City reserve team boss Ian Crook tonight gave an insider's view on new Norwich keeper Michael Theoklitos – and offered a timely reminder as to how far the Australian A-League set-up has come in recent years.
“Ask Roy Hodgson,” said the Canary coach, whose lengthy spell Down Under ensured that he was well-versed in the Melbourne Victory star's qualities.
He is also very well-versed in pre-season events on the other side of the world where Hodgson's Fulham side have just lost their tour opener to A-League new-boys Gold Coast United 2-1.
“I know it's only a pre-season friendly, but Fulham are a decent side – and yet they've just lost 2-1 to Gold Coast. Melbourne Victory? They're the yardstick for everybody else – they're where everyone else wants to get to. And they're a good side.”
Two A-League titles and two Grand Final triumphs have put Victory on top of the pile; all with City's latest recruit right in their midst.
“Victory are a very well-organised team,” said Crook, formerly with inaugural A-League champions Sydney FC and more latterly with Newcastle United.
“They've got a couple of decent foreigners in there, but I think last season Michael's probably kept ten or eleven clean sheets out of 21 games. And when I was with Sydney in Years One and Two, we played against him when he was with Melbourne.
“And he's a good organiser; very confident lad. He's just got good ability all-round.”
What was interesting was the difference in a Melbourne up-bringing to Sydney one. Because Melbourne kids play Aussie Rules; Sydney kids play rugby – be it Union or League.
And if you look at the way that Aussie Rules is played, you can see exactly why it might make for good goalkeepers – athletes who have long been taught how to leap and catch a ball. And then to kick the ball quickly and accurately out of the hand.
“In Melbourne it is predominantly Aussie Rules – and Michael would have played that as a kid. Without a doubt. And Aussie Rules players tend to be very athletic; if you look at the way that the game is played, they have to cover a huge area as a group; there's a lot of catching; a lot of kicking out of hand. And it's certainly produced a lot of good sportsman down the years.”
Crook, of course, now has his own production line to worry about as he takes charge of the City Reserve team this season in a bid to try and bridge that gap between youth and first teams.
It is a process that starts in earnest tomorrow night as the Canary playmaker takes his young charges to Fakenham – the mix of Youth Cup starlets and hopeful triallists, being stiffened by City new-boy Matt Gill who returns to his Fakenham High School roots.
City's new emphasis on ensuring that the next crop of Academy kids do not flame and burn in the manner of a Ryan Jarvis or an Ian Henderson is, in part, born out of simple financial necessity; that they cannot afford to be bringing in the ready-made article – certainly not if the player comes with a transfer fee attached.
Instead they have to look to nurturing their own like never before. Which is why Crook has been charged with overseeing the Reserves; making sure that the likes of Tom Adeyemi, Luke Daley and Korey Smith do not prove one-hit wonders; that their development into fully-fledged, first team professionals isn't left to chance; that the appliance of some serious, coaching science can push such players on development-wise.
The return of regular Reserve team football will also help; it gives Crook a 'live lab' to work in.
“It is about instilling good habits,” he said. “But there is a huge gap between youth and first team football. In youth football you tend to come against the same boys at other clubs year in, year out. They're in your age group – so you play them every year.
“But, believe me, it's a huge step to go from that; from palying against boys of your own age to playing against men. And that's why you see such a huge drop-out in football of players between the ages of 17 and 20. That whilst some people are able to perform on a regular basis against players of their own age, they then find it difficult to make the next step up.
“And they're all different. Some players develop quickly, some are not ready just quite yet – and maybe they're the ones that will really benefit from a year of reserve team football.”
Crook knows that the raw talent is there; five of Ricky Martin's FA Youth Cup quarter-finalists now have a pro contract to their name. But the law of averages would insist that maybe one, possibly two, of that number will go on to still be playing at a decent professional level by the time they turn 22.
If City's reserve chief can make two into three and give City the chance to potentially cash in on another Craig Bellamy then the club's long haul out of the third tier of English football might just be shortened.
“The boys had a good year last year,” said Crook, likely to have Jed Steer in goal for the Fakenham clash. “Five have now signed as pros; all played a big part in that youth team success.
“But now it is all about stepping up. We've got a good starting point, it's now up to me and the boys to take it on.”
And all in a reserve team environment where winning isn't always everything. “There's no promotion or relegation out of that league – it's all about development.
“That's why sometimes we'll look at different systems – three at the back, four at the back; maybe a diamond in midfield – we'll just teach them the game, basically.”
And if they can look and learn from the feet of one of Norwich's greatest master craftsmen, then everyone from Bryan Gunn on could be the richer.