With good reason, new Canary boss Chris Hughton carried the air of a very happy man at Carrow Road this afternoon.
Not only had he nipped to the front of the queue to win the signature of Barnsley’s England Under-21 prospect Jacob Butterfield on a four-year deal, but he had successfully smoothed the waters that were Grant Holt’s transfer request.
A third year had been found. And given that characters of the ilk of Holt do not grow on trees in English football, so Hughton can now sleep soundly at night knowing that the big man won’t be battering down Norwich’s door when, say, a West Ham United came to visit.
In every likelihood, it will be quite the reverse as a settled, secure and now sorted Holt leads his troops into battle; his sights already set on over-hauling Iwan Roberts’ Canary goal tally as well as potentially securing a fourth, successive Player of the Season award.
It also sets out a clear signal of intent to his Premiership counterparts that Hughton’s Canaries not only mean business, but they can do it too.
Two bits of big business done in a day; and whipping Steven Whittaker out of NewCo Rangers’ on a four-year deal was another piece of tidy work.
“I’d like to think it was business well done today,” said the Canary chief, clearly already well at home in his new surroundings. His only slight concern was the fact that Holt’s signature would come to dominate the agenda – that the arrival of Butterfield and Whittaker would get a little lost beneath the inevitable Holt headlines.
“The obvious one to speak about is Grant [Holt],” he readily admitted, after the Canary star’s summer transfer request was finally laid to bed – just in time for the start of pre-season training next Monday.
“It’s the one that has been on-going through the summer – before my time here at the club – and I think that has been the question on most supporters’ minds: Is he going to be staying?
“So that is a big one for us today, but I certainly don’t want that to take anything away from the two new signings that we’ve unveiled today. But that’s normal – I’m just delighted with Grant; to have secured his services for another three years.”
Having already tied Russell Martin, Andrew Surman and John Ruddy down to new deals; retained David Fox, Elliott Ward and Simeon Jackson as well as handing Korey Smith a new deal, Hughton heads into pre-season with a very settled and very secure squad on his hands.
Whittaker and Butterfield both come straight out of central casting in terms of age, background and hunger for the challenges ahead, whilst the fact that Holt will still be presiding over that dressing room – on and off the pitch – ensures that Hughton goes into Premier League battle in an enviable position in terms of stability and confidence.
The Hughton-Holt axis has clearly been established; respect has been mutual – and rewarding.
“My job was to speak to him in football terms and introduce myself to him, but the general feel I got from him straight away was that this is where he wanted to be,” said the Canary chief, not denying the suggestion that both Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa may very well be on their way to Villa Park this week as he re-shapes his team – on and off the pitch.
The one person that will not be following Paul Lambert’s trusted lieutenants up the A14 will be Holt.
“What he [Holt] wanted to do was to secure his future. He’s very happy here; he’s got a young family and he just wanted to secure their future here.
“But I know what Grant brings to this club and it’s not only what he gives the team on the football pitch which is massive, but he’s given more to this football club [off it] – and that’s as important.”
The word ‘irreplaceable’ wasn’t actually deployed this afternoon; Hughton still has Steve Morison at his disposal, for example. But he has long known – even from a distance – the positive influence that Holt enjoys around the football club. Finding a like-for-like character would have been a test and a half of Hughton’s recruitment skills.
The unknown quantity – at least at Premier League level – is Barnsley’s 22-year-old skipper Butterfield. A transfer tribunal will, eventually set his fee after the Oakwell favourite opted to run out his contract in the hope of a Premier League opening and the Canary chief is clearly looking forward to working with another bright young talent to add to the Bennetts (both), the Howsons and the Pilkingtons.
The first trick is to get him back up to speed fitness-wise after the attacking midfielder’s season ended on New Year’s Eve in a less-than-convivial Yorkshire derby with Leeds.
“He’s a player that likes to get on the ball,” said Hughton, well-versed in such ability given his Spurs up-bringing.
“He has ability both sides,” he added, hoping to have bagged himself a genuinely, two-footed player – equally at ease dropping left or right.
“And there was competition for him, so we are delighted to have nicked in front of anybody else that might have wanted to acquire his services. We put a proposal to him; he liked what he saw here – that this is a club where he sees his future.”
He saw a club that wants to play football – now managed by a man who grew up playing football with an Ardiles and a Hoddle. That, in every likelihood, is what Butterfield saw in Hughton.
Intriguingly, he can also play off a big striker; off a Holt.
“Jacob can play as a second striker – I’ve seen him play there, play in a wide area and play in a central midfield area. He’s got that type of ability and we’re looking forward to seeing him.”
Leave a Reply