“Emi Buendia had an unbelievably undisciplined red card, missed three competitive games, he missed the start of the season and missed two weeks because of injury. Emi was involved in every training session this week but I never pick a team because of the name, I just pick a team that is really greedy to represent this yellow shirt.”
This was the start of a player of the season campaign that has left some pondering the best Championship campaign of all time.
Daniel Farke was frustrated and angry with the attitude problems that had kept his star player from being involved in the first four games of a crucial season for the club, with question marks over whether his Argentine brilliance would be seen on the Carrow Road pitch again.
Buendia’s Norwich City career was hanging finely in the balance, and Farke’s move was a risk that could’ve inspired perfection or acted as the last straw. What has happened since is evidence of the German’s genius, as he takes the Canaries back to the promised land for the second time in three years.
With two games left to play, Buendia has 14 goals and 17 assists to his name, creating a chance per 90 more than any other Championship player and boasting the highest average WhoScored rating of any player in the division.
Teemu Pukki’s failure to break into even the top three shows how good a provider Buendia has become, the Finn striking 25 times but from such a wealth of changes that he wasn’t even considered by most fans.
Grant Hanley has been part of a centre-back partnership that’s been nothing short of revolutionary to this City team, yet he was a comfortable second to the number 17.
Oliver Skipp has been arguably the best defensive midfielder to take to the Carrow Road pitch, and the greatest loan signing in the club’s history, but his performances haven’t been enough to beat Buendia. His return to the side against Derby was admittedly disappointing, trademark fluidity and link-up play missing after such a long period out of the eleven.
In a 2-1 win at Rotherham, he showed flashes of brilliance and was, of course, involved in Jordan Hugill’s 95th-minute winner, but he still wasn’t quite there.
Where things really got going was Ashton Gate. Buendia’s sublime touch to take Ben Gibson’s long pass down not only produced a goal of the season contender but acted as the catalyst for a series of brilliant performances, as the Canaries fought their way through November to march to the top of the Championship.
A 3-2 win at Stoke was the absolute epitome of the Argentinian, his brilliance a huge part in the incredible first 60 minutes, before a rash challenge on a yellow card earned him his third sending off in a Norwich shirt. He put his whole team at risk but had already earned them the three points.
Assists and goals followed in their droves in an impressive December, before a classic Neil Warnock side earned Buendia an unjust second red card of the season. The two games he missed were evidence of his importance, City failing to create in a 0-0 draw with Millwall and a 2-0 loss at Swansea that felt fatal, before the Canaries ramped up the style to walk promotion in the final phases.
What’s best about supporting a team with Emi Buendia in it is that he’s so much more than stats, and that no matter how much we quote the expected goals he’s created or the assists or the key passes, that doesn’t account for the beauty with which he completes them.
Whether it’s a clever flick, an outrageous nutmeg or the simply sublime technique on his volleyed diagonals, each fan has a different story to tell about what they saw when they watched Buendia. Here are some of them on his brilliance:
Ben Ambrose, Norwich Talk: “Goodness me, I love him. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen play for Norwich. This season he’s put the work in and he’s perfected his game. He’s just so good.”
Mick Dennis, Retired Sports Journalist and National Sports Editor: “Emi personifies the Webberlution: recruited by searching through data, improved by coaching, utilised brilliantly … and very probably sold on at enormous profit.
“I think Daniel Farke deserves enormous credit for trusting, improving and eventually getting the very best from Emi, who was a long way down the pecking order when the 18/19 season began and who used to lose possession and — instead of tracking back — used to get visibly frustrated with himself and others.
“Farke and the other coaches obviously had to work on his weaknesses so as to get the absolute best of his strengths. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a City player with those strengths in such abundance and such sublime combinations.”
Gary Gowers, MyFootballWriter Editor: “I’m already on record as saying that Emi is one of the best players I’ve ever seen wear the yellow and green, but I’m now wrestling with the ‘one of’ part of that sentence.
“It’s hard to think of a player who has dominated City’s productivity in quite the same way although, of course, his stats remain uncontested as many of his peers were of a pre-statistics era. But, comparisons aside, he will go down as one of the greats and in years to come, he will be lauded in the same way as Butler, Davies, Peters, Crook and Huckerby.
“I really hope the Barry Butler curse doesn’t strike and we end up losing our most prized possession, but if football politics dictate that he must depart to ‘sexier’, more affluent climes, they bloody well better look after him.”
Stuart Hodge, Journalist and Commentator: “I think Emi used being left out as a springboard of sorts and he has played at a level very, very few players have reached in the second tier this season.
“His contributions in terms of both goals and assists have been outstanding, but some of the passes he plays and his overall creative contribution goes well beyond both of those two statistical categories alone.
“I believe City would still have been promoted regardless of Emi’s contributions but in so many of the tighter games a single moment of quality has been the difference and he has provided a multitude of those.
“Not many players have ever had this kind of season at this level. It’s been a staggering campaign from the Argentine and he has been the absolute standout player in a squad full of brilliant contributors.
“Long live Football Heaven!”
In a season where so many have deserved praise, Emi Buendia has come out on top of them all. Like so many of the current Canaries crop, he still has something to prove in the Premier League. But if anyone can, Emi can.