The inevitable summer pruning of Norwich’s over-manned midfield duly delivered its first, big departure today as Welsh international Andrew Crofts re-signed for Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 28-year-old has signed a three-year deal with his former employers – a switch that sees the one-time Chelsea youngster reunited with Albion boss Gus Poyet; the man who watched Crofts leave for Norwich in the summer of 2010.
“As soon as I heard about the interest from Brighton it was one that really took my fancy,” Crofts told the Brighton Evening Argus this evening, as the Canaries officially confirmed his exit on the club website.
“I wanted to come back and be part of what the club is looking to do,” added Crofts, who alongside team-mate Steve Morison carved out a regular place on the Welsh international stage on the back of his consistent efforts in a Canary shirt.
The club have, of course, left their old home at the Withdean Stadium for the ‘American Express Community Stadium’ in the two years since his exit – two years in which, Crofts said, he has blossomed as a player.
“I had two great years at Norwich and I am definitely a better player now than when I left in 2010,” he said.
“I have gained a lot of experience throughout the past two years and I want to bring that to this side.”
The arrival of Bradley Johnson last summer and Jonny Howson in the January transfer window last season, coupled with the continuing good form of David Fox and Wes Hoolahan, found starting gigs hard to come by in central midfield in Paul Lambert’s Premiership thinking. And that was before Andrew Surman enjoyed his Indian spring.
This summer and the arrival of Leeds skipper Robert Snodgrass has only heightened the squeeze numbers-wise in that competitive midfield.
And while Snodgrass might have an eye on one of those wider midfield berths, new boss Chris Hughton is clearly conscious that at some stage this summer his squad will need to be thinned out – be it on a full-time basis in the case of a Crofts or in half-season loan deals for those deemed on the fringe of his first team thinking.
And if, as in today’s case, the move comes with a transfer fee attached, so much the better.
Certainly Poyet believed it was money well spent as Brighton looked to push on again under his charge.
“When we knew about the possibility to bring him back we worked very hard to do that, and it took a few weeks, but we are very pleased to have him,” the Albion boss told the Argus.
“We respected his career and helped him when there was interest from Norwich two years ago, and he went on to become a very good Championship player, as well as proving himself in the Premier League.
“Now I am delighted to have him back and he is going to be a very important player for us. We were always looking to bring experienced players who know this division and the Premiership and Crofty has all of that.”
Crofts certainly never let anyone down in his two-year spell in a City shirt and was one of the key figures in Norwich’s swift exit from The Championship.
It was, however, the arrival of Johnson – the first of City’s three raids on Elland Road’s midfield department – that started to ease him out of midfield contention.
The other unknown amidst all this is Jacob Butterfield who described his ideal role as that of the ‘No10’; floating just off a central target man of the Grant Holt variety.
Whether Hughton would deploy Butterfield off a front two – thereby only adding further pressure on those midfield numbers – will have to await on the Barnsley star’s return to full match fitness and his Canary debut.
Either way, Crofts’ departure today has a ring of good sense to it – for all concerned.