City boss Glenn Roeder introduced a whole new concept to Norfolk parents and their kids this summer. Not so much the Tweenies, but the In-betweenies…
For as the Canary chief laid out his summer battle plans, so that was his target market player-wise – players like Baggies star Jonathan Greening; players that were clearly a cut above the rest of the herd in the Championship, but maybe not quite good enough to force their way into a top-half Premiership side on a regular basis.
It is a rule of thumb that Roeder applies just as much to the top half of the Premiership as he does to the bottom half of the Championship. Up there amongst the real stars, you have to players of Ronaldo and Rooney's ilk – global talents that are far too good for anyone from fifth-placed Everton downwards, basically.
“I've always believed that if you're going to win the Premiership, you can't win the Premiership with Premiership players – you win the Premiership with top international players; a cut above the Premiership player,” said the City chief, about to apply the same logic further down the league ladder.
“If you want to get out of the Championship you have to have – in my opinion – at least two-thirds of a team or a squad that would probably play in the bottom end of the Premiership – I call them 'In-betweenies'
“They are not top-notchers, but they are better than the Championship. And if you want to get out of the First Division [League One] you've got to have two-thirds of your squad that could more than hold their own in the Championship.
“So you have always got to have players that have got the ability of the division up.”
It is a fair enough rule of thumb. Cast an eye over recent Canary squads and it is swiftly apparent who the 'In-betweenies' were – Craig Bellamy, Robert Green, Dean Ashton and, in fairness, Dickson Etuhu. Sunderland have survived their first full season back in the Premiership and, as yet, the former Canary midfield powerhouse has not been returned to sender.
The generation before Green, Ashton and Co and you could make an easy case for Darren Eadie, Chris Sutton, Ruel Fox and, indeed, for a while Spencer Prior.
What's interesting given events of this week is whether Robert Earnshaw qualifies as an 'In-betweeny' after barely figuring in Derby's wretched season back in the top flight; now it is the turn of East Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest to take a punt on the one-time Welsh international being of that 'In-between' ilk. One argument would suggest that, these days, it is simply not enough to score goals.
As daft as it sounds, you're game has to be about more than just scoring goals – a distinction that currently separates your Ched Evans' from your Chris Martins.
Clearly, Roeder would see the clutch of Premiership loan stars that helped drag Norwich away from the brink as of the 'In-betweeny' class; the five more that he suggests could be en route for the start of next September will, likewise, be of at least that standard. It will be interesting to see how the respective careers of Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Gibbs develop. Arsene Wenger clearly thinks that the latter is a cut above an 'In-betweeny'.
The alternative is a team that finds their natural home slap bang in the middle of the division you are in.
“If you're only going to have Championship players in your squad that's where you'll stay,” added Roeder, realistic enough to recognise you are not going to have a Canary side packed with 11 Jonathan Greenings next autumn.
“You're not going to get 11 in the Championship; not unless you are incredibly lucky or a rich club – but you've got to be looking at five, six, seven players in a team that is automatically going to win promotion that you'd say would not look out of place in the Premiership. Might not be top notch, but might not look out of place.”
West Brom remained Roeder's best example. “You can pick out at least seven of their players that have been in the Premiership; weren't stars, but didn't let themselves down either. A cut above…”
In the meantime, Canary fans will get at least one more chance to see their beloved Darren Huckerby inside Carrow Road as his name was added to the ever-lengthening list of famous faces due to take part in this Sunday's 'Greatest Ever' event.
“I am really looking forward to the Greatest Ever event,” said Huckerby, famously – infamously, in some quarters – denied a Dublin-like chjance to say his farewells after Roeder opted not to offer the 32-year-old a new deal this summer.
“The list of former players coming back to the club is a 'Who's Who' of Norwich football and it is an honour to be included on the list and recognised for my career here,” added Huckerby, still widely expected to continue his professional career in the MLS in America next season.
“Of course, it will be an emotional day for all of us who have been nominated, but it will be a lot of fun as well. I'm sure the people who turn up will enjoy the day, when else are you going to see all these guys again in the same place? It will be a good chance for all the ex-players to get together and chat about their memories.”
This weekend's mix of music and footballing legends will culminate with the unveiling of Norwich City's 'Greatest Ever' XI, as voted for by the fans. Music acts include Jamelia, X-Factor finalists Rhydian, Ray Quinn and Ben Mills, plus Killer Queen and local indie band Huck.
There are still tickets available and they can be bought from the ticket office in The Mall or from Carrow Road. Tickets can also be bought on-line at www.canaries.co.uk/greatestever. For telephone bookings call 0870 444 1902. Ticket cost from ?25 for adults; ?15 for concessions, and from ?10 for Under-12s.
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