Goals were what walked out of the door when Dickson Etuhu packed his bags for Sunderland.
That when City boss Peter Grant bemoaned the loss of his 6ft 3in powerhouse, that was the one thing that he could ill-afford to lose. Goals. Goals from midfield.
They are, you always sense, worth their weight in gold as far as any manager is concerned.
Which is why City old-boy Darel Russell has been attracting so much attention of late – goals. He hit seven last season including three in five games through the course of the late autumn – enough to earn him the Championship's Player of the Month award for November.
Take Jimmy Smith out of the reckoning for the next couple of months and whatever else Julien Brellier might be about to bring to the party, it is not goals. Nor is it something that Mark Fotheringham has in abundance in his locker.
Bursting into the box with menace will be Russell's task come that trip to Preston North End on August 11.
?I'm putting pressure on myself this year to be able to put goals in the back of the net,? said Russell this afternoon, fresh from agreeing his three-year deal back at Carrow Road.
?I really want to be pushing on and putting a few in there and at least equalling what I did last season. Or pushing on even further. So that's the main area that I'm going to be trying to work on this year and pushing myself hard on.?
For those in need of a pub quiz teaser, naming the Norwich manager who gave Russell his City debut nine years ago is quite a goody – the answer is John Faulkner, who for one game stood in for the sacked Mike Walker before following him out of the door in the summer of 1998 as the ill-starred partnership of Bruce Rioch and Bryan Hamilton walked into Colney.
That 1-0 win at Reading – the last-ever game to be played at their old home of Elm Park, if memory serves – should have acted as the springboard for a rich and rewarding career for the teenage Russell. He had long been touted as the next big thing.
In the end, however, it never quite happened. He never quite nailed down the lengthy run in the team that he needed; nor, in fairness, was it the best of times at the club – certainly not once Hamilton gained sole charge.
There were flashes – the best in the televised trip to Portsmouth in December, 2001; a 2-1 win in which he shone.
By 2003 and, after a lengthy stalemate over the terms of a new contract, he was off to the Potteries in a ?125,000 deal that featured a hefty sell-on clause. Just in case.
Today's reported ?600,000 switch is understood to include provision for the non-activated sell-on clause – back in the Potteries, the Stoke Sentinel were reporting the Russell deal as being worth ?400,000 with add-ons taking it nearer to the ?500,000 mark.
He returns a different player – and all to a very different club. The Jarrold Stand wasn't there the last time he looked.
?I've spent four years away and I've probably missed about 20 games in the last four years so that's a lot of experience I've gained; a lot of learning experiences. And improvement in playing,? said Grant's eighth arrival of the summer, Etuhu's old No20 shirt now his for the season.
?When I was here, this stand wasn't here; the training ground has improved. Everything seems to have moved on a level from when I was last here which is always a good thing – it looks as if they're still pushing in the right direction. Pushing forwards.
?So things are different – it's a different club that I'm coming back to.?
Jason Shackell, Adam Drury, Jamie Cureton – there aren't that many familiar faces left as Grant's revolution continues.
?There are probably only three lads I really know from when I was previously here, but there are others that you know from playing around – it's a small community, anyway,? said Russell, who enjoyed his first full training session up at Colney this morning with the ink barely dry on his latest City deal.
?All the lads have taken me in really well – they've been fantastic so far and I'm looking forward to getting down to a good couple of weeks work with them and understanding how everyone plays.?
What everyone else has to understand is his current level of fitness after a summer seemingly stuck on a shelf waiting for Tony Pulis' phone to ring. Into the last year of his contract at The Britannia, there was a sense that both parties were going to move on; that Pulis was already making plans without him.
?I'm miles behind at this minute in time,? he admitted, after a 35-minute run out against Real Madrid last Friday night.
?That was the first game I'd really played in pre-season and I think that was due to keeping this whole thing under wraps. That I probably would be moving, but they wanted me to do that.
?It was nice to play against them, but I still need games. Training was very hard for me today and I haven't even played 45 minutes of a game yet. So I've got a little bit of catching up to do, but I'm a fit lad and hopefully should be able to catch it up pretty quickly.
?I just need to get back to working hard after being wrapped up in cotton wool with an imminent move.?
Not that anything was ever guaranteed despite Grant having one little nibble earlier last season – that and Charlton also reported to be waiting in the wings.
?It wasn't always going to happen – no. Stoke really didn't want to release me – it was more a personal decision for myself. Now I'm just itching to get the season underway; to be out there and playing.?
Back at The Britannia Ground and Pulis appeared to bear no ill-will towards his departing midfield star.
“Darel was into the last year of his contract and keen to return nearer to London for domestic reasons,” Pulis told the Stoke Sentinel newspaper this afternoon.
“It is something that was spoken about last season and was why his departure always remained a possibility. Darel owes us absolutely nothing after being sold for a generous profit and giving great service in the meantime over four seasons at Stoke.
“He goes with our very best wishes because he never let me nor this football club down during his time here.”
So did it feel like he was coming home?
?Yes, most definitely. When I drove back, like I was saying earlier, I'm finding all the short-cuts that I remembered.
?Everything kind of falls back into place a little bit. And there is a little bit of a sense of coming home, but hopefully that'll just mean I'll be settling into the city more quickly and, likewise, getting back to playing the best I can play more quickly too.?
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