It’s fair to say that this season has not been one to live long in the memory of City fans. And yet, it’s going to be very hard to forget.
From those early days filled with derring-do, the dismantling of Newcastle, the blow-for-blow battle with Chelsea, and that stunning September evening against Manchester City, to the mediocre defeats that immediately and inevitably followed, culminating in the unwanted-record setting post-Covid capitulation, it’s hard to believe how much we’ve managed to cram into one, albeit extended, season.
And yet somehow we managed to save the best, if you can call it that, for last. After 35 minutes of generally unremarkable end-of-season fayre, Emi Buendia, Josep Drmic, and Chris Wood’s shin, combined for the most ridiculous, painful, laughable ten minutes in recent City memory.
There’s not much to say about Dr Mic – other than to reiterate that whatever the shortcomings of his game or performances, the abuse hurled in his direction on social media is utterly unacceptable and reprehensible.
That aside, the desire shown in that last, desperate lunge was sadly misdirected. Time will tell whether there’s any coming back from this for the Swiss songmeister.
But then there’s Emi.
Picture the scene. Tuesday 23rd October 2018, Queen of Iceni, on the Riverside. Pre-match beers, food, and pontificating. Sat with Twitter’s famous @Ian_M1, I offered an evaluation of Emi that was less than flattering.
- Drifts in and out of games.
- Not able to impose himself.
- Body language all wrong when things not going his way, questionable temperament.
That last point was most demonstrable when being subbed. The head thrown back, the arms flailing in disbelief, and the trudge off the field when his number was, quite literally, up. I was struggling to see how he was going to cut it.
Not for the first time in my 35 years in yellow and green, nor, I’m sure, for the last… I was wrong.
By the time that Jordan Rhodes-inspired win over the Villa was in the books, the momentum on an incredible season was already starting to build. Four days later, Emi scored his first goal for the Canaries in a 1-0 win at home to Brentford. The following Saturday he was on target again as Farkeball burst on the world at Hillsborough.
By the spring of 2019, Buendia was firmly established as a central cog of the promotion push; his goalscoring contribution as valuable as his creativity and driving force. Nothing encapsulated our 5-foot-7 football heaven as neatly as his second goal against Hull at Carrow Road in March. The filthy back heel to set up Pukki, the work rate to be on hand when Teemu needed him, and the cool, composed finish from a tight angle.
E-wrecks… you can’t fool the children of the Webberlution. (#sorrynotsorry)
When QPR were swept aside three weeks later, Emi was at the forefront once again, this time with a goal, and a second-half sending off as much borne, as much as anything, of the frustration of being kicked around for an hour.
With his status as talisman cemented by City’s failure to win any of the games for which Emi was banned, the Premier League stage was set. He’s hardly let us down. By most statistical measures, not only has he been our most creative player, he’s amongst the league leaders in chances created.
And yet at times this season, Buendia hasn’t been the first name on the teamsheet. For whatever reason, Daniel Farke has not been able to entrust the team’s fortunes to the man most likely to unlock opponents.
Rather than being a mainstay with a team built around him, he was frequently caught in the shuffle of a squad overloaded with wide/attacking midfielders. Yet none of those picked ahead of him ever really looked like creating enough to sustain a survival challenge.
There are many questions being asked of Farke’s decision-making during the run-in, but the frequency with which Emi was omitted has been a head scratcher. Whatever you think about our ability to actually finish any of those chances, surely more-is-better when it comes to creating them in the first place.
Is it possible that Farke has wrestled with reservations about the darker impulses that often touch the creative genius on a football field? It’s often said that you can’t remove the frustration and heart-on-the-sleeve emotion from players of this type without stifling what makes them special in the first place. Maybe the fear of street-wise, grizzled, Premier League professionals niggling and sniping at Emi, combined with results not going our way and chances not being taken, would prove too much.
If so, he may well have been right. Burnley’s oh-so-professional performance on Saturday may have robbed us of the farewell we would have wanted for the best little man to have worn the yellow and green since Wessi (which admittedly isn’t all that long). But it would be a travesty for Emi’s City career to end on this note.
Wound up, lunged at, reacting. As mild as the indiscretion appears, you can’t get away with it in this league. Whether you agree with it or not, whether you bemoan both the insidious influence of VAR and the propensity for super-fit and strong athletes to fall on the floor like they’ve taken a two-by-four from Hacksaw Jim Duggan (ask your old WWF-watching relatives, kids!) to the back of the head, players have to be smart enough to not react.
If this is indeed the last we’ll see of Emi in a Norwich shirt, I, for one, will choose to remember him at his imperious best – the flicks and the darting runs and the through balls and the finishes.
I’ll just watch the Hull goal on repeat. Because if nothing else, football fans are experts at selective recall.
There’s plenty of other things to forget.