Coaching a team of nine-year olds often proves to be a welcome reminder that football is actually meant to be fun.
As the boys (and girls) returned for a new season, I took the opportunity to ask them all what they considered their favoured position.
“I see myself as a holding midfielder; breaking up opponents’ play just in front of the defence”
“I think I operate best at full-back, providing counter-attacking width to a narrow midfield”
Yeah… there was none of that.
It turns out I have a team full of strikers.
Whilst I’ll admit to having certain reservations, I’m hopeful that when the transfer window closes in ten years’ time, there will be no last ditch attempts by Norwich City to bring in a new number 9 because (apparently) Norfolk is overflowing with budding centre-forwards.
But who can blame them?
Scoring goals is fun; scoring goals wins matches.
Who wouldn’t want to be a striker?
It’s the blue riband position. Would you rather win Olympic gold in the 100 metres or the shot-put? Because they’re of equal value, right?
Except we all know that they’re not.
And perhaps it’s that inner child within all of us that makes the signing of centre-forwards all the more exciting?
As we grow up, we learn to appreciate that football is a team game; the importance of other less glamorous roles; the need for a strong spine; the value of a clean sheet;
but somewhere deep down, all of us love a goal-scorer.
Because scoring goals is fun; scoring goals wins matches.
And that’s why strikers cost so much.
Reflecting on over thirty years of following Norwich City, the names of Fashanu, Deehan, Drinkell, Fleck, Roberts and Holt still stir emotions that no others (bar a certain D Huckerby) can.
But that’s six names in three decades. How many others have tried and failed to score the goals and win a place in our hearts during that time?
For every Grant Holt, there’s a Dean Coney; a Peter Thorne; a Chris Killen; a David Strivhavka.
Just like actors’ superstitions in relation to a certain Scottish-based Shakespearian play or the baldy nose-less villain from Harry Potter, I now refuse to utter the name of our most infamous number nine (which was available to put on your shirt for a bargain five English pounds).
But let’s just say that ‘he’ illustrates the problem that’s been facing Alex Neil and Jez Moxey over the last few weeks.
Because if you want to guarantee goals (those things which are fun and which win matches) you have to spend far bigger than the £8.5 million it cost us to bring ‘him’ to the club. And that’s before we factor in the ludicrously inflated prices generated in today’s market by new TV deals.
We need to face facts; we are a Championship side. And without top-flight status or the convenience and perceived lure of being close to London, the only way to bring that elusive 20-goal-a-season-man through the gates of Colney would be to shell out stupid money that we simply can’t afford.
Which brings me to Aston Villa.
Would I like a strike-force of McCormack and Kodjia?
Hell yeah I would.
Would I be prepared to pay £29 million for the pair (excluding wages)?
Hell yeah I would (provided it wasn’t my money).
But we don’t have those funds available.
It’s a shame… but it’s a fact.
As an aside, it’s commonplace for a buying team to play down the scale of a transfer or insist that the fee is ‘undisclosed’ to suggest that they got value from the deal. However the new Villa owner seems intent on demonstrating just how deep his pockets are and to openly publicise just how much money he has spent.
It’s an interesting ploy, which in the short-term will potentially curry favour with the Villa fans. Until such point that the money dries up or the big-money signings prove to be a waste of the big money.
(Again…don’t mention ‘him’).
Back to City. The signing of Nelson Oliveira was branded as a “shrewd” piece of business by our Jezza and at this time and I suspect that he is right.
Like it or not, the best we can offer potential goal-scoring heroes is the prospect of a ram-packed fixture list at Burton, Bristol or Barnsley rather than a ‘Super Sunday’
Next summer may be different. We might be shopping in a different market. But for now, we’re either forced to pay over the odds in a desperate attempt at ‘winner takes all’ or play (and pay) within our current means.
If we’re lucky, Oliveira may have added his name to the list of number nines who became part of City folklore and his name may well find itself on the back of my new shirt for next season.
If not, content yourselves that in ten years’ time I’ve got a team full of strikers ready to take you to the Promised Land.