Eagles boss Neil Warnock looks set to be a disappointed man as departing Canary hero Darren Huckerby confirmed again that he would not be joining another English league club.
The 32-year-old, two-time Canary Player of the Year became a free agent just before ten o'clock yesterday morning as City boss Glenn Roeder opted not to offer Huckerby a new Carrow Road deal thus ending weeks of speculation as to whether or not the City winger would be part of the manager's plans next August.
Now the speculation will turn in a different direction – as to where Huckerby will next ply his trade. The national tabloids have already thrown Crystal Palace's name into the hat; Warnock has had a nibble before while Sheffield United manager. He was there or thereabouts in 2003 when Huckerby made that fateful decision to switch full-time to Norfolk.
'What next?' was a question he was fully expecting as he met the media in an informal afternoon Press conference at Carrow Road yesterday.
He has, it appears, long had admirers – one of whom made a move as recently as the last transfer window.
“I could have signed for somebody in January,” he revealed. “And I'm sure that there will be plenty of clubs that would want me – put it that way.
“And you're obviously going to ask me what's going to happen next season and at the minute, I don't know. But I think you'll find I'm a pretty truthful kind of guy and what I've said in the past will continue now.”
That was a clear reference to Huckerby's vow now to play for another English club again – he had too much respect and affection for the club and its supporters to play in front of the Barclay in any other shirt but one in Canary yellow.
“I can't see myself ever playing for another team over here,” he said. The words 'over here' were potentially prophetic – over there, on the other side of the Atlantic, lies a whole new land of opportunity. Already linked to a switch to LA Galaxy, two years lapping up the California sunshine with the Mrs and the kids in tow is not too hard a sell.
Canada may have its appeal too with ex-City team-mates Jim Brennan and Carl Robinson in place at MLS new-boys Toronto FC. Somehow, however, you just have this image of the Huckerbys cruising down Rodeo Drive; lunch by the glistening pool at the Beverley Wiltshire.
“I've got to earn a living – let's not beat around the bush,” said Huckerby, whose whole footballing style would be tailor-made for the fast-developing American market.
“I'd obviously loved to have stayed here until I'm 35, but that's how things go in football. And there's going to be avenues open to me, but I don't see them as being against Norwich City.”
The other obvious destination was north of the border and a reunion with his ex-Coventry City pal Gordon Strachan. “Obviously I know Gordon well,” said Huckerby, with the Bhoys chief – like Warnock – having long kept tabs on Huckerby's movements.
“We've spoken in the past, but truthfully when I was here it wouldn't have mattered what team came in for me – and that's the honest truth. If it had been – and it sounds stupid – but if it had been a Manchester United or a Chelsea, it wouldn't have mattered. I wouldn't have left this club. To go to anybody.
“It means so much to me to play for this club. And I've had ridiculous offers to go to other places, but I feel this is a family club. As soon as I got here, they've treated me right and I've got nothing but good things to say about the club.”
The one regret was, of course, that he did not have the chance to say some big farewells. “It's not the be all and end all – I'll get on with my life,” he said. “But that's the only disappointing thing.”
He hadn't been hanging on for more money; been playing hard to get. He had, he said, “never spoken to anyone about money”; Norwich weren't the best payers out there.
“Even though I've been very well paid while I've been here and I've been lucky that certain people have helped me come here, but if it was about money then I don't think I'd have ever have come here, to be honest.”
Had it been the best five years of his career? “Without a shadow of a doubt,” was the swift and emphatic response.
“I've been at other clubs where I've been very successful – the early days at Coventry with Dion [Dublin] where one season we finished the top two pairing in the Premier League goals-wise; I won the league at Manchester City; I had some good times at Leeds even though I didn't play as much as I would have liked. But we played in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup semi-final…
“But I would say for consistency and personal enjoyment, there was nothing like being out there,” he said. Speaking in one of the executive boxes in the new Jarrold Stand, it was easy for Huckerby to cast a swift glance out to where the magic happened. He had, it appears, been an easy convert.
“It sounds crazy, but just two games into my loan period I knew that this was my team; I just knew that people expected so much of me all the time and I loved that. The lift when I got the ball from the fans – that's what I loved more than anything. And that's what I want to be remembered as – an exciting player who was loyal. For me, it was all about playing here.”
Memories? “There's been that many,” he admitted, with the home clash against Cardiff City at the end of his initial loan spell standing out among the crowd.
“Even though it has been an up and down five years, personally it's been great. I've enjoyed my football – and, obviously, Cardiff on loan was a great moment. I suppose if I hadn't have had such a good game on the last game then you never know what might have happened. And it works like that.”
There was no fingers being pointed; no accusations levelled. Huckerby wasn't fuelling any fires.
“Things happen in football – it's not just happened to me; it happens everywhere. And at the end of the day, the most important thing is Norwich City Football Club – and me leaving coincides with a massive, massive summer for the football club. We're very short on players and it's big times ahead. We've got to sign a lot of players – and players don't cheap,” he added, a fact not lost on Roeder or the club's senior management.
They know the expectation to deliver is now higher than ever; they have a large hole to fill away on the left. And with the aura that Dion Dublin brought to the fold now about to park itself on the nearest Sky Sports sofa, it is going to be a furious summer on the transfer and loan merry-go-round before Roeder is in a position to put Phase II of his Canary plans into motion.
For now he has all but wiped the slate clean; a generation of Academy youth products have been swept out to be replaced by another and with Huckerby's exit, the end of an era is upon us all.
That said, long-term and the Huckerbys aren't going far. “Whatever happens now, I will be here watching – I've got a lot of friends here and this is where I live. It is my team now. And I think my name will always be remembered with Norwich City now – like it or loathe it, that's how it is.”
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