We are all currently playing the “who should stay, who should go” game, and hoping our choices match those of Stuart Webber and the new coach.
Roughly speaking the vast majority of our opinions will coincide. I can’t see many votes in the “Offer Turner a new contract” camp for example.
As you cut away the obvious dead wood however, you come to the hardwood. The root of the problem. The players that have solidified their place over time, have rightly earned themselves respect for what they’ve done for the club but of whom we have to ask:
Are they part of the solution to our problems, or part of the problem itself?
This is where Stuart Webber will earn his money, or not. And we have to talk about Russell Martin.
An exceptional club captain, he understands the ethos of this club perfectly, represents us with dignity, and cares deeply and passionately about Norwich City.
Do his performances on the pitch merit a starting place in the team? Is he a capable centre-half at Championship level?
I would say it’s difficult to lead by example on the pitch when you’re a key component in the part of the team has most obviously under-performed and has undermined the positive work elsewhere.
The local media polls and a thumb in the air on Twitter would suggest that the vast majority of fans would like a complete refresh of the centre-back position and two new starters if possible. Which leaves Russ where?
His right-back days are long gone, along with the pace required to play that position. On the bench? Not even on the bench? I can’t imagine he would accept that too readily..
But Martin has an unshakable belief in his own ability. You can hear it in every interview he gives. Whilst he commendably doesn’t shy away from admitting to a mistake, he will always believe that he can put it right and that he should be in the team to help right any wrongs.
It’s an admirable attitude and one that has seen a player with average physical and technical abilities play at a very high level. But belief alone isn’t enough.
As much as we need players that care and who have confidence in their own ability, we can’t saddle ourselves with invalid assessments of that ability steeped in sentiment and hope.
It would be a tremendously difficult task for Webber or the new coach to say to the skipper that he’s not part of this team any more, and one I wouldn’t envy. But these are the tough decisions that really matter.
Can we afford to play a centre-back that we don’t really believe in for another year because we like the intangible elements he brings? Or because we’re worried about the upset that would come if we dislodged an undoubtedly popular leader in the dressing room?
The rot runs deep at Colney. We know that.
That’s why the team goes into panic mode and loses every time we concede the first goal. That’s why despite being one of the top goal scoring teams in Europe we have also conceded a ludicrous amount of goals, many of which are ludicrous in themselves.
We have an attack the envy of the Championship and a defence that undermines it in equal measure. We have a palace built on a bed of sand, slowly but surely, eroding and crumbling.
As much as we love Russ for his heart and commitment, can we really justify his continued place in the team on performance alone?
Sometimes you need to hack out some roots before the tree can grow healthy again. Sometimes you have to hack the biggest root of all.
There are two players who have gone under the radar but I believe deserve a pat on the back for recent performances: Ivo Pinto and Josh Murphy.
Ivo seems to be saddled with the ‘good going forward but he can’t defend’ tag, yet in a team that leaks goals for fun I’m struggling to remember one we have conceded that has come as a result of a mistake by the right back. His drive and passion to work hard are there for all to see and he’s been a rare bright spot in the bad games as well as the good.
For me he’s up there with any of the Player of the Season candidates.
Josh meanwhile has had a bumpy season. In the shadow of his brother, he’s been the perpetual substitute with Alex Neil decrying a lack of work-rate as the reason why – perhaps not without some justification. But in recent games, as Jacob has looked tired and short of spark, Josh has looked increasingly up for it.
He’s taking defenders on directly and forcing them to make tackles they don’t want to make. It’s still a work in progress and he’ll still make the wrong decision or lose the ball frustratingly here and there, but there’s a drive to his game at the moment that wasn’t there earlier in the season.
Any progress is good, and for me, I’d start him and give Jacob a rest.
Stewart Lewis says
Good piece, Andy. Much easier to do a superficial “keep x, get rid of y” list of our squad than a serious appraisal of one individual.
Stuart Webber and the new Head Coach will have some easy decisions and some tougher ones. What do we do with for instance John Ruddy or Russ?
