Canary chairman Alan Bowkett tonight set the City messageboards a summer poser – just who were the Scot, the two Italian and the German targets that followed in Chris Hughton’s wake?
In the event, none of the alternative candidates for the Norwich managerial vacancy were ever called forward as the Norfolk club today successfully bagged its No1 aim manager-wise as the 53-year-old former Newcastle United and Birmingham boss signed a three-year deal; his brief to establish City as a real, Premier League force.
But in a fascinating interview that followed Hughton’s official unveiling this afternoon, the jet-setting Bowkett eloquently sketched out the new extent of the club’s reach and ambition – that having plundered the ‘low hanging fruit’ player-wise in the Football League, their thoughts were now turning further afield.
Be that in terms of a managerial or player ‘wish-list’.
Speaking at the club’s end of season dinner last month with talk of Paul Lambert’s potential exit to Aston Villa already in the air, Bowkett revealed then that the club had ‘Plan B’ in place.
It is to the credit of the club’s executive team – spear-headed by chief executive David McNally – that that plan was instituted and executed to the letter within six days of Lambert’s exit. Albeit with a little ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ over the nature of Hughton’s reported near £2 million compensation package.
The story started, it appeared, last summer when Burnley or, indeed, AN Other came a-courting for Lambert.
“Not to put too fine a point on it,” said Bowkett. “When Paul [Lambert] had a wobble last summer, we started drawing up a short-list and Chris [Hughton] was top of the short-list then.
“So we had a short-list of five people this time round. A Londoner [Hughton] was top; a German; two Italians and a Scotsman. And I’ll leave you to guess which ones are which…”
Malky Mackay might fit the Scotsman bill. As for the three Europeans, it is the very fact that the Canaries were looking at the continent in the first place that is of as much interest as to exactly the who. City are spreading their wings.
“It’s certainly different to three years ago when David and I got our heads together to sadly replace Bryan [Gunn],” Bowkett conceded.
“We had to take a gamble – a calculated gamble, but a gamble. I think this time round we were able to attract very, very strong candidates with outstanding credentials and in Chris I think we have got a very good manager who can help us kick on from a very good position that Paul has left us.
“Chris has won the Championship; he’s managed a huge, huge club in Newcastle and he’s played in the Europa Cup, so I think we’re moving on.”
Bowkett – chairman-wise a far, far cry from Halvergate builders of old – is very much the urbane, well-travelled deal maker; one whose sights are clearly set on Europe and beyond. In recruiting the likes of Cheick Tioté and Hatem Ben Arfa whilst at Newcastle, Hughton demonstrated his own ability to look beyond the Huddersfields and the Brightons.
The return of chief scout Ewen Chester in today’s managerial moves should not be over-looked, either.
“I think we need to start recruiting a little more internationally now,” said the City chairman, wholly at ease holding court with the media.
“And I think with Chris’ background we will be able to do that. And I’m delighted that Ewen [Chester] is joining us again.
“He was a great advocate of young talent when he was with Paul previously – so I’m just so delighted he’s returning to the team – and we would expect to cast our net out a little wider than we heretofor.”
Lambert, Bowkett suggested, would have likewise turned his attentions elsewhere – had he stayed.
“We’ve picked the low-hanging fruit,” said Bowkett, as the Pilkingtons and the Bennetts (both) make the transition from League One to Premier League look easy.
“And I think Paul recognised that; to be fair to him I think he was preparing to look to wider horizons as well.”
As for Hughton’s other credentials, his footballing education at White Hart Lane clearly helped. But so did the hunger that both Bowkett and the board recognised.
The man himself might be too diplomatic to say it, but there is a sense of unfinished business with the Premier League as the machinations of Mike Ashley at St James’ cut his time short.
“Chris said he doesn’t have anything to prove in the Premier League, but I think he’s probably hungrier than he made out. And all I can see is that the fans loved him at Newcastle.
“And the messages of congratulations that we’ve had from the Newcastle team to Norwich is just outstanding – we’re quite surpised.”