and all of a sudden, we come in and he signs a contract. But everyone thinks that because he's on a Bosman, he's a poor player. And you know that's not the case – there's a lot of Bosman players about that you think that if I can balance him into the team, then we've got a chance.
“That's part of the game now – you've got to be out there and seeing everything that's available. And if you can get them on a Bosman, then sometimes you can give them more money financially.”
myfootballwriter's pre-season tour is sponsored by aggbag.co.uk
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