Andy describes the dilemma perfectly. I don’t have the answer – but if he’s to leave, I hope we get a chance to show our appreciation. Russ was at the heart of three promotions, and has always represented the club with dignity and pride.
On the other hand…
I love Ivo Pinto’s spirit, commitment and forward runs; he’s one of the few who remembers you CAN go as far as the by-line. But we’ve conceded quite a few goals from the area he’s meant to be defending, whether or not he’s present there. Ryan Bennett may be this month’s villain, but at times it’s been Ivo too.
Some of these decisions aren’t as straightforward as they look.
Craig Bailey says
Exactly what I summarised in my small paragraph and shows lots of the thinking that may have assumed to have been missed in my recent squad review, I assure you it wasn’t. I think it has to be a thanks for the good times but fresh blood is needed approach.
martin penney says
Good stuff. It articulates exactly what a lot of us have been thinking for some considerable time now.
I’m part of the “what a fantastic bloke but not really any longer a Championship defender” brigade.
I would love to see him retained in some capacity, but at 30 or 31 he is too young to hang up his boots and there’s the rub.
My instinct would be to let him go, but his heart and family appear to lie firmly in Norfolk – whether that in itself is enough to keep him on, I doubt.
No easy decision for Stuart Webber on Russ, I’m afraid.
good piece, great buildings are built on sand, many churches built hundreds of years are on nothing but sand. It is the blocks that count do they fit, are they cut from the best ? have said many times that some of these players are not bad players we have seen them perform far better than this last season. I have seen Bennett,Martin and Ruddy put in blinders many many times. Mistakes are made far too often and in the same vein, which I believe some blame must lay at coaching. Every player to walk on to a pitch makes mistakes sometimes you get away with it and learn not to do it that way again. THis is what seems as if it has been missing. The learn from Mistakes is not being applied. I am glad we have employed someone like Webber, because sentiment won’t get his way
Andy Delf says
For the club to move forward then player decisions have to be made with the head and not the heart. For all of Russell’s good qualities his days as a top championship defender are over. The same will apply for many of the team and squad. However this is why we have employed Mr Webber and the soon to arrive head coach to make the tough decisions from a perspective not blinkered by a sense of loyalty and personal relationships.
The player changes need to be aligned with a massive change in the culture of the club and the whole process will take two or three seasons to ultimately bear fruit. As supporters our duty is to remain positive and get behind the regime change and temper our expectations with a pragmatic view of what success looks like in the short term. If the changes envisioned succeed then the longer term future of the club become greater.
Stewart Lewis says
Craig #2: To be fair, you said more – and in a more nuanced way – about Russ than about anyone else.
Some of your other judgements I’m not so sure on. Just glad Pritchard wasn’t unlucky enough to pick up an injury or two, or no doubt he’d have been with Dorrans in your ‘get rid’ bin.
Craig Bailey says
#6 Stewart, I thought more about all of them but wanted to keep it brief. Dorrans epitomises the problems with this squad in a way. Technically one of the best in the league, mentally fragile, not just this season either, when things going well he does, but he quickly hides when it’s not. Just not the mentality we need.
This is the easiest decision of all. Getting rid of people like Martin is essential. It would be utterly moronic to remove those who aren’t even playing and feeding our failure, only to leave those who are the very root of it (as you say). That’s not a clear out. As always, some will look to over complicate it and bring sentimentality into it and somehow claim these are hard decisions.
Stewart Lewis says
Craig #7: It’s all about opinions, but I strongly disagree about Dorrans.
Two years ago we had a key Easter game at (ironically) Brighton. It was a tough one we needed to win; Dorrans grabbed it by the scruff of the neck. Just as he’s stepped up to take penalties when others are missing them.
I’d say he (and we) have been unlucky with his injuries.
Happy to accept you thought about all these. For me, you did yourself a slight disservice by having only black-and-white categories (keep/get rid) with no nuance.
