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.