Norwich City have complained formally to Aston Villa about their pursuit of Wes Hoolahan – and have received a curt reply.
The exchange of letters between the two clubs demonstrates the deterioration of relations between them and explains why Norwich, who have rejected a transfer request from Hoolahan, are especially determined not to sell him to Villa.
Norwich wrote complaining that Villa manager Paul Lambert had publicly extolled Hoolahan’s ability, despite the Norfolk club saying he is not for sale. Villa wrote back merely acknowledging the receipt of the Norwich letter and “noting its contents”.
The acrimony between the two clubs stems from events after Lambert left Norwich for Villa 19 months ago. There was an escalating series of bad-tempered exchanges between Lambert, people representing him, and Norwich chief executive David McNally and chairman Alan Bowkett.
There was more bad blood when reserve goalkeeper Jed Steer followed Lambert to Villa Park last summer.
Then Villa bid £750,000 for Hoolahan at about the time the 31-year-old Republic of Ireland midfielder reported that he had picked up an injury and could not play in the FA Cup third round tie against Fulham. Hoolahan also told Norwich staff, verbally, that he wanted to join Villa.
Norwich manager Chris Hughton told the Norwich board he wants to keep Hoolahan, who had just forced his way into the first team. So Norwich told the player they had no intention of selling him and refused at first to even talk with Villa about the bid until after a tribunal hearing about goalkeeper Steer. Once that tribunal had made its ruling – that Villa must pay £450,000 immediately and, in theory could hand over up to £1.75m – Norwich rejected the offer for Hoolahan.
The popular midfielder – the only survivor from the era before Lambert lifted Norwich 54 places in three seasons – reported that he was fit but “not in the right frame of mind” to play. Despite that, Hughton has continued to select him as a sub.
This week Hoolahan submitted a written transfer request, but insisted: “There has not been any big row or anything.”
Norwich rejected the request and have told him again that they do not intend to sell him. That remains the position privately as well as publicly. I understand that the only circumstances in which they might be prepared to part with Hoolahan in this transfer window is if they could sign someone better at his sort of role – operating centrally just behind the main striker. Even then they would want at least £3m for Hoolahan and would still not want Villa to be his destination. They regard Villa as direct rivals in their attempt to secure a fourth successive season in the Premier League.
In 2009, soon after he had arrived at Norwich , Lambert tried to sell Hoolahan. And, if the Scot had remained in charge at Carrow Road for the summer in which he moved to Villa, he would have sold Grant Holt – the striker with whom he has now been reunited.
Lambert’s list of players he wanted to move on had already been presented to the Norwich board when he decamped to Villa. Holt was on that list.
In the event, however, Lambert left and new Norwich manager Chris Hughton gave Holt a new contract. The striker stayed for one season under Hughton in the Premier League before joining Wigan for £2m last summer. After scoring just twice in 19 appearances for Wigan he accepted a loan move to Villa for the rest of the season.