Stephen Curnow returns with his look back at the careers of some of City's forgotten stars. Next under the microscope is Darel Russell, a player who repeatedly jumped ship at just the wrong time...
Ever wondered what happened to City players of yore? Stephen Curnow has done some research on some familiar, and long-forgotten Canary faces for a new series. First up, perennial Soccer Saturday pundit Tony Cottee...
Deadline day came and went and Norwich did little business, managing to avoid the melee entirely, and probably deliberately. Stephen Curnow got a bit bored with it all, so wrote a piece on how modern transfers are now unveiled.
The start of the Lambert years, peak territory for many a fans' favourite times. Here Stephen Curnow talks you through his mates starting to return his calls again and his wife's disappointment.
Stephen Curnow spoke to City cult hero Cedric Anselin about his career, his struggles with his mental health and his ongoing work to remove the stigma and raise awareness of mental health in Norfolk and around the UK.
Louis Thompson showed his senior colleagues what is required with a Man of the Match performance in his first league start for the club against Leeds last Saturday.
Stephen Curnow looks at the one bright spot to come out of the latest Carrow Road debacle.
There were few surprises at the full-time whistle at Carrow Road on Saturday. There is an increasing feeling Norwich City, pre-season title favourites, are drifting towards the last-chance saloon having never really punched their weight all season. As a result, patience is wearing thin, and another defensive calamity snatching a third consecutive defeat from the jaws of a face-saving draw was only ever going to draw an unforgiving response from the increasingly disgruntled masses.
There was one notable exception though. Louis Thompson’s gutsy performance earned him a remarkable exemption, the wrathful boos being temporarily replaced by rousing applause as he made his way past the Barclay at full-time. But it was for him and him alone. Rarely has the reception for one individual differed so distinctly from that of his team-mates.
Thompson’s concession was well-deserved. Admittedly, his first league start for Norwich had started almost anonymously, with scarcely a touch in the opening twenty minutes. His game then grew through a few conservative passes before bursting into full bloom with a buccaneering run from midfield through the inside left channel, nearly creating the opening goal in the process. Its a struggle to remember when Alex Tettey last troubled opposition territory in such a fashion, although that’s probably because it was rendered instantly forgettable by a wild toe punt. Thompson rounded off his performance by running the length of the field to make a remarkable goal-line clearance in injury time, most of his team-mates having long-since given up on the half-way line and the game already lost.
Of course, a plucky fresh-faced debutant is always afforded something of a free hit in such circumstances, partially due to not being associated with the failings that have gone before. Even if Thompson’s performance had fallen short, the obligatory blame would probably have fallen upon the shoulders of a manager who shouldn’t have asked so much of a player not up to it and some senior pros who didn’t look after him out there.
As it was, Thompson standing head and shoulders above anyone else, both technically and attitudinally, just serves to cast his colleagues in an even murkier light. It raises again the questions about character and leadership within our playing staff at the moment. Indeed, the only other two players that dared to apprehensively venture towards the unforgiving territory of the Barclay End at full-time, Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan, were given very short shrift. Hoolahan deserved better, and not just for the sentimentality of his 300th appearance but because he was consistently our one viable prospect of prising open a door that we were otherwise just banging our heads against. In truth, he was probably just unfortunate to be standing next to the hapless Martin, who bore the full brunt of following up his rant at his team-mates last week with a calamitous performance of his own, plenty of mouth but a bit short on trousers.
Thompson’s emergence may be timely, as there appears to be something of a vacancy for a player of his type in our midfield at present. Jonny Howson deservedly won the Barry Butler award for our least awful player last season, but the deafening silence emanating from the treatment room suggests he’s not going to be on the mend anytime soon.
Having been a forgotten man last season, Graham Dorrans has played himself back into contention with some measured performances this season, but he doesn’t offer the energy and enthusiasm Thompson exuded.
Alex Tettey, whose latest suspension mercifully forced Alex Neil to select Thompson in the first place, offers considerable endeavour, but in four and a half years at Carrow Road has often failed to address the glaring technical shortcomings in his game.
