City boss Glenn Roeder today dropped a big hint that the Canaries could find themselves at the head of the loan-player queue this summer as the Canary chief continues with his rebuilding plans.
And having raided the Premiership teenage loan market with a passion this season in the hope that the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Alex Pearce, Ched Evans and Kieran Gibbs can inject the kind of – albeit untried – top-flight quality needed to steer the Canaries off the relegation rocks, so it is clear that Roeder will be looking to pursue a similar policy in his first, full season in charge.
Only without the threat of a trip to League One hanging over his head. That particular prospect remains with the Norfolk club as they prepare to play host to play-off chasing Burnley at Carrow Road tomorrow. While not quite carrying the weight of urgency that preceeded the 5-1 win over Colchester United, it is a game City can ill-afford to lose.
Defeat and an away trip to the neighbours looming next on the agenda, and that will test every last nerve of his teenage army of Premiership recruits.
More, however, will be on their way this summer; in every probability not until after pre-season when the managers concerned have bedded their 2008-2009 squads in and worked out just who stands where in the autumn pecking order.
The picture, however, may yet be complicated by one proposal doing the Premier League rounds – to run with a choice of seven players on the bench next season, not the traditional five. With two more spaces to fill and players to find, is Roeder not worried that the likes of a Bertrand or a Pearce are going to be even harder to come by – even with his clear-cut advantage in terms of contacts and links?
“Possibly,” he admitted. “But I think the type of loan we've had here would – generally speaking – still not quite make the bench. And the whole reason that they are here is to get experience. So if they're the sixth or seventh on the bench at their clubs, they're still not going to play football.”
That Roeder is already marking peoples' cards for the new season is equally clear; as is his possible hope that the likes of a Gibbs, a Bertrand or a Pearce may yet return for a second tour of duty; that a Grant, a Wenger or a Coppell may still see them a year short of the real deal – and that year would be better spent under Roeder's watchful tutelage than frittering a year away in the Premier Reserve League or else granted the odd run-out in a Carling Cup game.
Part of the player's education would be to physically and mentally cope with three-games-a-week football. The Championship, in all its glory, is a tailor-made proving ground in that regard.
“The whole idea is getting them experiencing senior football, so it [seven susbstitutes] may have a small impact possibly, but I don't think a major impact because the managers want these young players to gain experience.”
Gibbs was the one cited as the prime example – as the way that the Championship can bolt a bit of physical armour onto all that classic touch-and-technique of a Wenger youth product.
“Kieran Gibbs is – having worked with him now – is an extremely intelligent footballer,” said Roeder, of the England Under-19 midfielder entrusted to his care by his pal Arsene.
“He's probably one of the brightest players that we've got here. And I just said to him this week – and I'd seen him working in the gym – I said to him: 'Kieran, for the next couple of months you've got to be working in the gym; you've got to be putting some strength into that slight frame… but I can see why you are an Arsenal player…'
“Because he is so intelligent. And in training, on a lot of days, he's easily one of the best players out there. He can play that one, two-touch because he's got that very, very good awareness of what's going on around him and he knows what he's going to do with the ball before it comes to him, most times.
“And he probably hasn't played as much as I'd have liked him to have played. But he's had some experiences here; being with the first team every day. And he will go back to Arsenal a better player for the experience. And I would still think that he would get on the pitch between now and the end of the season. Because if you're talking in terms of football intelligence, I can't think of anyone that we've got that's brighter – and he's 18.”
Whether a physically bigger Gibbs will return for a second tour next August is just one of a number of intriguing loan possibilities. Some of which were already being plotted.
“Their managers might take a view that they will let them go out on loan again until the first window,” said Roeder, suggesting that was all for the future.
“All I've really done is spoken to a few managers, sporting directors at clubs just to say that next year we will be looking for loan players again – and bear us in mind.
“And the response has been fantastic. Not only have they said that they'll bear us in mind, but basically they'll give us the first look at their players to say 'Yes!' or 'No!' which is a great position to be in.”
It will also be a great position to be in the Championship again next season given that little target is not yet complete with the Canaries sat just three points above the drop zone with five games left.
Roeder is, however, hoping that performances mean prizes; prizes in the shape of the two big results Norwich still need to cross this season's likely finishing line. They would, of course, have been at least one point closer to that 54-55 point mark but for you-know-who. Roeder hadn't forgotten.
“March has been an awful month and yet if you actually dissect it and look at the performances, it's ridiculous that we only picked up four points,” said the City chief, ahead of tomorrow's Burnley clash..
“I'd be a lot more concerned if it was a case of four points picked up and the rest lost because we'd played poorly. They've just got to continue playing like they did – particularly like they did last week and I'm sure things will balance themselves out and we'll be OK.
“They played fantastically last week and because one man can't get a Sunday morning refereeing decision correct, we get beat. And if I never see Mr D'Urso again I'll be the happiest man in the world…”