As the years go by, Tettey’s performances become all the more pleasing and our reliance on him grows. But to say he merely carries the water is a disservice to the role that he plays.
When considering Alex Tettey’s Norwich City career, for many it ends up in the same bracket as Russell Martin’s and John Ruddy’s – ambivalence.
All three have had mixed reviews between fans. They divide opinion more than The Courteeners and if you could spread them on toast, you’d most definitely find them down the condiment aisle.
Despite all of this, it is almost certain that Tettey’s Norwich City career won’t end with the same fate. Martin was shifted on-loan to Scotland having for the first time, failed to please the new coaching staff at Carrow Road, while Ruddy was one of seven players released before the current coaching team had time to decide if he would be part of their plans.
As time goes on, the Canaries dependence on the Norweigan proliferates. He joined from Stade Rennais in 2012 under the Hughton era, struggled technically and despite ostensibly having limitless stamina, failed to convince the Carrow Road faithful he was cut out for this level.
Two relegations, two promotions and two mediocre seasons in the Championship later, Tettey finds himself a far more efficient player, especially in possession and has Farke to thank for that.
During Farke’s time here, there has been an aberration of player exits, in particular ones with prior Premier League experience with the Canaries. No one would have been surprised if a 31-year-old technically unconvincing midfielder would have been one of them. But he survived.
What the German has managed to do is restructure Tettey’s game. It’s been simplified to an extent you could almost pre-empt his performance before a ball has even been kicked.
The Norwegian won’t venture too far away from his susceptible back four. His movement will predominantly be lateral, covering the wide spaces when space is vacated by over-laps, and he will offer solidity in the middle of the park.
In possession, it’s unjust to say he ‘just plays it simple’. While his passing range is a lot more condensed now, it’s not as easy as just giving the ball to a more technically gifted teammate. Tettey is more often than not, Norwich’s deepest-lying midfielder and he can be a target for a belligerent press, where he finds himself surrounded by opposition players.
His ability to remain calm on the ball and find a teammate in space is the real change in his game. There hasn’t been an emphasis on possession like this during his time under any other previous City manager, nor has there been an appreciation and understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. With Tettey in the side, it allows others to focus on ball-progression. He does more than just carrying the water – he stops it from leaking too.
I’ve been a critic of Tettey, this season in fact, but it’s not about the individual, it’s about the system and the personnel around him.
The 4-1-4-1 Norwich deployed against Manchester United suited him to a tee. It allowed him to be the sole holding midfielder as opposed to being utilised as part of a double pivot and, when in possession, Tettey had triangles aplenty readily available.
In the 4-2-3-1, to create such a set-up, requires various movement from different positions. By this time, the passing lanes have often been closed.
If it is more of a 4-2-3-1, then Tettey’s midfield partner needs to be able to compensate for the Norwegians technical deficiencies. There have been numerous calls for Mario Vrancic to be given the nod, but with Moritz Leitner seemingly out of favour, Kenny McLean has often been Farke’s go-to man to partner Tettey.
This places too much emphasis on McLean to create as opposed to playing to his strengths, one of which is the energy and work-rate he provides in mMidfield. The pairing of McLean and Tettey, often seen with Byram, Zimmerman and Hanley in defence is, for me, too reductive and quite simply, wouldn’t look out of place in a Chris Hughton starting XI.
It’s foolish to expect such players to carry out the possession-based footballing philosophy that is Farkeball. It requires the more technically gifted options available for selection (think Mario, Ben, Timm and Jamal) and a system which provides as many passing lanes as possible; the 4-1-4-1 for example, would allow for this to happen.
As the Norwegian approaches his ninth season in Norfolk, everybody at Carrow Road will be hoping Melvin Sitti will be the heir to Tettey’s throne, but preferably without the eight-season long settling period.
For now, the baton is still with Alex.