Before Michael McGovern’s final and decisive howler on Saturday, there was a feeling that Kyle Lafferty’s goal might just have saved Alex Neil his job. Clearly, Neil no longer has that comfort. Remaining in football management is primarily about results of course, but to a lesser extent can also be about the kind of narrative a manager creates. Even if any hope of automatic promotion continues to slip away, Neil might be able to buy himself some time on enough decent results to keep us ticking over in the play-offs, if he can also be seen to demonstrate he is clearing out some dead wood and developing a team of tangible promise for the near future.
Thompson could be central to that possibility, particularly as Neil still has his James Maddison wildcard nicely tucked up his sleeve. Similarly, successful promotion campaigns invariably require a definitive talisman to rally behind. Darren Huckerby was a player of such supremacy that his fulfilling this role in 2004 was no surprise. Similarly, Grant Holt’s boundless determination which served us so well in 2011 has made him an icon at Carrow Road. But Bradley Johnson emerging from the shadows to spearhead our success of two years ago proves that embodying a team going for promotion is not so much about a player demonstrating technical excellence, but instead showing he is on the same journey of hope, progress and determination as that of the fans.
Of course, we shouldn’t get too carried away about young Louis just yet, not that wild optimism is our biggest danger judging by Canary Call. Ricky van Wolfswinkel had a reasonable debut don’t forget and look how that turned out. But it’s no exaggeration to say the difference between Thompson sliding back into the shadows of occasional EFL cup appearances, or emerging as a first-team regular of genuine promise, could have a significant bearing on the dominant story of this season.
For Alex Neil, it might be crucial its the latter.
The Murphy twins' start to the season has been fabulous. However, their recent downturn in form has coincided with Norwich's dismal displays of late. Stephen Curnow asks if rather than spurring each other on, are Josh and Jacob holding one another back?
Conventional wisdom would generally have you believe part of the recent progress made by Norwich City’s twin wingers, Jacob and Josh Murphy, has been their gentle desire to each out-do the other. That the progress of one gently nudges the other to raise his game and follow suit. There is some evidence to support this notion. For example, when Jacob raised the bar by scoring on his first two starts this season, Josh then replaced him against Cardiff and, suitably cajoled, delivered a fine goalscoring cameo. He then followed it up a few days later with perhaps his best performance to date and another stunning goal against Everton.
However, as the momentum of their sparkling start to the season fades a little, there may be a viable counter argument that the reverse is true, and that each is actually being impeded, in some small way at least, by the presence of the other.
Clearly, being mistaken for the other one is a bit of an occupational hazard for an identical twin. But this is a particular disadvantage when, like the Murphys, you are trying to forge a career in professional football. The fact they fundamentally play in the same sort of positions doesn’t help of course.
This in itself is somewhat unusual in English football, with perhaps only Rafael and Fabio da Silva arguably having faced the same problem. Rodney and Ray Wallace played together in the same team at Southampton, but they had the decency to have Rod on the wing and Ray at right-back, and Rod was a good bit better. Dean and David Holdsworth might have been indistinguishable to their own mother in their Watford shirts, but she would have had to have had a pretty poor knowledge of the game not to notice that one was a forward and the other a defender. The infamous Futcher twins of the 1980’s, Ron and Paul, took a lot of persuasion to be prised apart, being jointly transferred from Chester to Luton and then on to Manchester City. However, they also conducted their business, which was mainly smashing their opponents, at opposite ends of the field.
Unfortunately for Jacob and Josh, their virtual indistinguishability means that they rather get tarred with each other’s brushes. Let’s be honest, there are probably very few of us who can reliably say which is better at tracking back, which is better using his wrong side or which one takes a better corner? It’s simply easier to assume they’re both quick, a bit one sided but guilty of rather too many poor final deliveries, however inaccurate that might actually be. As the song goes;
“They’re the Murphy twins, the Murphy twins, when they’re on the pitch we don’t know which is which, they’re the Murphy twins”.
Strangely, there seems to be little appetite from the Murphys themselves to precipitate any particular differentiation. Neither has ever even gone as far as getting a different haircut and they have long since dispensed with the different coloured boots Chris Hughton insisted upon. The fact that neither has either of them made any obvious attempts to modify or distinguish their game just adds to the general sense of cosiness and inertia.
