City midfielder Sammy Clingan was today ruled out of action for at least a month as the Canaries paid a hefty price for Northern Ireland's World Cup ambitions.
One, hefty tackle later by some strapping Czech Republic opponent and the 24-year-old was smashing his right shoulder into the Windsor Park turf, damaging the ligaments in his joint and being ruled out for anything up to six weeks.
Little wonder that Canary boss Glenn Roeder was less than amused at Colney this morning as Norwich prepared to go in search of their first win of the new season at Home Park, Plymouth, tomorrow.
Given City's recent luckless – if not hapless – efforts on their travels to the South-West in recent times, Clingan's injury news is just about par for that particular course.
“We can't put a definite time on how long he's going to be out,” said Roeder. “But I would say in excess of a month – it's a nasty shoulder injury that he's picked up.”
An X-ray back home in Belfast yesterday morning revealed the extent of the damage to the midfielder's shoulder. He will not, however, require surgery – one small blessing. But given that Clingan returned from his previous Northern Ireland outing injured, ex-Canary boss Nigel Worthington is doing his successor few favours as he, too, sees Clingan as a cornerstone of his midfield.
The fact that this latest blow actually came in a competitive fixture made no difference, said Roeder. And that having been part of Glenn Hoddle's England set-up and seen the 'argument' from the other side of his international fence, he felt well-placed to add his thoughts to the endless club versus country debate.
No prizes for guessing as to which side of the fence he now sat.
“It's understandable that club managers get annoyed that their players pick up injuries away on international duty,” said Roeder.
“Sammy Clingan's been away with Northern Ireland twice since he's been here – and twice he's come back injured. And there's no doubt in my mind – having been on both sides of the fence – that though it is an honour to play for your country, playing for your club is more important. Much more important.”
A sentiment that Jamie Carragher echoed this week. Liverpool first, England second… was the line from his autobiography.
“It's the clubs that pay your wages; it's how you make a living. Your national team doesn't paying your wages,” said the City boss, by now warming to his theme.
“Tell me what other industry would you give away – for nothing – your most valuable assets for another company to use to often send back broken, free of charge?
“It's as simple as that. There's no argument about that.”
Newcastle's fight for compensation re Michael Owen has now found England paying compensation via an insurance policy; for the smaller home countries, however, such schemes are way beyond their limited financial means. The Northern Ireland FA won't be picking up the tab for Clingan's inaction.
Evidence that the former Nottingham Forest man had emerged as one of Roeder's key men this season wasn't too hard to find. Those were Roeder's own words.
“I thought Sammy took a little while to settle in pre-season, but from the kick-off – ie, the start of the season at Coventry – I think he's been our most consistent player.
“And influential in midfield – there's no doubt about that. And he's in full flow now – and the carpet's been pulled from underneath his feet. Because he won't play now for a month and maybe six weeks. And that is not helping Norwich City.”
As much as he would love to pull his players out of such competitive fixtures, he has little or no choice in the matter. FIFA insist on it.
“There's nothing you can do; nothing you can do. But I'm at the stage now where I feel like trying to stop them going, but it's the same as [King] Canute trying to stop the tide coming in. You can't do anything about it. They've got to go.”
In theory, the arrival of French striker Antione Sibierski has made Roeder's life a little easier in the sense that Darel Russell can step back into centre-midfield and resume his preferred role after his stand-in stint at striker.
In practice, however, Roeder suggested he might have a surprise up his sleeve for the Pilgrims after a practice match revealed another alternative.
“Not necessarily – no,” was the manager's answer to the inevitable 'Darel in…?' question.
Russell could yet be asked to do one last stint up-front if the on-loan Sibierski's needs to top up his match fitness.
“We had an 11 v 11 at the training ground this week because we didn't play a game this weekend and we tried someone else in there – and it worked very well.”
Sibierski was, however, going to be there or thereabouts as Roeder, finally, gets the chance to drop 'the last piece of the jigsaw' into his 2008-2009 plans.
“He's good to go – yes,” said Roeder, after signing the Frenchman for the second time in his managerial career.
“He's not in bad shape. Not bad. He's been pretty impressive in his quality on the ball at his feet – or, if I'm honest, if the ball's in the air as well. He's an excellent header of the ball.”
Roeder's two other injury concerns – David Marshall and Elliot Omosuzi were both declared fit and will travel. It was Clingan who remained the big absentee.