With many writing him off before he's even made 20 senior club appearances, Super Mario is quickly becoming people's favourite boo-boy now Russ Martin has been consigned to the U23s. Jon Punt has a look at whether it's time to form a proper judgement just yet....
Following Saturday’s last gasp equaliser and the subsequent optimism that surrounded it, I wandered home with a spring in my step, enjoying the post-match summation my 9 year old daughter was gleefully offering me. It was her first experience of the Barclay, and if we put to one side the accompanying totally inappropriate language she was exposed to (“don’t tell your mother” was trotted out a few times) she enjoyed the occasion more than any she’d previously experienced at Carrow Road, purely because of the atmosphere rather than what had been served up on the pitch.
That was until we bumped into an old friend on the walk home. “Vrančić was fucking dogshit” he enthused, “stick that in your newspaper column this week Jon”. Now, if we ignore the colourful language which my eldest child was now gleefully storing up as a bargaining chip in any future negotiations she wished to have with me around her pocket money, the fact is Mario is far from “fucking dogshit”.
I get the frustrations. Personally I can’t argue a case to include him in the starting eleven for Sunday’s East Anglian Derby and the associated hurly burly it brings, but I can appreciate his merits. The Bosnian is a fine technician, someone who was singled out as a stand out performer in a struggling Bundesliga outfit for good reason. His range of both short and long range passing is excellent and his ability to remain patient when looking for a killer ball should be coveted within a team who will continue to place a premium on ball retention.
That said, he hasn’t adjusted as quickly as most would have hoped to the physicality or relentless pace of the Championship. Often Vrančić will look lost when the ball is at his feet, seemingly unwilling to take on a shot and not happy to play the simple ball when around an opponent’s area. Daniel Farke now has a dilemma on his hands. Upon signing Vrančić, everything made sense. Our new German Head Coach had a penchant for 4-1-4-1 as his preferred starting formation and Mario had most of the attributes of an offensive and traditional number 8, provided he had industry, energy and a few willing ball winners around him.
Then Farke’s plans changed, The Den and Villa Park happened, we had to change things up. Retaining solidity became a priority, which in turn meant two natural shields were placed in front of what was about to become an almost impenetrable back line. Step forward Tettey and Trybull as the first names on the teamsheet and the natural engine room which would take Project Farke forward during September.
This left Vrančić potentially displaced, with the head coach still however keen on utilising his main assets to unlock defences. He was being asked to contribute as part of an attacking midfield trio, where an increased importance is placed on urgency and speed, rather just keeping the ball and progressing the play when gaps appear. Suddenly Vrančić was expected to take on the mantle of one of the main protagonists, something which appears alien to his natural instincts.
That’s not to say he hasn’t contributed. Over the last few games he’s carved out gilt edged chances for colleagues with some regularity. Wildschut’s weekend 1 on 1 could have effectively settled the contest early on, and it was all created by Mario’s creative talent. If you rewind back to the Bristol City stalemate my colleague Andy Lawn was at pains to point out Vrančić was the key architect in any chances Norwich created that day and to a point he was right. What that point of view doesn’t recognise though is the impetus which is often lost by the midfielder’s desire to keep the ball at his feet while remaining relatively static, rather than recycling the play and potentially creating gaps for colleagues around him.
As with most of the City’s summer signings, and of course the team in general, Vrančić remains a work in progress. If Farke allows him the freedom of a central midfield role where he is able to dictate play we may see more polished displays. Alternatively the German may choose to work with him at Colney in order to develop Vrančić’s sense of urgency in the final third.
Whatever he decides to do though, Mario is not yet worthy of the Snake Pit’s latest scapegoat tag he seems almost certain to receive. He’s doesn’t have a Jonny Howson thunderbastard in his locker, nor will he offer the same guile of a Hoolahan, but his subtle talent is there. Vrančić’s strengths have shone through on several occasions, his deficiencies need some work. Let the coaching team fix those before any final judgements are made on a man who may well have a key role to play this campaign.
While you're here...
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