Furthermore, the comfort for each of having the other there might well have made them a bit, well, comfortable. Getting a bit too used to the idea you are something a bit special happens to many footballers of course, but the Murphys might be particularly susceptible. Spending their formative footballing years on the desolate plains around Downham Market, they would have been a remarkable sight indeed, especially when you bear in mind the best spectacle prior to them was probably Micky Carroll trashing a Cavalier in his back yard. However, their progress since starring in Norwich City’s FA Youth Cup win of 2013 has been undeniably slow.
Josh made his debut in September 2013 and Jacob in January 2014 yet until the start of this season they had made precisely 1 league start for Norwich between them. They have been loaned out on a combined total of 8 times with only sporadic success, their respective contributions probably not living long in the memory at Southend, Wigan or Blackpool. Jacob’s 10-goal stint at Coventry last season probably represents one of the few spells which has delivered any sustained momentum, as it seemed to propel him ahead of his brother in the pecking order and into our starting XI for the first time when this season kicked off at Blackburn. Josh of course was to perform capably a league higher while at MK Dons, yet his brother’s progression seemed much more rapid.
Comparing them to their predecessor Nathan Redmond might be a bit unkind, especially since Redmond’s somewhat surprising evolution into a bona-fide Premier League striker this season. Nevertheless, Redmond is less than a year older than the Murphys (who were born on the same day you see) yet he has made over 200 senior appearances, represented his country at Under-21 level 32 times, amassed over £13 million in transfer fees and smashed in the best goal ever seen at the new Wembley.
One can’t help feeling it’s now or never for both Josh and Jacob. Being involved with the first team this season while so many others would have been loaned out seems to suggest that the apron strings to Neil Adams perpetual merry-go-round have finally been cut. They each now have a genuine chance to establish themselves at their parent club. This might be especially true while our incessant dilly-dallying in the transfer market and the feeling we have already maxed out our budget makes any significant influx of talent unlikely. But failure to nail places down this season would incline you to wonder what next for these boys, with the looming concern they could become some sort of novelty act, curious to look at but ultimately lacking in any worthwhile substance, the footballing Krankies.
Whichever way round you choose to rank them, these two players represent our best chance of a genuine home-grown superstar since Craig Bellamy upstarted his way out of our recalcitrant academy in the 1990’s. But they’re not Bert and Ernie, so unfortunately there’s no guarantee that they’ll live happily ever after. Let’s hope for Norwich City’s sake that individually and collectively they’ve got what it takes.
You can follow Stephen on Twitter @thecurnster
By Stephen Curnow
Now the hullabaloo of the local derby is dissipating, Alex Neil will be back behind his desk today facing one of the familiar dilemmas for managers in the modern game, that of deciding how much to risk in a cup game during a season which will be ultimately judged on league position alone. In all probability, when Coventry City come to Carrow Road on Tuesday, Neil will go down the usual route of fielding a team largely made up of second-string players who could do with a run out, some promising academy prospects and maybe someone who needs some game time post-injury. The match itself will probably be of only passing interest to him and will pale into even more insignificance once our next league fixture comes around.
Iain Dowie dealt us a spectacularly uninspiring hand, drawing us against a lower-league team that we friendlied against just a few weeks ago, attaching an element of repetitiveness to the mundanity that comes as standard in the early rounds of what we now call the EFL Cup. The FA Cup continues to command a certain nostalgic esteem, a competition that teams that accidentally stumble through the opening rounds suddenly find an appetite for winning. But the League Cup, in its various guises, seems to be a perpetual irritant to everyone other than the eventual winner.
Clearly, this is partly due to the exacerbation of Premier League riches meaning that clubs are ever more compelled to prioritise their league position at all costs. The brutal reality being that 17th in the Premier League can represent a greater tangible success than picking up a trophy on a lush sunny day at Wembley. However, another lesser recognised factor in the ostracisation of the EFL Cup has been the gradual removal of the underclass of competitions that once saved it from being the runt of the litter.
English football has a longstanding appetite for expanding into other competitions, a road fraught with resistance and invariably destined for failure. Along this road we find the carcasses of Texaco, Simod, Zenith Data Systems and Screen Sport, presumably accompanied by the careers of their respective marketing directors. City’s fair-to-middling status in the hierarchy of English football has meant our various fluctuations have enabled us to do some time in many of these arenas.
