After days of speculation, it was confirmed this afternoon that City first-team coach Martin Hunter has joined Watford in a similar capacity ? working alongside former Canary favourite Malky Mackay in assisting Hornets boss Adie Boothroyd.
Hunter joined the Canaries in the summer of last year, after previous spells as assistant manager at Bradford and Stoke ? as well as, most recently, a stint working for the FA in charge of England Under-19s.
News broke at the weekend that Hunter looked to be heading out of Norfolk ? a move that has left City chief Peter Grant fuming.
The timing of his departure and the way the whole episode has been handled has certainly left a bitter taste in Canary mouths ? as Grant made abundantly clear at the weekend.
“I got a phone call from Adie Boothroyd on Thursday evening asking me for permission to speak to Martin,” said Grant, after the 2-0 success over AGOVV Apeldoorn on Saturday.
“I think that was after the horse had bolted, really, because I think that talk had been going on.
“If people show an inkling of not wanting to be here any longer, I don't give them very much time here.
“I think I showed an honesty to keep Martin on in the first place when I could easily have changed it and I don't think that's been repaid.”
And now, Grant finds himself having to spend time and effort finding a replacement ? the last thing he needs to be doing as the search for new recruits on the playing side goes on, not to mention fine tuning his starting eleven ahead of that all-important August 11 clash at Deepdale.
Boothroyd on the other hand, is delighted with his 'new signing'.
“I'd like to welcome Martin to Watford, where as with all of the coaches he will have an eye on developing the talent that exists here at Vicarage Road for the wider benefit of the club and individuals,” said Boothroyd, speaking to the club's official website.
“He fits the mould and that's important for me and the club as we move towards our vision for the future, and it also means I'm one step nearer to finalising my backroom team for the forthcoming season.
“Martin's arrival will mean that Malky is less pressured as he learns the ropes as a player/coach, and it also means that Dick Bate can further concentrate on developing our Under 24 players and the Academy.
“Norwich are obviously upset at his departure and I can understand why, because in my opinion he is of the highest calibre as a coach.”
That the Norfolk club are upset is not in any doubt, but one senses it is more to do with the way the whole affair has been conducted more than anything else.
Since the addition of Jim Duffy and Bryan Gunn to Grant's backroom staff, Hunter has taken a back seat in first-team duties and with the Scot absolutely delighted with the work of his right-hand man and countryman Duffy, maybe a parting of company was for the best.
“Martin Hunter has left the club,” City Chief Executive Neil Doncaster confirmed this afternoon to the Norwich official site.
“There has been a delay because Watford did not want to pay any compensation as we had not paid any compensation to the FA when Martin joined us.
“But now it has all been agreed, including compensation, and it's time for all parties to move on.”
Attention will now turn to a replacement and there are sure to be no shortage of applications arriving through the Colney mailbox.
Former Barclay End hero Mackay had been touted as a possible option ? one that would have certainly pleased the Canary faithful.
But he now looks destined to remain in Hertfordshire if Boothroyd's words today are anything to go by.
One thing is for sure, Grant will be replacing Hunter. That is a given.
“There are a lot of people I know who would desperately want this job and I've got to make sure it's the right balance with me and Jim.
“Jim has been absolutely fantastic for me. Jim and Bryan Gunn through the summer time were excellent and were all over the place when I was away.
“I'm very, very pleased with them and I'm lucky I've got them. I will definitely add to the coaching staff.”
City boss Peter Grant's summer recruitment drive took another interesting turn this morning after the Canaries were strongly linked with a possible swoop for Leicester City marksman Matty Fryatt.
According to newspaper reports, the Canaries are battling Watford for the signature of the former Walsall striker ? who has found the net 10 times in Foxes colours during an 18-month spell.
In truth, it is not a goal record that will have Championship defenders quaking in their boots but he has found life tough at the Walkers Stadium, often being introduced as a substitute.
However, Fryatt was due to play his first pre-season match last night against Partick Thistle at Firhill.
“Matty has been patient and deserves the chance to show what he can do,” said Foxes boss Martin Allen before the encounter.
He was the subject of interest from Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier in the summer and it was in the West Midlands, with the Saddlers, where he made scouts and managers alike sit up and notice; he notched 30 goals in 55 starts and was the subject of much speculation before he clinched his big-money move to Leicester.
What comes as the biggest surprise, however, is that Grant seems to be still in the market for a front-man.
With 6ft 3 Czech forward David Strihavka already in, Jamie Cureton settling back into Norfolk life like he's never been away and the two Chris' – Brown and Martin ? enjoying a fruitful pre-season so far, most thought that City's spending in this area was done and dusted.
Add the fact that Messrs Dublin and Huckerby are equally at home up top as opposed to their defensive and left-ish roles and Grant has some real options in there.
Oh yeah, don't forget Ryan Jarvis as well, although it would be easy to do so. It seems like an age since we last saw him in Canary colours.
Fryatt doesn't seem to be the only name on Grant's radar though.
A certain D Riordan seems to have cropped up in conversation again; the Canaries were strongly linked with him during the January transfer window but even though the City chief rates the Celtic man highly, he has ruled out making another swoop on his former club – although he admits that his summer spending is far from over.
Ex-Hibs star Riordan has been unable to secure a regular place in his first year at Celtic and has admitted his frustration at his lack of first-team opportunities, but he won't be Carrow Road bound ? for now.
“Derek is a top quality player,” admitted Grant.
“He is probably the best finisher at Celtic, but what position does he play?
“I don't really know if he is a striker, a second striker or if he's best wide of a three. His quality is without doubt, but the structure in my team is the reason I won't go for him.
“But we're still looking to get players in. We're making a lot of inquiries to see what's out there and hopefully we'll have something in the next couple of weeks. We'll keep knocking at the door and see if anything comes of it.”
Meanwhile, Watford have confirmed they are in talks with City first-team coach Martin Hunter, as hinted by Grant at the weekend.
Whilst the Hornets official website admits that the deal to bring Hunter to Vicarage Road is not yet complete, it would be a major surprise if he did not end up in Hertfordshire.
It seems he has burnt all his bridges in Norfolk after Grant voiced his displeasure at the timing and nature of his imminent departure and his switch to Watford should go through ? barring any major hitches ? in a matter of days.
Where this leaves ex-City favourite Malky Mackay is yet to be seen. The Scotland defender is currently the Hornets' player-coach but has been mentioned in some quarters as a possible replacement for Hunter at Carrow Road.
It would certainly be a popular appointment in these parts, Malky was a much-loved figure with fans and players alike but reading between the lines, there still seems to be a place for Mackay at Vicarage Road.
“Boothroyd has been seeking another coach to work with the first team allowing Dick Bate to concentrate on his role as Technical Director in developing the under 24s.
“The gaffer also has Malky Mackay to assist with coaching as he is currently in a transitional year as a player-coach,” their official site proclaimed.
Read into that what you will?
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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