Let’s talk about Alex Tettey.
After City’s disappointing defeat at Deepdale, the Norwegian midfielder came under some intense and unwarranted criticism from some quarters.
He’s known for his candid interviews, infectious smile and humour but sometimes forgotten is his contribution on the pitch, partly because of the role in which he operates.
In October, the EDP’s Dave Hannant likened Tettey to a drummer in a band: he’ll never receive the headlines attributed to the lead guitarist or singer but without him they would be allowed to be creative and flourish.
This portrayal of him as an anti-footballer who cannot pass the ball is absurd, because Alex Tettey, or players of his ilk are required in every team. Sure, they don’t operate with the panache of Emi Buendia or score the goals of Teemu Pukki, but the role they play enables all of these players to express themselves to their maximum potential.
Tettey’s style isn’t the antithesis of the Daniel Farke philosophy, he’s facilitator of it.
Admittedly, he will never a technical player who plays killer passes, who scores loads of goals or creates loads of chances, and nobody is more conscious of Tettey’s limitations than the man himself, but his skillset is unrivalled when compared to City’s other midfielders.
Tom Trybull is perceived as the natural replacement, yet he isn’t a like for like replacement.
Trybull’s tenacity means he is less positionally aware during a defensive phase, and so provides less of a shield for the back four. Sometimes, this tenacity can work in City’s favour but sometimes it can leave them exposed defensively.
Yet, supporters look on the deployment of Trybull and Tettey as a collective. Given the nature of the Preston game, where Farke had highlighted how they would play with aggression, his decision to play the pairing together was the natural response to this.
The mistake is picking Tettey and Trybull and then expecting them to perform in the same way as Moritz Leitner or Mario Vrancic. For all of Farke’s tactical astuteness, this one was a rare misjudgement.
Despite social media vilification of Tettey’s performance, there was certainly an argument to suggest his performance was better than his German counterpart’s, for which there were mitigating circumstances: Trybull’s wife has been hospital but still he elected to play, and Tettey has just returned from injury and was playing through the pain barrier.
Tettey’s desire to play when not fully fit was a graphic illustration of his personality; a man who endured relegation, celebrated promotion and opted to remain a Canary while others were pursing alternative career moves.
Even when he was being described as “past it”, he signed a new contract, has evolved his game and is now involved in a side contending for promotion.
For him to be at his best, he requires a natural ball player alongside him to link the play between his interceptions and Norwich’s attacking phases of play. His game is based on simplicity, he understands what he is and never pretends to be anything else.
Equally, Farke’s coaching has improved Tettey’s offensive contribution, with the Norwegian being involved more in offensive phases of play and averaging more shots than ever before in his career.
For the creative players, the lynchpin playing behind them provides them with the confidence to express themselves and take risks. Why is Buendia flourishing? Why can the full-backs push up with aggression? It’s because Tettey maintains the defensive edge to City’s game, managing turnovers well and filling in spaces where need be.
Defensively, Tettey is integral to the way City play, particularly given the height of the full-backs when we are in possession. If the ball is turned over, Tettey is filling gaps, if there is an interception to be made, Tettey is there.
He is an accomplished footballer, just not in the conventional sense.
In contemporary football, fans, media and often coaches reject physicality and defensive nous and instead prioritise the technical elements of the game.
Tettey though offers something different, something which isn’t about ego or natural ability but more about doing a job for his teammates. He grafts tirelessly, wears his heart on his sleeve and displays both leadership and commitment to the cause.
In modern footballing culture, a good footballer is defined as one with silky skills and who is technically able but this dismisses those who fit Tettey’s description – the real grafters.
We need to accept that defining what makes a footballer talented isn’t solely how well they pass the ball or how well they score goals, but how they perform their individual roles. Tettey is one of the best in this division in his role.
With that comes an equilibrium, a cohesive engine room that collectively has the characteristics to win football matches.
Contrary to much of what was said post-Preston, he is precisely the type of footballer needed to carry out Farke’s philosophy, it’s just imperative that he has a ball-playing midfielder alongside him. But equally, it’s important a ball-playing midfielder has Tettey alongside them.
When players leave a football club, especially a player who has been at the club for a long time, the word legacy is sometimes used. Often this is allayed to magical moments performed by “legends” : Hoolahan’s creativity, Holt’s goalscoring ability, Huckerby’s slaloming runs and frightening pace.
Tettey will never command the respect of those players, and given his type of contribution that’s understandable, but there is a case for him joining the pantheon of legends when he departs this football club.
A shining personality off the pitch, a real leader on it but also a selfless footballer who has performed so well in sides where he has allowed others to grab the headlines.
He receives flak because he isn’t a Rolls Royce of a midfielder, yet when he does misplace a pass you can guarantee he’ll be the first one trying to win it back.
So, let’s dismiss this concept of him being ineffective and not suiting the system because he’s debunked that myth this season. Farke couldn’t get City functioning until he put Tettey back in the side. He’s a Norwegian drummer, selfless, wholehearted and largely misunderstood.
Every team needs an Alex Tettey and we are lucky to have him. Just a shame he’s injured this afternoon!