The first time we fell into this competitive quicksand was during our Texaco Cup appearances in three consecutive seasons between 1972 and 1975. This competition attracted a ramshackle assortment of British sides, the only stipulation being they mustn’t have qualified for European competition, a forerunner to the Intertoto Cup we mercifully dodged, a pitiful consolation to losers worthy of a modern school sports day. So it suited us nicely in those days, City even qualifying once by finishing bottom of Division One with seven wins all season. Which must have been a trifle embarrassing. Our three seasons encompassed collector’s items such as trips to Dundee, Motherwell, St Johnstone and even more curiously, a two-legged defeat to Ipswich. Can’t have been that important then.
The real halcyon days for the pointless cup competition were undoubtedly the 1980’s, when English teams being banned from European competition meant managers were frantically padding out their diaries to the point where they could get back to complaining about fixture congestion again. Our Milk Cup win of 1985 (that’s a “major” by the way) was rewarded with us being spared the frying pan of the Full Members Cup and instead entering the fire into the Screen Sport Super Cup for 1986. We were grouped with the FA Cup holders, Manchester United (who were actually a bit rubbish at the time) and the reigning league champions Everton (who were actually very good.) It seems remarkable now that our starting eleven in our first game at Everton was exactly the same as in the previous league game against Hull.
Nevertheless, one win from four group games was a relatively half-arsed means to qualify for the semi-final. Having by then got the hang of picking a weakened team, we were beaten over two legs by Liverpool, with our centre-forward, one Paul Clayton, presumably not having the firepower to do the business at Anfield. The Mexico World Cup meant the competition had to be carried over until September of the following season, making it look rather like that one unwanted present left under the tree, but Liverpool eventually won the final against Everton in front of 20,000 at Anfield. That one of the few enduring memories of the competition was Ian Rush handing the trophy to a ball-boy probably tells you everything you need to know.
Our subsequent league mediocrity condemned us to the Full Members Cup for the following six seasons, generally featuring further mediocrity. This competition was intended to establish itself as a genuine fourth English domestic competition, but it was never more than an unwelcome imposter amongst the real three, a bit like that greasemonkey mechanic up there on the podium in Formula One.
Aside from an “Area Final” (not really a final at all, in case you were wondering) against Crystal Palace in 1991, and a semi-final (yes, an actual one) against Charlton in 1987, the competition gave us little joy. With hindsight, Ian Butterworth’s own goal that denied us a trip to Wembley in ‘87 looks like in a blessing in disguise, as our magical day out last year was partly born of the beautiful symmetry of it being exactly 30 years since our last trip there, and that we’d done Ipswich in the semis again. I don’t suppose that anyone would really have given it too much thought as Redderz rounded off those twenty-odd passes, but that particular something would have been lost from the back story if the likes of Mark Seagraves and David Hodgson had worn our colours at Wembley in the meantime. Fortunately, it wasn’t a risk for long, as the competition was discarded in 1992 once the successive sponsorships of Simod and Zenith Data Systems ran dry.
Our brief sojourn into League One in 2009-10 allowed us to duck our heads below the parapet of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, the erstwhile competition for the have-nots of the football league. Our first game in the competition saw Chris Martin and Goran Maric given the chance to stake a claim for more regular inclusion up front. Martin scored the winner and went on to get 23 that season. Maric got the hook after an hour and never played for the club again. A similar fate befell Jamie Cureton in the third round, as his winning penalty in the shoot-out at Swindon turned out to be his last kick of a ball in a yellow shirt, his decline from a promising teenager scoring with his first touch against Chelsea sadly complete. Having said that, he might have come in handy in the following round when we missed three times in a shoot-out defeat to Southampton. So that was the end of that.
However, in contrast to this assortment of banal curios to be filed under the “other appearances” column, the League Cup has been good to us, with two wins and three trips to Wembley. Let’s hope it is afforded due regard by our manager and team on Tuesday. Of course promotion is the name of the game, but there are evidently much worse competitions to try and win.
Follow Stephen on Twitter @thecurnster