I know I wasn’t the only City fan left feeling a little conflicted on Friday night. As an Englishman, of course I want to see my country win – in any sport, not just football – but when one of our own is being tasked from stopping that from happening, it makes it tricky.
It’s made even trickier when said local hero is fresh off the back of an heroic Championship winning season, in which he led from the front in every sense and was, in fact, the one who lifted the trophy.
So forgive me if, amid the disappointment of a turgid England performance, I felt a massive surge of pride in watching a made-in-Norwich performance from the bloke tasked with keeping England’s finest at bay.
That Grant Hanley did it rather well while playing in the centre of a back-three, beside two young men, neither of whom are bona-fide centre-backs, made his performance all the more remarkable.
Kieran Tierney and Scott McTominay are both clearly excellent players who play week in, week out at big clubs, but in their respective day jobs, Tierney is a traditional left-back and McTominay a central-midfielder.
In fairness, both players have played as ‘outside’ centre-backs before under Steve Clarke as he struggles to accommodate both Tierney and Andy Roberton in the same team, but I’m not sure if they have done so with Hanley as the glue that keeps them together and in shape.
Either way, I’m pretty sure Clarke will be using that combination again; probably on Tuesday evening.
It wasn’t just the Braveheart spirit that made Hanley stand out as a colossus at the heart of that Scotland defence though, even if there was plenty of that. It was also his ability as a footballer, amid the chaos, to pick out the right pass at the right time, to know when to launch it into row Z, to know to maintain the optimum distances between himself, Kierney and McTominay, and to organize and galvanize those in front of him.
That he did each and every one of those things magnificently is of course down to the player himself and his strength of character, but also huge credit has to go to Daniel Farke and his coaching team for transforming Hanley into a footballer.
He arrived at Colney as a stopper, but he’s now so much more.
Grant will never get the credit he really deserves though – one glance at him from your average tabloid hack or TV expert and he’s immediately deemed a slow, cumbersome, ‘puts his head and foot in’ type centre-back. And they’ll all be wrong.
Even on Friday night, as Graeme Souness frothed with ITV Sport’s finest over a stirring (but goalless) Scottish performance, the talk centred around the impressive Billy Gilmour and the tireless running of (the goalless) Che Adams, with barely a mention of the Hanley heroics.
Even the need to extricate Harry Kane from Hanley’s pocket in order for him to be substituted failed to warrant a mention, as did Grant matching and then beating Marcus Rashford in a foot race late on in the game.
But it matters not. Not really. We know how good he is and besides, it’s good preparation for next season when we return to our role as unwelcome guests at that posh party, where the hosts do their best to ignore us in the hope that we may just go away.
What Friday night also did though, no doubt, was to offer some food for thought for Team Farke with regard to next season. If the opportunity of playing a back-three presents itself, then Hanley straddled by Ben Gibson on the left and A N Other on the right looks to have potential, providing the structure elsewhere still permits the right numbers in the right areas.
Daniel will have made note. We can be sure of that.
Elsewhere in Canary World, it’s been another week of departures, with Ben Kensell apparently not falling on his BK8 branded sword but instead deciding of his own volition to depart for new footballing challenges, while the club’s chief scout Chris Jones is also leaving for pastures greener – in his case the rolling hills and hanging gardens of Croydon.
To compound it all, City’s current head of recruitment, Kieran Scott, is reportedly a target of Middlesbrough as they search for a sporting director – the very same role for which it’s been rumoured he’s being primed at City for when Stuart Webber finally depart stage left. That particular story surfaced in The S*n, so best to proceed with caution on that one for now, but it is clear that it’s not only our players who are on the radar of others.
For some, this is a sign that all is not well behind the scenes but, for now, I’m content to see this as part of the circle of footballing life, in particular at a club that is currently doing things the right way.
I suggest we all just stay calm and try to enjoy the Euros. Fifty-five days is plenty of time for Webber to weave some of his magic.
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Gary Field says
Interesting point you make, Gary, about three at the back, particularly given Daniel’s tendencies towards 4-2-3-1, unless, of course, we’re chasing a result. Maybe Farkeball(5) might engage a variety of different modes, such as 3-4-3, or 3-5-2, or even the occasional 4-3-3?
