I’m quite sure right now City boss Chris Hughton isn’t short of headaches.
It is, after all, what Premier League management is all about. Crisis management 38 times a season; with the odd cup headache thrown in between.
Just how do you tell the supporters that, when push comes to shove, you really don’t give a toss about the oldest professional football cup competition in the world?
In fairness to the ever-maligned Norwich chief, he’s not quite tied to his colours to that mast – Paul Lambert and Sam Allardyce are slightly ahead of him in that queue.
But yesterday’s latest cup ‘adventure’ threw in two fresh headaches he could well do without – one is Wes Hoolahan who didn’t play and the other is David Fox, who did.
Because in those two players is the embodiment of the huge challenge every club of a Norwich ilk faces in making the transition from simply making up the numbers in the English Premier League to actually making yourself at home on a more permanent basis.
And Norwich are no different in that regard from 20-odd second tier provincial clubs. No different. From a Bolton to a Leeds, from a Sunderland to a Southampton and on to a Birmingham or a Palace, Norwich have yet to crack this Premier League nut in the manner of an Everton.
That’s the common challenge. For everyone. Norwich are not a special case; they have no divine right to be any better – or worse – than the afore mentioned clubs.
They are all in the same boat; wrestling with same challenges.
One of which is scoring goals. Which we have done before.
The other of which is finding anyone with that one spark of midfield creativity that can, finally, lift a game and a club out of the turgid war of muscular, midfield attrition that is life in the bottom half of the Premier League.
Without over-playing the First World War metaphors, a Fox and a Hoolahan can rescue a club like Norwich – or Villa – from another season in the trenches.
But with one crucial caveat. They could if they were three inches taller.
Because to my money as skilled and as gloriously technically adept as both players are, they both lack that extra something in the athleticism department.
As Gary rightly points out, you put a Fox in against a first choice Fulham with a Parker or a Sidwell in yer face for 90 minutes and he hasn’t the muscularity to shrug one or either off and then play the telling ball.
He is no Lampard; no Gerrard; no Ozil. Just as van Wolfswinkel is no Remy.
And this is the Norwich version of events. You can substitute any of those names for any other club in their position. Managers that still feel a duty to play and deliver to the punters entertainment-wise all struggle similarly – to find that one player that can be both athlete and play-maker, creator and destroyer.
Or else find a six-foot creator with a six-foot destroyer in tow. Ian Crook would be the first to admit that he would struggle to make a living in this Premier League. No-one would give him the time on the ball to destroy them.
Is the entertainment value that much poorer because of it? Yes.
Do those supporters that believe their club is wedded to a tradition of ‘playing’ football come to feel short-changed? Yes.
Is anything about to change? Is the English Premier League about to become less power-orientated, less muscle-led? No.
Lambert’s reported pursuit of Hoolahan is, for me, as much about supporter politics as it is about the 31-year-old’s ability to turn Villa’s season around.
He’s playing for time with a baying Villa Park crowd that is growing increasingly vocal at the dire, turgid fare that the Scot is serving them up. Losing 1-0 at home to a Palace is right down there with the worst of them.
So give them an ‘entertainer’; get them off my back. And if, in so doing, it adds to the discomfort for a Hughton-led Norwich, so much the better.
Destabilise one of your bottom half rivals via one piece of incendiary transfer business. That’s pure Lambert.
If the ex-City boss really, really rated Hoolahan, why has it taken him this long to return for him? He is coming back now to get the crowd off his case – and keep them on Hughton’s. In the full knowledge that with 18 months to run on his City contract, the money men will be seeing a window to sell at a profit this month.
But if ‘Wessi’ goes, the pressure on Hughton to ensure that the ball is kept at the feet of a Fox and not a Johnson will mount.
Happy New Year, Chris.
Great Article Rick!
There is no doubt that someone the size of YAYA is going to have much more impact than a Hoolahan or a Joe Allen simply because of physicality.
Johnston is hard at the ball and great defensively but his distribution is poor and Fer has it all but needs help so that he isn’t so easily shut down.
Does anyone know where we can find the next Patrick Vierra that, for some reason, none of the other big money clubs have already earmarked…
As for Lambert…Lambert and Norwich were a magical combination. Something clicked for them both here that you cannot manufacture. It is not there at Villa. But Lambert is a canny Scot and, as you say, is playing the political game.
