City boss Glenn Roeder has dropped the biggest hint yet that Arsenal youngster Kieran Gibbs might have been bitten by the Canary bug as City prepare for their final outing of the season at a sold-out Hillsborough tomorrow.
The 18-year-old midfielder has, in theory, already returned to the north London giants; his original three-month loan spell always ending a week before the season finished.
Indeed, Gibbs played – and scored – in an Arsenal reserve game at the beginning of the week; a contest watched by Roeder himself.
This weekend, however, and the young England Under-19 star was back in Norfolk and preparing to travel with his new-found Canary pals to south Yorkshire. All of which may well open up the prospect of Gibbs heading back to Carrow Road at the start of next season for a further loan spell in Norwich colours.
“He's enjoyed himself so much here that he's asked whether he can come back here so that he can travel,” revealed Roeder, speaking at yesterday's pre-match Press conference.
Supporting evidence was not that hard to find – there was was Gibbs knocking about in the car park with his England Under-19 pal Ryan Bertrand and Wales' hottest strike prospect Ched Evans.
Fresh from having watched Gibbs' scoring performance for Arsenal's second string, the City boss was keen to have a word in the young man's shell-like.
“I said to him [Gibbs] this morning: 'You didn't tell me you can score a goal as well…'” said Roeder. “But, yes, he's going to come up with us – he's enjoyed his time with us that much.
“And it was good of Liam Brady to let him come back training today and spend the weekend with us.”
The fact that Roeder is clearly in touch on a regular basis with the Gunners' Youth supremo – and a similarly influential figure at Chelsea in Frank Arnesen – bodes well for Norwich's chances of digging out another clutch of loans for next season. As ever, it's not what you know, but who – and Roeder's ability to get such figures to the end of a phone is likely to prove crucial to his own re-building plans.
It's the little things that can make such a difference.
“With all our loan players, we always send a DVD of the matches that they have played in,” said Roeder, who could have done Bertrand a favour by 'losing' the derby game in the post.
“And I know that's gone down well with people like Liam Brady and Frank Arnesen at Chelsea – and I speak to Frank Arnesen quite a bit. To keep him right up-dated on how Ryan's doing.”
Throw teenage Reading centre-half Alex Pearce into the same thought process and there are four young men that Roeder would dearly love to see walking back through the doors at Colney by the start of August. In every likelihood, all four [Evans, Gibbs, Bertrand and Pearce] will do pre-season at their respective, full-time employers before Messrs Grant, Wenger, Coppell and 'Who knows?' at crisis-hit Eastlands, decides where next for their four young charges.
Are they ready for the big step up to Premiership football? Or would their footballing education be better served by at least the first-half of the season being spent under Roeder's watchful eye?
“I think there's a chance,” said Roeder, quizzed as to whether he hoped to see one of the famous four back again next season.
“I'm not going to say which ones; I'm not going to say how good the chance is – but, yes, basically I'd like to see the young ones back. Unlikely, but I'd like that.”
When the great histories of the 2007-2008 season are written, the arrival of Masters Evans, Pearce, Bertrand and Gibbs will figure large. Did they make the only difference between a team that was flinging itself headlong over the nearest Championship cliff under the luckless regime of Peter Grant? Clearly not. Did they make a big difference? Yes – quite where Norwich would be now without Evans' ten goals is something of a moot point.
Up to their necks in the same, smelly stuff that threatens to engulf the likes of Southampton, Leicester City and Wednesday tomorrow.
Gibbs, certainly, has started to blossom of late following that awkward debut in the home game against Hull.
“He doesn't want the season to end,” said Roeder. “And had he been available, he would definitely have played at Sheffield Wednesday.
“I think our supporters – and the first time he played was against Hull, I think – [would have thought] that he had a quiet debut, let's say. But it wasn't helped by the fact that we never gave him the ball.
“And perhaps one or two of our supporters might have thought: 'He's a good, young prospect but that's what he is – he's young.'
“And he is young. But I think over these last few games our supporters have realised how good a young player he is and they can see why he's in Arsene Wenger's long-term plans.”
The fact that the Gunners boss has already said that Gibbs would be in his first team squad next season didn't unduly move Roeder. “Arsene always has a squad of about 40 so I'm sure that it doesn't mean that he won't loan some out.”
The big story tomorrow, however – or at least as far as the 4,000-plus travelling Canary fans are concerned – is one, final chance to say farewell to the retiring Dion Dublin, who fresh from picking up the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy last weekend makes his last-ever professional outing against Wednesday.
Roeder was giving no clues away as to whether the 39-year-old Player of the Season would start his final ever game – other than the fact that the Canary boss won't be picking anyone on sentiment.
“I will pick what I think is the strongest team – I don't do sentimentality. Don't do it – they are paid professionals. And Dion would not want that,” added Roeder, a fact that Dublin himself agreed with in yesterday's farewell interview.
“I cannot believe that Dion Dublin would want to start because it's his last game of football at 39 if he didn't think that he hadn't earned the right to start – I wouldn't want to.
“In fact if I had the feeling that was why I was starting, I'd rather not start. Dion's got a winning mentality; he's played at the highest level; he's played for his country. And the last thing Dion Dublin needs in what is going to be the last game of professional football is a leg up and a favour done.
“So if he was to start – and it is an 'if' – he would have earned the right to start the game. And there'd be no other reason.”