Robbie Brady left on deadline day to virtual fanfare, his stock had fallen that low. Jon Punt looks back on an opportunity wasted.
I’ve always liked Robbie Brady, first impressions go a long way with me. When he arrived on the scene in July 2015 his poise, swagger and seemingly perfect left foot were all it took to persuade me he’d enter Carrow Road’s Hall of Fame one day, swiftly after claiming his 3rd Ballon D’or while leading us to Champions League glory. Turns out I was wrong, who’d have thought it?
In his first few months at the club his performances were mesmeric. All action, fully committed, accuracy in his crossing and strong in the tackle. At Christmas, with the club fairly comfortable in mid-table, he was the outstanding and possibly only candidate for player of the season. It seemed we’d unearthed a real gem, another of the discarded Manchester United youth production line who would go on to make it properly in the game. The poor lad had inexcusably had to suffer by living in Hull for a couple of years, but now it was time to make Nelson’s county his home.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when things changed. Somewhere between the team’s mauling at Bournemouth and his teeth being forcibly removed from Gary O’Neil’s head at Carrow Road, his form dipped, his talent was being squandered. Alex Neil seemed at times stubbornly determined to deploy him at full back ahead of Martin Olsson, curbing the Irishman’s attacking instinct. It’s possible this was a contributory factor all along, the manager may never really know where he was most effective. Neil seemed keen to emphasise Brady produced more crosses as a full back rather than higher up the park, but did this justify blocking the now departed Olsson?
Brady’s gradual decline from a player taking the game to the opposition into a frightened passenger perhaps was a hallmark of Norwich’s relegation season in itself, the very embodiment of an erosion of confidence and form.
Flashes of brilliance were still apparent through his Norwich career. The odd set piece would be whipped into the box with un-defendable accuracy and venom. His goal at Molineux was worthy of any stage, such was the precision with which he nonchalantly arrowed his strike towards the top corner. But you always knew there was more potential to be unlocked.
Like Nathan Redmond before him, supporter’s opinions of Brady were divided at best. Everyone immediately concurred about his natural gifts, yet his workrate and commitment were called into question once Norwich started to struggle. Relegation merely compounded that issue, the perception was Brady no longer wanted to be at the club and his displays on the park were testament to this. There may be some truth in that assertion.
Arguably, and again much like Redmond, Brady didn’t progress as much as would have been anticipated after he signed. Whether that’s a failing on the manager’s part, or just shows he’d become too quickly accustomed to his surroundings will never be fully known. His international displays over the summer showed when he was dedicated to the task and had a group of players ‘together’ around him, he was a potent force. If Norwich ever gave him the proper environment to fully exploit his strengths will always be questionable.
However, the frustration surrounding Brady was the polar opposite to that of Redmond. Brady generally made good decisions in and around the final third, while Redmond left people maddened by the fact he never really knew whether to shoot, pass, check inside or just keep running. Brady’s shortcomings were either a lack of will, or possibly being shown up by a less than capable group of players around him. It looked like both.
What we will miss more than anything however is Brady’s versatility. Comfortable at full-back, wing-back or as part of an attacking midfield trio, his flexibility meant he was almost two or three squad players rolled into one. Those positions had to be filled and the replacements need to be given every chance to succeed in his absence (it’s not time to Yanic quite yet).
Much like his Norwich career, Brady’s name itself proved an opportunity missed with the Barclay. So many prospective witty terrace chants were waiting to be crafted from it. The Original’s 1990s dance hit was never converted into “I Luv U Brady”, the Yellow Army never belted out Donna Summer’s “Love to Love you Brady” and all we were left with was a ‘Twist and Shout” which was too much of a mouthful to ever meaningfully catch on. Maybe that’s why he wanted to leave in the first place. Bye bye Brady, Brady goodbye.
His swansong in the recent home win over Birmingham was a determined and fluent display which demonstrated his clear attributes. Unfortunately it also underlined the exasperation which many felt, there’s a player in there when he chooses to harness his aptitude.
Now his potential belongs to Burnley. Yes, bloody BURNLEY. And as much as we’d hate to admit it, they’re streets ahead of Norwich right now. As long as they’re in a different division, I do hope Sean Dyche has the know how to unlock his prospective gifts. Good luck Robbie, can’t wait to see you receiving the Ballon D’or in claret and blue.