Finally, the most dramatic and drawn-out transfer saga since Stuart Webber’s arrival at Norwich City is over.
With minutes left of the January transfer window, Bournemouth confirmed the loan signing of Todd Cantwell from the Canaries, while City confirmed that the Cherries retain an option to make the deal permanent this summer.
That Cantwell’s departure was met mostly with relief by Norwich fans speaks to how badly wrong things have gone for one of the most talented players produced by the famed Colney academy. An exit had been on the cards for months, after a brief revival in hopes for the 23-year-old came upon Dean Smith’s arrival.
Those hopes were swiftly dashed when the under-21 international stormed straight down the Carrow Road tunnel after an underwhelming performance against Aston Villa ended in 61st-minute substitution. That fateful evening was typical of the attitude-punctuated final few months Cantwell spent in NR1, after some dazzling performances had lit up hopes for another breakthrough season.
That’s what’s so jarring about this case for City fans; that this was the moment for one of their own to draw the sword from the stone. Emi Buendia had been sold and there was a gaping creative hole to be filled, with Cantwell finishing the 2020/21 campaign strongly.
In the same way that the Canaries’ number 14 had burst onto the scene at Anfield in 2019, there was a genuine feeling that he may well do the same in 2021, but that never materialised. Instead, when Farke needed the fearless attacker that Cantwell was two years ago, he got an empty reproduction of that player.
On and off the pitch the Englishman struggled, unimpressive once crossing the white line and inspiration for conjecture beforehand and afterwards. There were more cryptic social media posts than strong performances and more surprise knocks in training than competitive goals scored.
This is why the Norwich supporters seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief at 10:45 last night, but there’s no doubting the status of this story as a sad one.
It feels so long ago now that Cantwell scored the most impressive goal in Norwich’s famous 3-2 win over Manchester City in 2019, a match he labelled “the best Norwich performance I’ve been involved in”. It seems almost like a different player casually curled home to give City the lead against Arsenal and ran rings around various Premier League defences with youthfully exuberant ball skills.
This is the same man that fans were proud to declare had grown up in their county, and was local to their football club. He signed at 10 and shone for academy teams throughout the youth setup. It’s odd to consider now, but Cantwell was at one time thought by many to be the club’s best player.
Only ten months ago he said on the club’s official podcast: “I don’t think you’ll have someone that has as much of a connection with Norwich as I do. If I wasn’t a footballer, I’d be at Carrow Road watching Norwich.”
Even in purely financial terms, Cantwell was linked with a £30million move away this summer, with the likes of Aston Villa interested and the possibility of investing that money into Premier League reinforcements very real.
How quickly that quality, connection and value has diminished is nothing short of alarming.
Exactly what’s gone on behind the scenes will likely never be fully revealed, but it’s clear that the rot has been worsening for some time, and that there is a problem that both Farke and Smith couldn’t get past.
The irony of Cantwell now signing for a club against whom he was dropped in September 2020 for being distracted by transfer rumours will not be lost on eagle-eyed Norwich fans. The midfielder eventually came back into the fold that time, but after a season full of disruption, frustration and drama, things had gone beyond the point of no return.
Quite what City’s once-star man could have achieved in yellow and green we’ll likely never know, and that’s the real tragedy in this situation, for Norwich City, for the club’s fans, and also, for Todd Cantwell.