Jacob Butterfield’s deadline day move to Middlesborough was low-key in the extreme and mirrored perfectly his time as a Norwich City player.
It was a little ironic therefore that Master Butterfield should choose to take a couple of parting shots at Chris Hughton; his departure providing infinitely more by the way of headlines than were ever sparked by his performances in the yellow shirt.
So where did it go all wrong for the ex-Barnsley man?
It’s not as if he was one that Hughton inherited. Butterfield was one the summer 2012 arrivals; his transfer from Barnsley in early-July coming with bells and whistles aplenty courtesy of some wholesome praise from the then Barnsley manager Keith Hill.
“The best midfielder in the league”, was how Hill described him just prior to his move, with the eulogies reaching something of a crescendo as the deal was struck and he headed south to join his new team mates.
Alas, one suspects, part of the problem was that not only did he arrive with a head brimming full of compliments but also a knee that was not in full working order, an anterior cruciate ligament injury incurred on New Year’s Eve 2011 bringing his 2011-12 season to a premature end.
So while his transfer to City came at a not inconsiderable cost – his age ensuring that compensation was due to the Yorkshire club – it also provided Hughton with a player who was not immediately fit for purpose. A ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ pre-season meant that Butterfield was unavailable for selection early on and not until the Capital One cup game against Doncaster Rovers did he kick a ball in anger.
An indifferent performance that evening – rightly attributed to him not being match fit – was unfortunately symptomatic of his time wearing the City shirt and his battle to ‘catch up’ in terms of his general fitness was one that was ultimately lost.
While I have no first-hand knowledge of the success, or otherwise, of his resultant loan spells at Bolton and Crystal Palace, it’s perhaps telling that neither Dougie Freedman nor Ian Holloway were publicly linked with a permanent move for the player; the cumulative upshot of both spells being seventeen games and no goals.
In fairness, what goes on behind the scenes at Carrow Road tends to stay there – at least if David McNally has his way – and there’s no way of knowing if either manager privately expressed an interest, but the noises emanating from Team Hughton suggested another loan move to be the likeliest outcome for Butterfield this season.
Hardly a ringing endorsement for the ‘best midfielder in the Championship’; a bash at the Premier League appearing to the next logical step for one with such promise.
But as we now know, it never happened, and one can only deduce that there was something in the make-up of the Yorkshireman that Hughton didn’t fancy.
Pure speculation of course but, despite Butterfield’s protestations, it’s inconceivable that Hughton would have seen fit to dispense with his services on a permanent basis if he deemed him part of his short and medium term plans.
If the much vaunted ‘promise’ had shown even the slightest hint of coming to fruition you can bet your life that Hughton would have given it a chance to flourish; the fact he didn’t confirms perhaps that, at 23 years of age, said midfielder’s career has stagnated.
Butterfield himself has spoken of the need to “… re-invent myself as the player I was before”, so maybe, behind the sour grapes, is an admission that he needs to re-start doing the very things that made him the hot prospect in the first place.
Of course, it could be a whole lot simpler, and perhaps the continued success of one Wes Hoolahan has effectively seen off the challenge of a young pretender.
Could it be that Hughton’s early assessment of the hand he’d been dealt had led him to believe that a thirty-something Irishman was on a downward career curve and that some succession planning was in order?
If so, Wes would have afforded him more than a few reminders during the course of last season of the flaws in that particular logic; trickery rather than pace going a long way to ensure the career longevity of Dublin’s finest.
All ifs, buts and maybes of course, but when all is said and done City’s squad is stronger today than it has been in 111 years, and even the cheapest of shots from the ‘best player in the Championship’ is not going to upset the yellow and green applecart.
Onwards and upwards.