Players come and go at football clubs at a rate unseen in most other walks of life. I read somewhere a couple of years ago that the average stay was something like 2.7 seasons, so it’s never a good idea for fans to get too attached to their heroes because before very long they’ll be gone.
But, however hard we try, when it happens, sometime it stings.
Emi’s departure was heartbreaking in its own way but we knew it was coming. Inevitable. He’d outgrown us.
We were given early notice of Alex Tettey and Mario Vrancic’s fond farewells (as much as covid would permit anyway) – both leaving us with some great memories – and the termination of Mo Leitner’s contract was a sad but inevitable what-could-have-been type conclusion to his time here.
But then yesterday morning, the news a small group of us had been dreading.
The best ‘in the know’ NCFC source on Twitter said simply, ‘Another German down‘ followed by ‘👋 🦀’
We knew. And it did sting.
Then at teatime the club confirmed it.
Those of us of a certain age are too old really to have favourite players but I had one anyway and mine was Stiepi. Not because he was the best, the fastest, the most skilful or because he had the ability to get us on the edge of our seats, because, let’s be honest, he didn’t and was none of those things.
But he chimed with me. A character. Someone you felt you wanted to be mates with.
He was also unconventional and a bit of an underdog. And those who know me or read my column know what a sucker I am for an underdog.
He wasn’t the first German through the door but was in that first batch and is one of those you see if you shut your eyes and sing All the Germans…
His first season here was a little bit of a shocker in truth, although it wasn’t really his fault. In a midfield that contained Wes and James Maddison in its attacking areas, it was always going to be difficult for Stiepi to make hay in his preferred position – even though he claimed to be “born to score goals” – and he ended up being used mainly, to limited effect, as an emergency left-back.
I’d already started to warm to him by this point, so thought he did an okay job in what was clearly an alien position to him, but I was in the minority and can recall reading a tweet during his left-back tenure that went along the lines of ‘Marco Stiepermann proving yet again that just about anybody can become a professional footballer‘.
This particular tweeter wasn’t alone. In a frustrating season for everyone, Stiepi suffered his fair share of brickbats.
But the departures of Messrs Maddison and Hoolahan that summer left a vacancy for a number 10, and who better to fill it than a tall, gangly, unconventional German who was born to score goals.
And he did it brilliantly, albeit in his own unorthodox way. And along that way he built up an almost telepathic understanding with Teemu Pukki; one that was later to be emulated, perhaps even bettered, by Emi Buendia.
He got Farkeball. Whether it was his Germanic footballing background that helped him, or whether it was his footballing intelligence, or whether it was just luck. I really don’t know, but he did. He understood it perfectly and he understood his role in it.
He knew when to drop off deep – way beyond the remit of a traditional number 10 – and instinctively knew in which pockets to drop to literally start (or keep) the ball rolling. Those first few glimpses of Farkeball really kicking into gear with that beautiful ebb and flow of which we have become accustomed, happened with Stiepi at its core.
Still he frustrated a few with his ungainly gait and propensity to give the ball away, but he was in there to make stuff happen and so would play risky passes that, if they came off, could lead to a goalscoring opportunity. He wasn’t just there to play safe and sideways, he was in there to create and when it didn’t come off, some would perceive him as wasteful.
But he wasn’t.
He scored nine goals that season, including some real humdingers with that wand of a left foot, but surely his greatest achievement was having 2000 of our Suffolk brethren on strings during City’s 3-0 home win over the finest their county had to offer.
I give you…
For all his fine achievements in yellow and green, this one has to be right up there, along with his photographer-hugging part in the celebrations following Onel Hernandez’ memorable Boxing Day equaliser against Forest.
It was the season of his life.
The Premier League wasn’t particularly to Stiepi’s liking – those long legs didn’t allow those feet to move quite quick enough when up against the very best – but he did have his moments, and will always be remembered for his central role in that win over Man City. Always.
I do wonder if one of those two gilt-edged chances he missed at Anfield on opening day would have gone in things could have turned out differently but we’ll never know and even us self-confessed admirers had to admit that, among others, he struggled in the refined air of the Premier League.
I had rather hoped that we would see a return of the old Stiepi upon our return to the Championship but alas it wasn’t to be as his season was stop-start at best, punctuated by a positive covid test and then being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus – a nasty illness that affected, among other things, his sense of balance.
It just wasn’t to be – albeit he did still chip in with a vital winner in the home game against Swansea – and the Stiepi we saw play only a peripheral part in the end-of-season celebrations was a far cry from the figure who celebrated hard in May 2019, and who was gloriously pictured munching on a late-night kebab on the Prince of Wales after the Blackburn game.
The glint in the eye had gone and the lack of game time and illnesses had clearly taken their toll.
The terminating of his contract looks to have been an act of kindness on the part of Stuart Webber, one that will hopefully allow Marco to reclaim his mojo while initially spending time with family back home.
But, as the man himself says, while he has always been a yellow and black, he’s now yellow, green and black, and will remain so forever.
He’ll be sorely missed by a few of us, but even more so by Kenny McLean with whom he’s developed a friendship that will endure way beyond the end of their respective playing days.
Whoever his new employees will be, they’ll be getting themselves a good player with a lovely left foot, a character, a team player but, above all, a thoroughly decent human being.
So, farewell ol’ friend. Go well. You’ll not be forgotten.