Maybe it was the rain swirling around the Lancashire sky?
Or maybe it was the delusional thinking of a 40-year-old bloke who’d left Norwich at 530am and only reached Blackpool at 130pm thanks to never-ending roadworks and dropping the wife at the Cheshire Oaks shopping centre.
Either way, I found myself turning to a mate in the latter stages of Saturday’s second half and asking why Kenny McLean no longer makes my blood boil.
This needs context. I’ve never been a fan of the Scotsman. Usually I like flair players, but I can appreciate a workhorse. Kenny is certainly Marmite for the fans.
Yes, he has his songs and his moments in our history, but he also has many detractors. For most of his Norwich career, I’ve been one of them.
To me, he has always been world-class at pointing and not much else. When seeing the team on social media an hour before kick-off, be it home or away, and subsequently reading the team out to mates, I have always added a groan.
But not anymore.
Being a journalist by trade, I was curious about the change in my thinking and needed to ask questions. Of course, standing in the ramshackle away stand at Bloomfield Road talking to myself would have been a tad odd.
“Richard, why do you suddenly find McLean’s inclusion acceptable?”
“Well, Richard…” Even typing it looks like the ramblings of a madman, so doing it in a stand…
Luckily, I was standing with a mate and his son – diehard away season ticket holders who never miss a match. To my mind, they seemed qualified to answer my questions. Perhaps it was the travel fatigue again…
It seemed to boil down to the age-old football fan trait – hypocrisy.
This is where Josh Sargent comes into play. Despite his frankly woeful performances last season, very few if any fans really disliked the American forward, and indeed willed him to succeed. It was largely because he tried.
He wasn’t, and isn’t, the most technically gifted player, but he tries his heart out and, as we are told so often, that’s what fans most want to see.
Yet lining up alongside him was a midfielder with the same trait of working hard and not being the most technically gifted. For most of last season and some of this one, I have regularly yelled: “Go on Sarge” when chasing a ball yet moaned at Kenny for doing exactly the same thing.
Perhaps the change in thinking is symptomatic of a bigger issue – that this team is a lot more workmanlike.
Many, me included, hanker for Farkeball, and that is not returning. Sadly.
I’ve seen it suggested that Dean Smith has introduced a more pragmatic approach, but that’s not necessarily the case either. It was Rob Butler on The Scrimmage who pointed out that, actually, the number of low-scoring wins we had under the German far outweighed the exciting or high-scoring games, but they are the matches we remember as fans.
I think that is the same for the footballers themselves.
We all remember the goals – after all, that is what the game is about – but as fans, we rarely remember the players whose job is to make the team tick. There are rare exceptions of course, such as Claude Makelele or N’Golo Kante, but usually it’s the players who make you get up from your seat.
If you want proof just listen to the murmur at Carrow Road whenever the ball reaches Onel Hernandez despite his questionable end product. Yet, because he is willing to run at defenders, try tricks and attempt to whip a cross in he excites people.
However, unlike Kenny, the managerial regime hasn’t always trusted Onel at the highest level and so he was loaned out.
With McLean, you get a player who can tackle, see a pass, score goals, and is increasingly becoming a threat at set-pieces.
Can he be better? Yes, of course he can. He’s probably one of those players who are too good for the Championship but not Premier League-quality, but he’s an honest pro.
I used to think fans gave him a free pass for his antics at the promotion party when declaring himself the Mayor of Norwich while still necking his 20/20 alcohol. I couldn’t see what he brought to the team
Instead, I fawned over the likes of Emi Buendia or even Hernandez, and yet McLean has been involved in two title-winning teams, scored against Man City in THAT game, and has found himself a key component of a team that has won seven games in the past eight despite supposedly not playing that well… oh, and he’s also part of a resurgent Scotland squad.
With all that in his recent past, he surely cannot be that bad.
Eventually, players get found out and find their level, yet Dean Smith, Daniel Farke and Steve Clarke have all found a role for him.
He may never command headlines, he may never completely win over the Carrow Road faithful, but Kenny McLean remains a key part of the current team and is on course for a third promotion as a Norwich City player.
Not bad for a midfielder whose only talent is, apparently, pointing.
When we signed him he was thought of as a forward. Two promotions where he had Trybull and Skipp doing the job he’s being asked to do now. Just like Sargent last season (and many others) he’s been judged in a position that’s not his best.He has been a victim of his own ability. I’d like to see us use him as we used Tettey in his later years. Like him, McLean has been a great player and would make an inspiring manager (- and finger pointer)
Tim Ball says
I have given Kenny some stick over the years Richard, but I admit he has been, over the years a good championship player for us.
Just how good he is now remains debatable. But just like Sam Byram and Josh Sargent he is not playing in his best position. And he has to play there until Liam Gibbs is 100% fit.
Why? because of poor planning. Another Holding Midfielder had to be sought once it became clear that Isaac Hayden was going to miss the start of the season. (Lunghi Sorenson the only other HM)
I do not see him as an Olly Skipp or Alex Tettey holding midfielder. He may well become one as age catches up with him, but like I discussed with fellow City Supporter’s today his tackling has to improve.
But he has done a very good job for us in two Championships wins.
Is he EPL quality? Well, he is 30 now so time is against him.
Perhaps he could have established himself there if we had stayed up after the first Championship win under Daniel. But I don’t think so in fairness.
With Kenny’s ability his goal scoring record also hasn’t been good enough either in truth.
But as one of the senior players I think he has always given his all for City, and as was proven recently he was quick to admit to having a nightmare game against WBA last month (like many others).
That shows his honesty. Is he a Crook, Townsend, Maddison? by no means but there have been a lot worse midfielders than Kenny, a lot worse!
At best a championship player and unfortunately a liability in most games. The poor quality of the current championship means that we haven’t been found out with KM in the team just yet but it will happen sooner or later