Imagine if a spaceship landed on the Carrow Road pitch. The doors open and a tall spindly figure makes his way down the ramp. As the smoke clears, you realise it’s not actually Peter Crouch but an alien visitor.
(Granted it’s unlikely but it’s still more believable than the events of last Saturday)
“Take me to your leader” it says.
Looking round at the players on the pitch, who would you point him towards?
Russell Martin perhaps?
He’s the captain, the skipper, El Capitano, and he has an armband with a little ‘C’ on it to prove it.
But is he a leader? And what exactly is the role of the captain both on and off the field?
Michael Atherton was interviewed recently about the demands of captaining the England Cricket team. He highlighted the number of decisions that are required during a day’s play as well as the challenge of maintaining your own form whilst getting the best from your team mates.
The role of the football captain is perhaps less significant. There are no field placements to make, no decisions on when to change bowers and if you lose the toss it rarely has any influence on the result.
In essence, it’s a case of sticking on the armband, leading the boys out the dressing room and grabbing the mascot’s hand.
(Then again, in these days of corporate packages most players are accompanied by a child whose parents have stumped up the cash for a special match-day experience. There are so many mascots on the pitch before kick-off it looks like a Wes Hoolahan tribute act has turned up).
As captain you shake hands with the referee, call heads or tails, get the boys in a huddle and shout inspirational things like “we’re not gonna let this slip” (copyright Steven Gerrard).
Job done perhaps, until after the match when you face the media to let them know that you and the boys are feeling either ‘over the moon’ or ‘sick as a parrot’.
Of course the crucial bit is what happens in between the first and final whistle and the influence that you, as the captain, have had on the game.
Now before I go on, the point of this piece is not to put the boot in on Russell Martin. If you’re looking for that, Twitter is the place to be.
Russ has been a fantastic servant to the club. He’s articulate and likeable. He has provided an effective link between the players and coaching staff. He’s a great ambassador for the club and, let’s not forget, a pretty decent footballer too.
Nobody can have begrudged Russ’s moment when he led the boys up the Wembley steps following our play-off triumph?
But what we need on the pitch are leaders – the sort of player whose very presence galvanises the rest of the team. A player who can lift his team-mates in the face of disappointment; a player who can turn a game through his individual brilliance or through sheer power of will.
Players like Steven Gerrard or John Terry, players who in their prime were unquestionably the first names on their respective team sheets.
The sort of player that Norwich City has missed for quite a while.
Perhaps the last genuine leader we had was Grant Holt. A captain, a goal scorer, multiple Barry Butler Award winner and most importantly a talisman.
Holty really was the main man. He even grew the mightiest moustache during City’s ‘Movember’ efforts. During City’s rise through the league, the ‘C’ on Holt’s arm could, and should, have been replaced with a big red ‘S’ on his chest.
As with Stevie G and JT, Holt’s influence waned as the years caught up with him and his contribution was in doubt. Once people start to question his inclusion in the starting eleven, it becomes ever more difficult to exert an influence over the team.
So it is with Russell Martin. The debate over whether he is a right-back or centre-back has become replaced with whether he should feature at all. The ability to get the best from those around him now replaced by a need to demonstrate that he’s worthy of his place and is not the weakest link.
We have some fine players but who is an automatic choice? Who is guaranteed to play week in, week out? Who has the necessary character, authority, influence and mindset needed to lead the team? To lift them after they concede a goal?
Heading into the transfer window, all the talk was about the positions we needed to strengthen. But for me, it was less about right-backs, centre-halves or strikers and more about characters.
I wanted a leader – someone who could get a response from the talented players around him by setting an example.
Based on last Saturday – and as alluded to by my colleague, Nick Sellers – we may have found our man in Steven Naismith.
Surplus to requirements at Everton, where he was a bit-part player, he has the age, experience, quality and character to become the main man at our club. It wasn’t just the fact he scored a goal and won us a penalty, it was the manner in which he performed and marshalled those around him.
He may just prove to be a signing of the same significance of Grant Holt?