Colin B says
Whilst the Premier League might not like the NCFC financial model lots of other clubs covet our staff. They have proved to be at the top of their respective roles. Good luck to them if and when they move on. The challenge for the club as with players is to find the next rising star. I believe NCFC is a good club to join at the moment so recruitment of backroom staff should be straightforward. However, recruitment of quality players will be more difficult.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that GH deserved MotM for his performance in stifling the illustrious English attack that managed a grand total of one shot on target!!!
We can rest assured that DF will have noticed the success of three at the centre of defence and whilst I’m not convinced that he will start a game in that formation, but it is possibly a change that may happen during a game.
Alex B says
As with all the comments I agree Hanley was magnificent on Friday so possibly a couple more million on his price tag.
With all the backroom staff rumours coming out that other clubs want can this been seen as others taking up options prior to SW departure, he said he wouldn’t leave city in the lurch but surely with all his trusted personnel jumping ship maybe he has found his new challenge in completely rebuilding cities management/backroom prior to leaving.
Being a bit selfish I would like to see both Scotland and Finland fail in securing a place in the next round but also the confidence it will give cities players that continue on the journey.
Like Kane Pukki hasn’t set these games on fire 🔥 maybe it’s his other strike partner being greedy or him being a little slow keeping up with him 🤔 or Finland not playing to his strengths only time will tell but they should be in the next round, can Scotland beat Modric by 2 goals and can England win without conceding then the Jocks might get into the second round for the first time in their history
Don Harold says
My conflict is in wanting Scotland and Hanley to do well, but not wanting Hanley to pick up an injury-his injuries seem to often be long term.
Grant Hanley made Harry Kane look like the player I suspected he would become during his loan spell with us!
Jim Davies says
Gary, I think the Kieran Scott storey in the Sin said that Boro’ were casting eyes in his direction, and as we know only too well, it’s one thing aiming to get someone in, it’s quite another in achieving it. Maybe he’ll decide that it’s worth hanging on here in the hopes of stepping into Webber’s shoes when he moves on. With Webber coaching him, he’d be a good fit.
As for the game, Scotland over-performed, while England failed to achieve the low standard they’d set themselves. Somewhat of a familiar story. I don’t understand why he took off our most inventive player, and left Sterling on. Bringing on Rashford for Kane was also a mystery, when a like for like swap would have been Calvert-Lewin. I know he wasn’t wearing on, but maybe his waist-coats have been too tight, and cut off the blood supply to his brain. Having said that, Our Grant was excellent, and did rate some good mentions in the Guardian and Independant.
How about Farke having a chat with his old mate Teuchel, and trying to get Billy Gilmour on loan for a season?
martin penney says
I’m setting myself up to be shot at but I’ve heard from a source [dontcha just love that word] that Billy Gilmour is one they really like but however good pals Tuchel and Farke are any loan would not come cheap and no way is he a direct replacement for Ollie Skipp, of course.
Jim Davies says
No, not a Skipp replacement, nor a Buendia replacement, but maybe a bit of each, Martin. He can certainly tackle, and ha can certainly pass, so while not one for one with either, he could make a significant contribution.
Tim N says
This talk of others looking at our back room staff got me thinking that if Spurs for one moment could think outside the box, they would be looking at bringing in DF and SW. They are in a bit of a financial hole trying to pay for their new stadium. All the managers they have been linked with are the usual high flyers not really interested in developing youth. Demanding big transfer budgets etc. I do not want either of these fine gentleman to leave our wonderful club. However, they, IMHOP, would be the perfect fit for Spurs right now. OTBC
As I and Martin P has mentioned a few times Spurs are our second team, so if SW and DF were to leave city I couldn’t wish for them to appear at Spurs and wush them all the best
Mr P says
At least Pat Nevin on 5 Live enthused about Grant after the game, expressing his surprise at GH’s speed (that run-down of Marcus Rashford near the end, with Grant having been on the pitch for nearly 90 minutes at that point and sub Rashford theoretically fresher) and suggesting that Grant is playing the best football of his career. Fair play to Pat!