It does make one wonder though if he did the same thing at Norwich and that’s what caused issues with management…no matter who was to blame for the falling out.
Now if we could just have got the baby faced assassin instead of letting Cardiff snaffle him…..
agrre with GJ (1) if only we had acted sooner and bought in OGS. Attacking, intelligent, eager reminds me of Martinez. Just the type and style we are looking for to introduce a legacy for future mangers to follow instead we seem happy to remain dour, rigid and tactically simple offering a turgid menu to fans.
Is Lambert really that devious? It could be as simple as he has identified a need within his team and Hoolahan happens to fit the bill. David Fox himself never arrived straight away, only when Lambert realised his squad could do with that type of player. For me it would be a complete travesty if Hoolahan were allowed to leave the club, and despite his size, should start every game.
Gary Gowers says
Ben (3) – In a word, yes, he is that devious IMO
I can’t think the club could make a worse public relations move than to sell Wes to Villa. Our most popular player, a memory of the glorious rise and sometimes worth the price of the match on his own. We know that he doesn’t suit every match situation but it would still be a joy to see him as often as possible until his legs really go. The symbolism of Villa managing to lure him would be too much for many fans. All those who find it difficult to have a realistic view of the dilemmas of Rick’s 20 provincial clubs would angrily treat it as the last straw. I trust that Mr McNally is too wise to fall into such a trap.
Remy Dee says
Rick – I see you got your obligatory mention of a certain French striker playing ‘up North’. Are you his agent?
Re: OGS – he’s only had 1 match in charge in a ‘proper’ football league, FA Cup at that. Let’s see how he pans out before we get too weepy that we didn’t snaffle him first. Everyone young manager comes in with big promises of reinventing the game but just because he has some Fergie stardust on his shoulder doesn’t mean he’s ‘got what it takes’. Having an attacking policy in the Norwegian league is all fine but he could just as easily come unstuck in the PL – besides how long before his relationship with the owner breaks down and he’ll be back in the market again?
Not sure what PL’s strategy is but Wessi’s best days are behind him (as with Holty), so maybe it’s time to let go..for a couple of million.
I love to watch Wes play, providing he’s got a free role and two banks of four behind him.
However, he does flatter to deceive and has had many a ‘man of the match’ from the sponsors, when others ahave made a more telling if unspectacular contribution.
Personally, I think there’s room for Fox. Scholes he may not be, but given our lack of ball retention and if we want service to Redmond/Murphy etc. I’d take the chance.
However, it’s easy from the stands when your neck isn’t on the block… GB
If Wes and his agent fancy a big money move that will not come their way again, McNally might not have a choice, not matter how badly that plays with the Snakepit.
Far more important is what we can get in in the difficult/expensive January market to help keep the squad balanced and the wheels on. OTBC.
darren hoggett says
The key sentence in this article is not about Fox or Hoolahan. It is about the manager:
‘Crisis management 38 times a season’.
And who has made this situation happen? One Christopher William Gerald Hughton.
Can we have our football back please?
Dave B says
Unfortunately for Hughton this isn’t really a situation that’s of his making. I don’t think anyone saw this coming (rumour or not).
I say either keep him and play him or take the money. Anywhere between 1-2m for a player that is 31 that starts 25% of the time isn’t bad. Take a chance on 1 or 2 younger players (e.g. similar to Redmond) that would stick with us should we go down.
Personally I’d rather see him playing for us. When he’s on his game he’s the best player on the pitch. When he isn’t, he’s on par with our mediocre players that start most weeks.
The biggest mistake we can make is to keep him and not play him. It’s unfair on Wes (who, let’s face it has massive fan backing) and it’s a bad message to the players.
Of course I’d rather see him go to a Championship club, back to Blackpool would be nice.
Please let’s not turn this into another go at the manager. Like always, this site brings a much needed balanced look at the circumstances surrounding our lovely fooball club. Rick’s piece is a superb example of how to look at the modern football reality. The overwhelming problem is the Premier League and it’s devouring of enthusiasm and fun in order to make money and influence for an international elite from Abramovitch to Murdoch to Dubai. How decent people like those at Norwich City, including Chris Hughton, find their way through that shark pool is increasingly hard. But imagine being in equivalent cities like Bristol, Coventry, Plymouth, Nottingham or Portsmouth?!!