A Salute To Sarge


Sargent's on fire, his potential depature has us terrified. Are we witnessing another Canary goalscoring great emerge from a Pukki shaped shadow? Nathan Hill thinks so....

It’s November 2022. A beleaguered and battle-scarred Norwich squad are sleepwalking their way into the middle third of the Championship table. Almost every player’s development had plateaued or regressed during a chastening year for the football club. But there was one notable exception. 

While the rest of Norwich City began a month of soul searching (well, should’ve been), top scorer Josh Sargent was busy leading the line for his country at the World Cup – representing well over 300 million people. It’s their fifth favourite sport (at best) but make no mistake, when it comes to round ball’s showpiece event, they really do care! 

During a sporting roadtrip of the Mid West, I find myself in the Milwaukee Brat House the day after the USA’s opening game against Wales. A 1-1 draw in which Sarge had started, put himself about and ran the channels as per, come close to scoring and played his part in the goal. “Oh yeah, he missed that easy goal, right?” says one of the locals after, somehow, I’d managed to establish some common ground and found a way of putting my obscure hometown on their rather rudimentary, London-shaped map of England. The name Josh Sargent was a familiar one, but not a household one, so it did fall on me to connect a few dots.

Some of the sporting vernacular across the pond is certainly more blunt than we’re used to hearing and reading over here but, from memory, this was a harsh assessment. It was far from a straightforward chance. The ball was fizzed across the six-yard box and would’ve required some neck muscles to divert a header on target. He hit the post. Ironically, a more average contact would’ve probably hit the keeper and gone in. Unlucky. So I politely suggested that to my new friend, who was of sound football knowledge to be fair to him, and carried on eating my cheese curds (a staple Wisconsin snack or side dish). And don’t worry, yes, I made sure to ask about Mark Attanasio and while the barman was more into his basketball (and the Bucks situated just around the corner) than baseball and the Brewers, he had only positive things to say. 

But talking up a Norwich City player as a leading frontline option for a World Cup side was not a conversation I ever thought I’d be having. Certainly not after a debut season in which, unfortunately, he had become a bit of a meme character following a series of mishaps, mishits and misses of goals that could fairly be described as “easy” in the Premier League. Not finding the net from close range was, sadly, therefore in keeping with what the majority of the global football audience had seen of him. Not so many had taken note of the clinical brace against Millwall on a Friday night in the Championship.

In the three or four months leading up to Gregg Berhalter announcing his final squad, the goals had finally and deservedly started to flow for the humble Missourian. So much so, he’d created a genuine debate as to whether he or club legend Teemu Pukki (or both?!) should start up top – at this point in the campaign, Sarge was outscoring the Finn nine goals to six. He’d stay ahead for the rest of 2022/23 too. Everyone quietly recognised the vast improvement in his game and there was cautious optimism that a Norwich City transfer fee in the club record territory (€9.5million) would, for once, come to look shrewd. You just wouldn’t have overheard many fans discussing it out loud, in amongst the numerous dismal and depressing topics which rightly dominated the Norwich news agenda. But there was never any doubt he’d be part of the USMNT.

Even before he developed the ruthless conversion of chances we now see week in, week out, what could never be questioned was the lad’s energy and work rate. German football experts, who’d watched him toil away for an ailing (and eventually relegated) Werder Bremen outfit, guaranteed we’d be getting that. It’s perhaps fitting the injury that kept him out until the turn of the year was sustained in scoring a goal borne out of sheer determination and refusing to give up on a lost cause. It’s likely this is what also kept the vast majority off his back during a pretty brutal debut season at the club which, had that magical night at Vicarage Road not happened, would’ve drawn a complete blank. There’s no pretending there wasn’t the (expected) social media mockery, but people like and support a trier. And my goodness Sarge was, and still is, a trier. It’s obvious he has worked and worked and worked at Colney on his finishing and calmness in front of goal.

Having emerged from a lengthy layoff, there now doesn’t appear to be a type of goal he cannot score. 1-on-1s, instinctive reactions, poacher’s efforts, headers – you can find examples of them all in just the seven since his return on New Year’s Day. His minutes were managed in early January but there appeared to be little need for that – he’s as fit as a fiddle and looked sharp almost immediately. He’s still only played 13 league games this season at the time of writing, and as of his 24th birthday (many happy returns, Josh), and has scored 10 times. It’s a frightening ratio which, if extrapolated over a full season, would have him on 30 in 39 games. That matches Pukki’s most prolific total with seven games to spare. There’s no way the Premier League vultures aren’t already circling, sorry to say. To reiterate, he’s 24.

In those aforementioned 13 games, City have averaged 2.07 points a game (which everyone recognises as automatic promotion form), compared to 1.2 points a game without Sargent (which isn’t far off relegation form). That represents a 72% improvement in results. A quite staggering level of influence. We all knew he was a big miss at the time, we’d seen evidence of an effective partnership blossoming with Ashley Barnes in early August, but nobody had yet thought of Sargent as such a talismanic figure. Nor did anyone believe his absence would cause such dysfunction to the rest of the team and its somewhat inflexible tactical setup.

His is a career only heading one way, and the next two years are particularly exciting. The next World Cup is back home. While the US will have a few striking options come summer 2026, surely if one of them has well over 50 goals in England to their name (even if the majority are in the second tier at that point), then Sargent would have to pull rank. Perform well in that tournament and frequenters of bars and eateries across all 50 states will remember the name. 

A few months ago I wrote of not knowing exactly where we as fans, and as a club, go from Teemu Pukki. Not just for the immense goal contribution, but for his presence and aura – someone who can be that cult hero. We didn’t have to go, or look, far. Josh Sargent’s story and character is one every supporter can buy into, relate to and cheer for. This is who we want wearing our yellow and green. Sarge, we salute you.


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