Earlier this summer, the local pub I’m currently working a forty hour week at to fund my university experience announced it would be sponsoring – much to my delight – a Norwich City player. It seemed a shrewd and somewhat overdue move, especially given the owner’s love of football and City as a club, enhancing the pub’s regional recognition as well as exciting me and the fellow Norwich fans I work with.
That player was Jonathan Howson.
Now, if Howson was a car, it would be easy to render him comparable to a model such as a Ford Mondeo: relatively basic, reliable and pretty dependable in most circumstances, without possessing a considerable amount of aesthetic value or flashiness.
But that judgement is unfair.
Howson has been our most consistent performer throughout the late Lambert/Hughton/Adams/Neil epoch, continually demonstrating dynamism, ball retention and often versatility in our frequently fluctuating midfield. He adds a degree of class to Norwich, possessing terrific feet and skill on the ball as well as an excellent eye for a pass, keeping the ball on the floor and often distributing the ball to wide areas and facilitating counter attacks.
I’d compare Howson more to an Audi A6: just as – if not more – reliable than the Mondeo, but with an additional touch of class and finesse.
I’m surprised we’ve held on to Howson for as long as we have. Despite suffering two relegations in the space of three seasons, the 28 year-old has been a rare shining light for Norwich, hardly having a notably bad game and performing admirably in all positions he has been – often contentiously – employed in.
Even when Alex Neil did his best Sven Goran-Erikson impression and shoehorned Howson out on the right throughout the middle stages of last year’s dismal season – as the Swede ludicrously did to Paul Scholes on the left at Euro 2004 – Howson still performed well, tracking back and assisting the frequently hapless Steven Whitaker as well as making some useful and enterprising runs forward.
Howson is not under-rated by Norwich fans: we all appreciate his worth and his profound impact he makes on the team. His consistency in a yellow shirt has been remarkable, rarely demonstrating any form of profligacy in possession and surging forward to score goals too.
What does surprise me, however, if the way in which City fans have taken his commitment to the club, and his presence in City colours, for granted.
If I managed a middle-ground, consolidated Premier League club – a West Brom, Watford, Stoke etc – surely a bid for the superb Howson would cross my mind. The midfielder must be worth at least five million – pushing ten owing to his sustained excellence for Norwich – and would undoubtedly perform reliably in a decent top-flight midfield.
Howson’s attitude is also top-class. After scoring – such as against Bristol City last week, or at Portman Road in that play-off semi-final last year, or after that stunner at Millwall in 2015 – he palpably demonstrated his passion, an explicit manifestation of his commitment to the club and his desire to win.
Howson’s treatment of the fans is also terrific. Sitting in the Jarrold for home matches when I’m back from Durham as well as at any away fixture I’ve been to since 2012, Howson has always been one of the first players over to the City faithful, sincerely acknowledging our relentlessly vocal support.
He is an excellent role model for both fans and young players at the club.
Howson now has a pivotal role to play in the dressing room, with young talents such as James Maddison, Ben Godfrey and Sergi Canos emerging rapidly. With his considerable experience as a City player across two leagues and multiple promotions and relegations, Howson is able to impart his accumulated wisdom to blossoming midfielders, helping their development both on and off the pitch.
Making him captain this season has been one of Alex Neil’s most impressive moves since taking over at the club.
Howson is so important for Norwich. He remains fundamentally critical to our promotion hopes, providing leadership, experience and technical ability to our side. His role in terms of the younger players will be crucial, facilitating their growth and helping them become as reliable a performer as Howson is himself.
Howson provides stability. Alex Neil has clearly shown his intent to build his Championship team around Howson, appointing him captain and employing him in a midfield partnership with Alex Tettey up until the derby on Sunday.
Whilst the inclusion of Youssouf Mulumbu at the base of the midfield in Suffolk was bizarre for some, Howson – despite showing unusual signs of profligacy in possession – still performed well in his more advanced role.
Nonetheless, he remains most effective in a deeper and more central position, sitting with Tettey and allowing the likes of Hoolahan, Naismith, Canos and either Murphy twin to attack and play with freedom and creativity. Howson can then distribute the ball and dictate play, surging forward – as he did at the New Den in our 2015 4-1 win and at the Etihad with that memorable solo strike – occasionally and creating chances.
Playing alongside the holding Tettey enables Howson the freedom to attack owing to the Norwegian’s more defensive tendencies and his shield-like presence in front of Timm Klose and Ryan Bennett.
Thank God for Jonny Howson. If he stays fit, and Alex Neil continues to employ him as the anchor in our team in which he builds around, Norwich City have a great chance of promotion.
His sustained excellence for us for over four years has been profound, providing stability, dynamism and creativity to a side that has often shown signs of fragility and vulnerability.
And Jonny: if you ever get round to visiting the pub that has sponsored you, I will happily buy you a drink.