Most agree Andrew Surman’s season-long loan to Bournemouth makes perfect sense for all parties; similarly Leon Barnett’s move to Wigan.
Surman – at a key juncture of his career – can look forward to a season with copious amounts of game time; City get at least part of his wages off the books for the season (possibly a lump-sum in the form of a loan fee); and Bournemouth get full and unadulterated use of a quality footballer, one who is more than equipped for anything the Championship can throw at him.
What my colleague Jon Rogers would describe as a win-win-win.
Alas what it also signals is, most likely, the end of Surman’s City career – one that has straddled three of the most amazing seasons… ever.
His arrival from Molineux in the summer of 2010 was perceived back then as a key component in the Paul Lambert recruitment campaign and – while it was pre the day of City marquee signings – was one that came with more bells and whistles than most.
That he now finds himself surplus to requirements, and in Norwich terms on the fringe of the fringe, is probably as good a barometer as you can get to demonstrate how far – and how quickly – the club has progressed.
Seven year plan? Five year plan? Make that three in McNally years.
With Surman’s City career spanning three seasons of the business plan of the century, his contribution from beginning to end has been that of a thoroughbred.
A classy midfielder with a left foot that can open a tin of beans, his elegant style was one that fitted perfectly with Lambert’s desire to play the midfield diamond.
Not expected to ‘bomb on’ or use his pace to ‘skin’ a full-back to the by-line, his remit in the diamond was to tuck in and make a three in the centre of the pitch; invariably with David Fox to his immediate right and Andrew Crofts fulfilling a similar role on the opposite side of the pitch. The three of them in turn provided the perfect foil for Wes to do his stuff betwixt Holty and Jacko.
In the event, the diamond – with Surman at the left tip – was pivotal in the footballing equivalent of a perfect storm. It was a system that could have been made for the South African, his ability to pick a pass, and all-round footballing intelligence, the perfect accompaniment to Fox’s play-making, Croft’s industry and Wes’ dancing feet, not to mention the skills of other midfielders in the Lambert years like Henri Lansbury.
It also dovetailed perfectly with the natural instincts of swashbuckler extraordinaire Marc Tierney and his licence to thrill down the City left, with any ‘bombing on’ – if it were needed – the preserve of the left back as opposed to left-sided midfielder.
That Surman’s City career stagnated a little when we hit the big time had rather less to do with his ability – his technique is right up there with the best – but more so the few opportunities afforded in the rarefied air of the Premier League to play the said diamond.
In turn the arrival of Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington signalled an intention on Lambert’s part to play with more traditional wide-men and in doing so the opportunities for Surman became fewer. Still, when entrusted with a role either out wide or in the centre of the pitch he could always be relied upon to be neat and tidy in possession, and while some suggest his lack of lightening pace and ‘an edge’ counted against him at the very top table I prefer to think that his finesse and finely tuned footballing brain more than compensated.
I make no excuses for appearing a little dewy-eyed when describing his City ‘best bits’; the opener in that 5-1 victory (with his right foot!) one that will live forever in the memory, along with a rare diving header in the 2-2 draw at Molineux (of all places) in City’s first season back in the Premier League.
Ironically Leon Barnett’s City career spanned a virtually identical spell of Norwich history to that of Surman; Barney’s City journey starting just two months later (albeit initially on loan) and ending – assuming Surman doesn’t do a Lazarus on us – in the same week.
Barnett is another who never failed to give 100%, and who played an important role in the march to the Premier League. He was unlucky enough to miss the glorious run-in to the 2010-11 season with injury, but was wonderfully – and memorably – honoured in the 2-3 win at Leicester when the birth of his first child was celebrated by most of the team in the traditional way.
While the requirement of a Premier League defender to zip the ball around with the precision of a midfielder made for an occasionally uncomfortable time, his ability to defend one-on-one and win just about everything in the air was never in question.
His journey north-west will –aside from seeing him line up again with an old-school centre-forward – add some steel and heart to a Wigan side that will be looking to bounce back at the first opportunity. I suspect they’ll be there or thereabouts.
So while we say farewell to two who have magnificently played their part in the roller coaster ride of a lifetime, it’s also good to remember why they both feel the time is right to sample pastures new.
We’re on an upward trajectory – no doubt about it – and when it happens at the speed its happening there will alas be casualties along the way.
That’s football… McNally style.