City first team coach Paul Stephenson today gave curious Canary fans a little more insight into the 30-year-old ex-Spanish international suddenly in their midst – as well as repeating Glenn Roeder's vow that a new, unbeaten run will start again on Saturday.
Juan Velasco has been under Stephenson's charge for a couple of weeks at Colney after the former Celta Vigo and Espanyol star arrived in Norfolk initially on a trial basis.
With coach and manager having had a good look at the unattached right-back, Velasco this week signed a three-month, short-term contract with the Championship club and ensured that Jon Otsemobor would be kept firmly on his toes until the end of the season.
But whereas most British-based players have a whole army of pundits, armchair or otherwise, ready to deliver an instant verdict on any new arrival, Valesco for now remains a wholly unknown quantity.
Bit by bit, however, and details are starting to emerge.
“He's obviously a good technician,” said Stephenson this morning. “That's just the way that he's been brought up; that, in general, Spanish lads are very good technically.
“But he's also got a very good understanding of the game,” added the Canary coach, clearly relishing the new challenges that his rise from Hartlepool's youth team coach has brought. Like, for example, bedding a Spanish full-back into the ways – and the banter – of an English dressing room.
“His English is not fantastic,” admitted Stephenson. “But he's been here a few weeks now and he's picked up a fair bit in that time – and we've learned a few key words of Spanish. But he's obviously getting the message given how he's responding in training.”
Which is where he has come right under the microscope. “He seems to be a very good chacater – an amiable lad, but one that's also been very competitive in the practice games that we've had when he's done very well.
“I think he's going to be a very good acquisition for us between now and the end of the season.”
City's season starts again this weekend with that home clash against FA Cup heroes Barnsley. The hope, of course, is that with one eye misting over with memories of that famous 2-1 win away at Liverpool and the other looking forward to that home clash with Chelsea, the Tykes will take their eye off the ball completely when they arrive at Carrow Road.
That, says Stephenson, is for them to worry about. Norwich will simply concentrate on themselves.
“We know that if we are mentally and physically at our peak, then we can give anyone a good game in this league,” said the City coach. “How Barnsley approach the game is for their camp to worry about.”
Nor does he seem unduly concerned about the prospect of the Canaries simply carrying on where they left off on Saturday – or rather, starting again from where they were at three o'clock Saturday as opposed to two hours later when they had three suspensions, 11 arrests and a wretched 4-0 defeat to show for the club's much-anticipated trip to the East Midlands.
“We had a fantastic run,” said Stephenson. “And it was obviously disappointing to end that unbeaten run in the manner that we did.
“But as a staff we're all very positive people and straight away, straight from Monday morning, it was a case of thinking: 'Right, let's start another great run as soon as possible…' That even though we have lost 4-0, nothing's changed. We just keep on moving forward.”
Hard on heart, he was asked, did he really expect City to stage that 13-game unbeaten run? For safety to be all but secure by the middle of February when most would have settled for 21st spot come the first week in May?
“Yes,” he said, simply. “It hasn't been a surprise to me.
“Since we've come in, the lads have all raised their standards. Be it in training, in games, their levels of confidence – everything's been raised.
“And there's a great spirit amongst them; a great camaraderie. And I think they've shown that in games; the great character that they've got in the way that they've been getting those late goals; in the way that they've been relentless in making sure sure that they come away from every game with at least a point.”
City boss Glenn Roeder quipped the other week that being an ex-winger himself, Stephenson had something of a soft spot for the Lee Crofts and James Henrys of this world.
That, he said, was the gaffer just having a laugh. But, equally, he is clearly taking a keen interest in Croft's continuing development. As befits Paul Gascoigne's one-time England and Newcastle Youth pal, he likes a player with a trick up his sleeve. All the 22-year-old Croft needs to do now is bolt a goal or two onto his game.
“Lee's done well – he maybe just needs to get back to where he was a couple of games ago,” said Stephenson. “But he's like most wingers; like most attacking players, to be fair. That if they can get themselves on the scoresheet, if they're scoring goals their confidence gets that much higher and then they become a different animal again.
“And he's just got to continue to work hard at his game; to keep on top of it. Because if you don't keep on top of it all the time, then it can just easily slip away.”
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