Today’s official unveiling of Johan Elmander – at the pre-Hull press conference – afforded Chris Hughton the opportunity to explain his thinking in bringing the Swedish international back to English football.
“Experienced… ”, “… an international… ”, “… knows this league… “
In other words, he currently ticks boxes that van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Becchio can’t. And before anyone reminds me, yes, RvW does have two full caps but both were in friendlies and – in the real world – are yet sufficient to grant him a ‘regular international’ status on the CV.
For his part, Elmander acknowledges his role; City’s official Twitter feed revealing his understanding of the Norwich mission he’s chosen to accept: “I’m really happy to be here. I’m a little bit older, so hopefully I can bring something for the younger guys as well.”
All of which suggests part of Chris Hughton’s selling point being around the need to plonk an older head into a group of mid-twenty somethings; to be the ‘go to’ guy when the chips are down and when heads need lifting – aka ‘the Grant Holt role’.
Certainly Hughton expects the Swede to hit the ground running and with Saturday coming too soon for a return to action for Gary Hooper – the shin injury suffered in the Panathinaikos friendly still proving problematic – he can expect, paperwork permitting, to play some part in proceedings on Humberside.
Elmander – who clearly understands the very English concept of knowing what side his bread is buttered – was quick to cite the manager himself as key to his decision: “Knowing that Chris was the manager of the team made it easier to decide to come here”.
Increasingly, the Hughton-factor is becoming the common denominator this summer, with his charm and honesty in selling the fine city appearing to make it that little bit more appealing for prospective employees.
In terms of the season ahead, the Swede gives a more than passable impression of someone who is ‘up for it’; with the chance to add to his record of 18 Premier League goals well up on his agenda: “The most important thing is that the team is winning and hopefully I can score goals to help.”
And the good news wasn’t confined purely to the introduction of Elmander.
Also back in contention for Saturday are Sebastien Bassong, Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington, all of whom missed out last week due to knocks of various shapes and sizes. Throw a suspension-free Leroy Fer into the Hughton mix and Saturday’s line-up promises a different look and feel to the one that fought so gamely against the Martinez maestros.
On the flip side there was some bitterly disappointing news surrounding Elliott Bennett who, fresh from a stirring 90 minutes against Everton, has now undergone knee surgery. Despite emerging unscathed from locking horns with Leighton Baines and co, the winger suffered an adverse reaction early this week and scans revealed bad news.
As a result he went under the knife on Wednesday and will now be out of action for ‘several months’ – 2013 looking to be done and dusted from a footballing perspective for the likeable west-midlander.
Typically, the first we heard from the horse’s mouth was via good old Twitter: “@Ebenno88: Gutted to be out with a knee injury. Luckily I have great medical staff at club and best people around me to get me through this tough time”.
Not only does this represent a significant blow for Hughton, whose wide options have been reduced by 25% in one fell swoop, but more importantly one for the lad himself who – following a good pre-season – was starting to look every inch the accomplished Premier League winger.
But with positivity on his side, I’m confident we’ll see a fitter and stronger version emerge in 2014 – one with a voracious appetite to play a significant role in the second half of City’s season. Hopefully, with a fully fit Bennett on board and a forward line that’s scoring goals for fun well be spared a nerve-jangling run-in of 2013 proportions.
But for now that’s an age away.
Instead, all eyes will now slowly turn to the KC Stadium where City must surely head in expectation rather than hope.
Steve Bruce’s Hull are not a bad side. They proved that in the second-half at Stamford Bridge on Sunday when – admittedly with the Mourinho foot off the pedal – they knocked the ball around in some quite pretty patterns. In fact, their Tottenham sponsored centre-mid combo of Tom Huddleston and Jake Livermore, on paper at least, looks to be a decent match for most in that area of the pitch, certainly outside the top five.
However, let’s not kid ourselves either way. We’re not going to march into Humberside and emerge with three points unopposed, but if we’re going to improve upon last season’s two away wins this is the sort of occasion where the chests needs to be puffed out and the ‘danger never minded’.
It’s going to be hostile, it’s going to be loud and it’ll likely be another of those days where City may see less of the ball than they’d like, but if an ugly win is what it takes then so be it.
Welcome to the Premier League Ricky and Leroy.