City boss Glenn Roeder this morning lifted one eye above the horizon and gave a first big hint of the mammoth reconstruction job that awaits in the summer – irrespective of how this extraordinary season pans out.
With seven loan players long-since due to return to their full-time employers, Dion Dublin heading off into the sunset media career beckoning and Darren Huckerby, according to Roeder, seemingly already set on pastures new, the City boss will head into July a mere nine players short.
Throw in the fact that both skipper Mark Fotheringham and Gary Doherty are out of contract and of the side that started against Hull City on Tuesday night, Roeder can bank on having just four players at his command – David Marshall, Lee Croft, Darel Russell and Jason Shackell.
Of the five players sat on the bench, only three will be here come the summer – Matthew Gilks, Jon Otsemobor and Matty Pattison. The injured Adam Drury and Luke Chadwick offer two more names; Jamie Cureton a third. Given the difficulty that both Chris Martin and Michael Spillane have had in forcing their way into the manager's thinking of late – let alone the likes of Rossi Jarvis, Robert Eagle and Co – then for a manager looking to run a 20-strong senior squad next season, as things currently stand he remains about ten players light.
Little wonder that Roeder this morning insisted he would be keeping in contact with Matthew Bates as the 21-year-old headed back to Middlesbrough this week for another lengthy spell on the sidelines following his heart-breaking knee injury.
“We're all very upset for him,” said Roeder, ahead of tomorrow's trip to Leicester City.
“He made such a good impression on us as a person, first and foremost. And, obviously, we knew he was a good player before we took him. And I think he proved that straight away in his first game when he came on,” added the City boss, vowing to keep in close contact with the 21-year-old over the long period of his next rehab. Bates' name – even on the basis of having just had little more than a fortnight in the building – is clearly penned in Roeder's little black book for future reference.
“I spoke to him yesterday and I will keep in touch with him over whatever it is, nine, ten months, until he's regained full fitness.
“He's the sort of player that we probably couldn't have afforded, but the sort of player that I would have liked to have signed. And for us to do the job properly here, we need seven or eight Matthew Bates' at the club. Obviously in different positions – but those characters.”
In one sense, whatever happens between now and the end of the season, you already sense that Roeder has ticked the first box of his job criteria – to keep Norwich in this division for another season. As they head to the Walkers' Stadium tomorrow now 13 games unbeaten, it would take an extraordinary turnaround in form for the Norfolk side to slump back into the bottom three again.
Hence his thoughts starting to turn to the next challenge – the summer when the sticking plaster solution of his loan signings comes off and reveals the gaping holes in his armoury beneath.
“I've always said that's the toughest part of my job – recruitment. Because if you strip away the loans and see what I'm using, there's not a lot is there?
“And come the summer with Dion retiring and it looks pretty certain – before I've had a chance to make my mind up – Huckerby's made his own mind up that he's leaving, so you're nine players down.”
It would be 11 should the club fail to agree new terms with Messrs Doherty and Fotheringham. On that score, Roeder appears relatively confident.
“I'd like to think that Doc would want to stay and sign a new contract – and I think Fotheringham will sign a new contract as well. Both players tell me that they want to, so it's just a case of sitting down and getting a new contract agreed with both of them,” said Roeder, still well aware that that was just the start.
Where to start, might be more apt a question as he looks around at what he's left with once the dust finally settles on the 2007-2008 roller-coaster ride.
“There's a real re-building job to be done here which we always knew. We knew what our first goal was this year – there's still a lot of work to be done; points to be gained.
“But after that we're going to have to face the reality of potentially there's going to be nine players – at least – going.”
If he's like to add seven Matthew Bates' to his plans, then the City boss would also like to order another six Alex Pearces as the Reading centre-half again impresses.
He, it seems, is now the chosen right-back cover behind Jon Otsemobor. Quizzed whether that role might go to either Michael Spillane or Andrew Cave-Brown, Roeder didn't muck around.
“Neither,” he said. “Alex Pearce is a central defender, but if he had to fill in at right-back I'm sure he could do a job – particularly away from home. That would give us a very solid-looking back four and extra height. From set-plays and stuff like that.”
Roeder did have one piece of good news up his sleeve – top-scorer Jamie Cureton will travel to the Walkers Stadium after his remarkable recovery from last week's appendix operation.
“He will be involved in some shape or form,” he confirmed. “He's trained well over the last couple of days; he'll train again this morning and he's desperate to get involved on Saturday. He's known the manager, Ian Holloway, since he was 12-years-old and he's played for him for a number of years and he seems even more desperate to be involved in this game….”