It’s the silly season. You know the period.
The fixtures are out, the transfer window has yet to spring into meaningful action and transfer rumours abound as those “in the know” accounts on social media purport to know someone who knows something about a pending transfer.
In truth, finding anything meaningful or new to write about is difficult. Yet, all of us can’t help wondering what the forthcoming season will provide.
Certainly, there are grounds for optimism. And why shouldn’t there be?
The nadir of late autumn 2014, which produced just seven points from ten games, now seems a distant memory.
“Alex who?” galvanised the Canaries like no other preceding Norwich City manager (certainly in my living memory) has done before, turning the second half of the 2014-15 season into one that will undoubtedly be talked about for generations to come.
To be frank, it was nothing short of a miracle with a fitting finale at “the home of football” – Wembley.
Yet, as we all know, the toughest of tough test lies ahead. Just how will Alex fare in the Premier League? How will he respond to that first away defeat and the occasional big tonking, which are likely to come our way in the forthcoming months?
The squad he inherited is certainly better equipped, with far more Premier League experience than the last time we were promoted.
Yet, almost certainly, he will want to bring his own influence to the squad – which manager doesn’t – over the summer period.
If there’s one thing we’ve all learnt during his brief tenure it’s that he has a meticulous eye for preparation – whoever the opposition – rarely seen before at Carrow Road. And it’s that which is highly likely to set him apart from his counterparts at Bournemouth and Watford.
Whoever joins the Canaries between now and the close of the transfer window, will, undoubtedly, have gone under the thorough “Alex Neil” review process.
Yet, I’m predicting right now, that there will be one issue that will be debated and argued about more than any other pending arrival. One that’s likely to be more divisive than any heavy defeat or ‘wrong’ team selection during the forthcoming campaign.
And, it’s not new. It’s the future role, if any, of Wesley Hoolahan during 2015-16.
Fellow MFW colleague, Duncan Edwards, penned an excellent article on the virtues of Wesley and the issues of relating to the common perceptions of what a Premier League footballer should be.
Wes certainly doesn’t tick all the boxes.
Yet, no player gets to play over 250 games over a seven year period for the Canaries without having something special about them.
Nevertheless, it’s worth reflecting that during our last Premier League tenure, Wes started only just over half (63 out of 114) of all our games, with a further 19 appearances from the bench.
Sure, injuries and previous managerial team selections both played a part but, contrary to common belief, Wes wasn’t a permanent feature in the starting elevens back then and he’s highly unlikely to be so again.
Of course, Wes has been at Norwich for long enough for us to know, certainly better than most media and TV pundits, what he can do and, more importantly, what he can’t.
He’s neither as good as some make out nor as poor as others suggest.
The extent of his involvement next season will largely be influenced by what team formations Alex prefers and, as we all know, Wes isn’t a man for all formations.
His best role is central, ‘in the hole’, behind a lone striker. Here he can find the space to play those little threaded passes to open up opposing defences.
Yet, in the Premier League, most teams go with a single striker and, more importantly, a five man midfield. Space between the lines of the back four and the midfield (Wes’s territory) is at a premium.
Very quickly, Wes has no room in which to play and work his magic. Suddenly, he’s no longer involved, instead isolated and peripheral.
The truth is, of course, it’s a team game. It’s rarely just about one individual. Without the other ten ‘doing their bit’ it’s easy to target those who are seemingly less involved in the game.
Wes on his game, makes Norwich tick. He’s a joy to behold. Use him wrongly and it really is like playing with ten men.
Therefore, as Old Father Time marches on for Wesley, I’m predicting a diminished role during the forthcoming season.
Regrettably, he’s no longer one of the one of the first names on the team sheet. Nor is his influence so great that you have to build your team around him.
I’m predicting ten starts and fifteen more from the bench.
Part of me hopes that I’m wrong. Yet part of me also thinks that this could be one of the divisive fan issue over the forthcoming months.
Yet, whatever your view on Wes, Alex, of course, knows best.