Paddy Davitt: Jamal Lewis has done it. Can Norwich City’s starlets meet Joey Barton’s challenge?
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
For the purposes of clarity we can divide what is happening at Norwich City into two simple parts.
On the one hand, there is the quest for Championship points week after week; the grind, the injuries, the suspensions, the search for more goals and clean sheets but essentially the here and now.
In parallel is a focus on the future, and developing young talent to offset the pending financial strictures when the parachute money runs out at the end of the season. When the quest to get back to the Premier League becomes considerably tougher.
The present and the future.
That is not just Norwich City, and a new footballing project underway at Carrow Road.
That is English football; where the inherent tension between short termism collides with trying to plan beyond 90 minutes on a Saturday or a Tuesday.
The success of England’s age group teams over these past 12 months co-exists with the Premier League’s seemingly insatiable appetite for global exposure and ever-increasing revenue.
Many think the two are incompatible, given the penchant for high-priced overseas talent blocking the path to the first team for the next generation.
City’s focus on youth is a necessity not an optional extra.
Stuart Webber was swift in taking a scalpel to what he clearly indentified as an under-performing academy.
New coaches, new management, new mindset.
But one trend remains resistant to change. Moreover, it is the guiding principle for the entire youth system across professional football - prospecting for gold nuggets amongst the dust.
Michael Calvin’s book ‘No Hunger in Paradise’ shone a light into some of the darkest recesses of the academy system; the harvesting of players, the infinitesimally small number who actually go on to play in the Premier League, and some of the uncomfortable stories of those who fall by the wayside.
BT Sport dramatised this in a recent documentary.
Among such luminaries as Steven Gerrard and Gareth Southgate, it was arguably Joey Barton’s testimony that cut to the heart of the matter.
Barton’s well-documented misdemeanours hardly mark him out as a role model, but the outspoken Liverpudlian is one of the few who did make it, emerging from Manchester City’s academy to carve out a career at the highest level in this country.
Barton told an anecdote of how he had addressed a group of academy starlets when at QPR and the shock on their faces after issuing a forceful challenge.
In essence, which of them stood in front of him on that day had the hunger, the burning desire and the fight to rip the first team shirt off his back?
Opponents of the modern academy system rail against the cosseted, comfortable world that may hone technical ability but falls woefully short in producing young men with the mental and physical skillset to survive in the harsher surroundings of the big time.
Take Barton’s words and strip them right back and you arrive at the most vital component perhaps in determining whether a gifted youngster makes it all the way.
It is the individual themselves.
It comes from within; that drive and determination cannot be instilled, or coached, or taught.
Jamal Lewis has it.
That much is clear on the early evidence of his composed forays down Norwich’s left flank.
Lewis plays like a seasoned professional who believes he belongs on the first team stage,
There was no trace of any inferiority complex as he harassed Italian international Davide Zappacosta in Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Chelsea.
The willingness to show for the ball in tight areas and back his ability to find a team mate spoke volumes.
There is a healthy arrogance to his initial outings; a complete lack of fear.
To answer Barton’s charge, everything he has done so far in his brief senior career screams he is ready to rip the shirt off the man who was in possession before him.
Ben Godfrey’s breakthrough season at Shrewsbury underlines he is another cast in the same, precocious mould.
Webber and his academy coaches need to breed more with the some mentality.
That is the challenge.
• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt on the following channels…