One word that was used more than any other after City’s 1-1 draw against ‘that lot’: character.
The team had character to get back into the game. To field our youngest ever defence in the second half in the heat of an East Anglian derby. Louis Thompson had character to stay on when injured.
All laudable accomplishments and rightly trumpeted by those of the “glass half full” persuasion.
As always with every issue surrounding Norwich City, there are those of the “glass half empty” variety as well. They were keen to point out that we were sneaking away from a match against a team who were bottom of the league, had dropped their goalkeeper and best player, and only managed one shot on target to test out perennial bench-warmer Dean Gerken.
Glass half-empty it may be, but it’s equally true.
The definition of what constitutes character in a football player is down to individual interpretation. Look back to Paul Lambert’s all-conquering team and we had a team full of character, personified by a series of last-minute winners as we took the game to the opposition, always confident that we would win in the end.
For me, that team was as full of individual characters as it was collectively; Holty dragging us up the pitch by the scruff of the neck, forcing his will on the opposition; Wes, impishly imposing himself on the opposition, finding the little pockets of space that defenders didn’t want to be dragged to; Russell Martin, professionalism and leadership personified.
But one individual who impressed me and didn’t always get the praise he deserved was Chris Martin. A natural goal scorer and “one of our own”, he was never really adored by the Norwich crowd as much as he probably should have been.
Much of the reason why is shrouded in murky rumours of off-field indiscipline, and a reputation of cocky arrogance that was at least partially consistent with snippets coming from Colney and assorted managers he played under.
But one reason I had a lot of time for Martin was that he took that attitude onto the field. He played with a niggle and bite to his game. If he couldn’t tackle an opposition defender, he would always at least position himself in a way that would spoil the pass they were trying to make. He was a constant irritant and pleased to be so.
For a player who had acquired a reputation for being self-centred, he worked extremely hard doing dirty work for the team.
When I look at Sunday’s City team, I see a lot of good lads. While we may question the quality produced at times, we never question the effort, and we have hard-workers. But do we have winners? Players that can impose themselves on the opposition and lead the fight rather than just be carried along with it when it’s going for them.
I’d have Grant Hanley alongside me in the trenches any day. Ditto Onel Hernandez, who aside from his creative abilities has a combativeness and aggression that won’t be brushed aside when there is a 50/50 ball to be won. And Alex Tettey is not outmuscled by anyone when there’s a second-ball to be won in the midfield.
But over and above that I’m not sure who we’ve got that really wants to win. Who will throw themselves into the battle and fight like a caged animal if need be? We’ve got some lovely lads, but have we got anybody with the edge to not only compete, but to actively unsettle the opposition?
The answer is that we have. The problem is he’s been sat on his backside for months. And he might just be more trouble than he’s worth.
This time last year Nelson Oliveira was attracting bids from Reading and Premiership Swansea of £12 million. A year later, despite it being made abundantly clear that he was available for transfer, nobody has moved to take him on. The reason why is unclear but a combination of an extremely poor Championship season, high wages, and a growing reputation for being high maintenance all contributed to the lack of interest in our former hot property.
I won’t list all the question marks over Nelson that have emerged in the past twelve months, but two things are certain regardless. The first is that properly harnessed, he can be one of the best strikers in the Championship. Without question. The second is that, when it comes to fiery attitude, Nelson will not be found wanting.
Stuart Webber has stated previously that if Oliveira didn’t find a new home by the end of the transfer window he would be integrated back into the squad. How far his attitude has become toxic behind the scenes is not something those of us outside Colney are privy to.
His not-so-subtle criticism of Daniel Farke’s possession football over the summer on social media would appear to put him at odds with the direction the management are trying to move. And he showed last season that his style and Farke’s are not a perfect match. Compromise would need to be entertained, possibly on both sides.
Farke may not want him back but equally, Webber may see Oliveira as one of our last potential sources of significant transfer income IF we can get him up and scoring. And if Webber was serious about Oliveira returning the irresistible force may be about to meet the immovable object.
He won’t have enjoyed the fact that no team prioritised him as a target during a window in which he was patently desperate to get out of Norfolk and he has a point to prove much further afield than just Colney.
It could be a car crash of ego versus team unity. But equally if, and it’s a massive If, for the good of the team and ultimately his career, Oliveira can stow the attitude and use the passion and skill that he’s blessed with, he could be a difference-maker.
God knows we could do with a fully-engaged Nelson Oliveira with an axe-to-grind taking it out on the rest of the division. This is one to watch over the coming weeks.