Canary keeper David Marshall might have celebrated his 23rd birthday this week, but according to City boss Glenn Roeder he remains little more than a babe in arms.
After all, look at David James was Roeder's point at Colney this morning.
Suggest to Marshall himself that – on the James scale – he could look forward to hitting his Premiership peak in the 2021-22 season, and it prompts a big smile. After all there is no reason – on current form and fitness – why the Pompey No1 couldn't play on well beyond his 40th birthday. To when he's 42, 43…
“I'm only 23 and I honestly can't see myself playing at that age,” said the one-time Celtic starlet who has, of course, already got a clean sheet at the Nou Camp to his credit.
“But to see somebody like David James is incredible and to have a career like him would obviously be absolutely unbelievable. But I think he's a one-off, to be honest. To be that agile at that age. And when you see him play, he just looks 25. He looks great.
“Hopefully, I can be like that. But, as I say, I cannot see it right now. Not 19 years… but, hopefully.”
What was interesting was the fact that Marshall felt that his full-time switch to Carrow Road last summer following the ill-fated loan move that ended all too soon in a heap at Chelsea actually marked the start of his professional career; that only once he stepped out of Artur Boruc's shadows at Parkhead did his senior career really start.
“I played at Celtic when I was really young,” said Marshall, whose clean-sheet away at Barcelona came when he was still very much a wide-eyed teenager. A life-time ago, he suggested.
“It actually seems as if I never played, it's that long ago. And then obviously I had that bit of time on the sidelines. But coming here is just like a fresh start and it feels like my first club almost again. So I'm really enjoying it. And you could see it as the start of my career. So I'm really looking forward to next season, but I think there's a bit to go in this as well.”
This first, full season on centre stage in the Championship has already produced a number of serious highs saves-wise. Tuesday night was no exception as Marshall twisted and turned high up to his left to somehow flick Dion Dublin's curious, scorpion-like mis-kick over. Much to the 38-year-old's relief.
“It was just unexpected – Dion was heading everything away on the night and I think we would have struggled without him, to be honest,” said Marshall, with the banter have long flowed between the two on the back of that excellent 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road.
“I was surprised he could get his leg that high to be honest! But as I said, he was brilliant throughout the whole game and he helped me and the centre-halves so much throughout the game – so it was good for me to help him out in the last couple of minutes.”
Where it left the Canaries in terms of their play-off hopes is, however, another matter. Hanging by a thread would be most people's judgement – a remarkable achievement in itself given that four short months ago Norwich's Championship survival hopes were in a similar position.
“I think it'll need an almost perfect run to get there, but whilst its mathematically possible we'll be doing everything we can to get it,” said Marshall, as a do-or-die week looms. By the time City finish their game at Sheffield United in eight days time, the mathematics will fast be deciding their eventual fate.
“I think we could have maybe done with another five or six games left after the season – I think we'll maybe just run out of games. But if we can get a win tomorrow and then we've got a home game coming up…. the next three games will be massive,” he said.
Quizzed as to whether he had been stating Marshall's case to new Scotland boss George Burley, Roeder was more than happy to let Marshall's performances do all the talking as he looks to unseat the ?9 million man – Sunderland's Craig Gordon – from Burley's forthcoming World Cup thinking.
“I haven't been on the phone – there's no need to. You sell yourself,” said Roeder. “But he's made some incredible stops lately – probably none better than the one against his own player. Though I did say to him afterwards that he should have held it…”
Cue the suggestion that Marshall has years of improvement still to come; that if he were a vintage wine, you would only think about uncorking him c2014.
“He can't possibly be anywhere near his peak yet. Because he's too young. And I don't think that goalkeepers even start to get close to where they're eventually going to end up until they're 28 or 29,” said Roeder. “And then because of the sports science factor now and everyone knowing how to keep fit and healthy, then you look at David James and you're right on top of your games in your late 30s.
“So Marshy's got four or five seasons yet before he gets anywhere close to where he's going to get and what he should be capable of achieving.”
It is probably one of the few positions that the Canary chief won't have to worry about this summer – particularly now that he knows what's coming along further down the production line. Apply the James rule of thumb and England Under-15 keeper Jed Steer should be coming nicely to the boil in about 2028. For now, however, Marshall will do just fine.
“In terms of physique he's got the perfect goalkeeper's physique,” said Roeder, of his one-time Celtic youngster – now being honed by Canary goalkeeping legend Bryan Gunn on a stand-in basis following the various comings and goings on the goalkeeping coach front.
“Gunny's doing a terrific job – stepping in. And I'm very pleased with what Gunny's doing. But ultimately – and this is why I'm taking my time – we want to secure an experienced goalkeeping coach because we've got some wonderful goalkeepers here. And we've got the two young boys as well – Declan Rudd and Jed Steer. And I'm not saying any more about them. Too many people read the papers…”
Marshall himself was unmoved by all the Scotland talk. “I think it's more important to be focussed on Norwich at the moment,” he said, offering a critical eye on his own performances.
“I think the last three or four games I could have been a bit better, so hopefully I'll be looking to pick that up on Saturday. And, as I say, I think there's ten games left and to get to that sixth place I think everybody's going to have to be spot on,” he added.
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