The Cuban has a completely different skillset to his confreres, and he’s proven he’s exactly what City need going forward.
In June 2018, Academy product Josh Murphy was sold to Cardiff City for an estimated £12 million. Six months prior to his departure, Onel Hernandez was recruited form Eintracht Braunschweig for a fifth of the fee gained from the sale of the Colney academy product.
Stuart Webber has a tendency – and a determination – to buy low, sell high. It was a theme that saw the arrival here of Emi Buendia and Alex Pritchard, James Maddison and Kenny McLean. As a result, City’s squad had been considerably strengthened, while their bank balance benefitted massively in the process.
However, the Cuban – or German (politics, eh) – has always felt something of a plan B, an outlier, not exactly what Daniel Farke wanted.
The six-month settling in period appeared to have been successful. Within the first three games of the 2018/19 season, Onel had two goals and three assists to his name. Many were expecting the Cuban to be the next ‘big sale’ to depart from Carrow Road.
But the next four games saw his goal contributions dry up and he spent the four games after on the side-lines with a hernia issue. It would be a 15-game gap between his third and fourth assist.
The second half of December was something of a purple patch in a crucial crunch period for City’s promotion hopes. Despite just five points collected from a possible 12, Onel proved he was an asset to this team, with two goals and three assists.
In 2018/19, Farke patiently and gradually integrated a young Todd Cantwell into the first team, and over time preferred technicality over athleticism in almost all areas of the pitch.
However, Todd was inconsistent as he adjusted to Championship football and with Onel’s impressive form, many believe the Cuban to made more of an impression that campaign. Eight goals and 10 assists was an impressive return from the 40 games he played.
This season has been a different story. The acceleration in Cantwell’s development has resulted in Onel being a squad player, replacing the young playmaker due to fitness or injury, often being deployed as a plan B to inject a passive City side with some much-needed directness.
But it’s not just going forward where Onel benefits the Canaries, it’s defensively too. Tracking back isn’t something that comes natural to Todd – mentally and physically. Hernandez’s physical and mental attributes lend him to being more comfortable fulfilling those duties, even if his is a somewhat unconventional defensive style.
Norwich are a different side with Onel in it but that doesn’t necessarily mean Todd can’t be incorporated either. I’ve long suspected Norwich’s best ‘three-in-behind’ would be Onel, Todd and Emi but Farke appears to disagree.
With Todd and Emi likely to depart this summer for pastures new and the peripheral involvement of Josh Martin since the restart, City appear to be going down a different route with their wide players.
The signing of Daniel Slinani is an interesting one, with us not being entirely certain of his role. He is still technically a part-time player, so City fans should, for now, supress their expectations. A prime example of the low risk signing that could potentially bring heaps of reward.
If they can add another more natural wide player to their ranks, they will hopefully be able to play with more dynamism next season. Farke’s side have been far too predictable this season and while efficiency is sometimes sacrificed when you take more risks, it places doubt in the minds of your opponents. After all, it’s far easier to defensively deal with what you can see in front of you, as opposed to what you can’t. Onel provides that.
How City will act in the market remains to be seen. Josh Martin arrived at Colney as a right-sided midfielder but has been morphed into a left-sided one to allow him to cut onto his right foot. Slinani is the opposite, so one would predict he’ll play on the right.
Dare I say it, Webber will probably be looking for another Patrick Roberts. Not in terms of the way the signing panned out, of course, but in terms of the profile of the player: a young, attacking right-sided midfielder who can cut onto his stronger foot.
If Roberts hadn’t joined last summer, maybe he would have this? Who knows, but if Norwich want to get out of the Championship next season at the first time of asking, having natural width will go some way to help achieve that.