Anyway, the forthcoming summer is likely to be more interesting than the season that preceded it!
Andy Head says
If I’ve pleased Jeff, my work here is done!
Letting RM go would be tremendously difficult for the club to do because he’s definitely one the board trust and have accepted into “the family”.
As much as RM wouldn’t want to go I think there’d be a market for him as his reputation in the game is good. It would undoubtedly involve a pay cut though.
I think the likelihood is that he’ll remain but in a diminished capacity. Reserve team captain helping to bring through youngsters would be excellent for us but I don’t know if he’d accept that. The worst thing would be for him to remain, not play, and hang around Colney like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Andrew Brewer says
Russell Martin wil be here next season.
There is a lot of fanciful talk about replacing the failing squad but let’s just be a little realistic. A squad need five centre backs. Injuries and suspensions as well as loss of form need a group of players.
There is no way we can replace all our centre backs. The logistics of selling them all and buying in new ones means it is unlikely that more than two or three will go. Where would we find five good centre backs and how could we afford them? Two is practicable and three could be achieved but that still leaves two or three who will stay. Klose might force the issue or be sacrificed for the fee and salary savings. Turner and Bassong can be released without cost. Neither seems likely to play again. They will be replaced.
Hopefully we can afford first team players and Bennett and Martin will be on the bench but they will have a role in the squad.
Just an aside: when discussing players can we on here at least moderate our language. “Get rid” and “dead wood” suit garden rubbish and old clothes but we are discussing people who have families and feelings. Many have done well in our cause. Glorying in good people losing their jobs might be ok on Twitter or the Pink Un but aren’t we better than that?
Kathmandu Canary says
I confess I might be in the keep him crowd (I might be optimistic it’s a crowd). Ok, I haven’t seen many games this year (see username), but as has been acknowledged he is a leader, arguably the best at the club. Even if he’s not a first choice could he still have a role to play? Are we realistically going to be able to get 3 better centre backs over the summer?
I recall 2004 when we got rid of Malky and Iwan in the same summer as it was (probably rightly ) felt they weren’t up to the premier league, but we lost two of the key leaders from the team, and I would argue it played a role in us taking so long to find our rhythm that season.
Dave B says
Isn’t suggesting that Russ or Wes go a fireable offense?
Stewart Lewis says
Good points, Kathmandu Canary (#12)!
Andy #10: If you’ve pleased Jeff, that may be serious cause for concern…
PS I’ve always wished we’d signed Russ’s schoolmate Lewis Dunk
Douglas Millar says
Russell Martin has come in for much unjustified criticism. He has always faced up to criticism even when he has played well. It can be no coincidence that every manager since Paul Lambert and the Scottish manager have continued to select him. What do the armchair critics see that they don’t?
City certainly need two new centre backs to replace Turner and Bassong. Bennett has not fulfilled his early promise. Keep Russell who is Norwich through and through. Remember his goal at Liverpool after the birth of his child. Character like that is not easily acquired.
The key to next season is as much in retaining players like Howson Pritchard and the Murphys as in shipping out failures and bringing in new players.
Dave B says
Being Norwich through and through is no reason to pay something 10’000’s a week. See Bryan Gunn and Neil Adams.
He may not be a top-level Championship defender, but he’s a more than adequate Championship defender, especially as a back up. And I’m afraid you have to pay them, Dave (16)
Yes, there will be churn, and rightly so, but I don’t think he should be part of it. Yet.
Great article. The Russ question is probably/possibly the most difficult one for the summer. Personally I would keep him as a back up and good influence on the younger players, but agree that we do need a completely new centre back pairing. Further forward, surely yesterday’s performance and result could pose a Russ type question over Wes. Pritchard at last is getting some decent game time, and surely Maddison could do no more than he did yesterday. There are others in the U-23’s who will hopefully get some minutes before the season ends. Friday could be good for that as surely Brighton will be at least half on the beach…although their manager will no doubt have a point to prove!
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