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Football’s dedicated followers of formation fashion

Kyle Naughton, wing-back for a day (or more), keeps a handle on Fulham winger Damien Duff. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Kyle Naughton, wing-back for a day (or more), keeps a handle on Fulham winger Damien Duff. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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Football loves a fashion. Be it stupidly high shorts, Sloop John B being used for every chant at every club or footballers frequenting Nandos more than pitches. Then there’s talking to your fans and impromptu question and answer sessions via Twitter.

Just saying…

• You’ve got to feel sorry for Matt Ball. The 19-year-old was signed on loan for a month by League Two strugglers Macclesfield Town in the middle of March. Manager Gary Simpson was sacked just one game, or four days, later.

The City youngster was an unused sub in that first fixture – but hasn’t been seen since. Still, such an experience would probably remind anyone exactly what they’ve got at Colney.

All that said, the prolific Tweeter seemed happy enough on Sunday morning: “On the train to Macclesfield looking forward to another week of football #loveit.”

• The fanfare, scarf-twirling introduction lap of Mohamed Al Fayed at Craven Cottage? Football gold. Although it did remind me of my contempt for Fulham in the late 1990s as they bought their way to the top flight.

It’s a funny place to go – and arguably feels more like a franchise than visiting Stadium MK. Still, I guess the tourists enjoyed Saturday’s entertainment.

• My West Ham-supporting colleague Phil Banyard is losing his high hopes for a glorious Hammers return to the top flight. Still, at least they’re choking in style…

Given Southampton’s defeat on Saturday smacked of City’s own reverse at Swansea last term, it seems set to be the Saints and Royals that await City next season. The question is, who drops down?

The same rules seem to govern some pretty critical decisions too. Why else would the FA have even contemplated hiring a England boss from outside their borders a few years back?

That said, Norwich City could probably do with that particular penchant for foreign managers at England’s finest outposts continuing for a little longer yet.

Be it seeking a competitive edge, matching your rivals or believing you can recreate a club’s successful vision in your own back yard, there’s clearly a desire to be ahead of the game. And if you feel behind, then you need to catch up – and quick.

Obviously by this point, I’ve stopped talking about the shorts.

But it certainly applies to a team’s formation and style of play.

Cast your mind back to Italia 90 and those sweeper systems – the sort of line-up that saw Ian Culverhouse (left) primed to help Norwich to third in the Premier League and those superb European nights.

By the late 1990s, it was all about the wing-backs. Roberto Carlos wasn’t bad at that particular role.

That fashion even reached the dressing room at Trunch FC, where yours truly would shudder at the thought of two men and an entire flank to pick up on a Sunday morning.Calling it even a slightly modest appreciation of the role is probably a bit of a stretch, but it certainly fuels my prejudices.

A bit like flairs and neon, it seems the combination of three centre-halves and wing-backs is coming back into fashion – at Carrow Road, at least.

Both Napoli and Athletic Bilbao have made it look beautiful this season, the later most notably at Old Trafford in the Europa League. Roberto Martinez has tried to do similar at Wigan. The three clubs accompany it with four across midfield and a forward trio.

Lambert has kept it to a midfield three and wing-backs making up the defensive difference – with what I still feel is an eye on next season’s top-flight challenge, and exploring exactly what the players currently at his disposal are capable of coping with.

Whether any of this comes from the City boss’ visit to see his Barcelona counterpart Pep Guardiola during City’s break in Spain last month, who knows.

But I suspect Paul Lambert and Ian Culverhouse are already getting some pretty useful answers.

We didn’t get to talk to chief scout Ewan Chester much when he was at Norwich.

The requests were put in but tended to be turned down – and reading a recent interview with Chester could hint at why.

The Scot is now chief scout at Championship side Birmingham City, having left Colney at the end of the summer to link up with his good friend, Chris Hughton.

Chester told the Birmingham Mail: “I have a lot of time for Norwich…but the chance to work with Chris was too great.

“When you look at a club you look for a vibe. That was there at Birmingham and I have not been disappointed. What we are is a working club. This is also a bigger club. Norwich have done superbly but, no disrespect to them, there is a ceiling to what they can achieve. And after the clubs I have been at, like Rangers and Fulham, I have spent a lot of time in big cities. I like that.

“Norwich is a quiet way of life and to come back to a big city was a big attraction. The fans are more passionate – and the football more important.”

Ouch. Well, there’s one reason for City fans to wish Brum a long, fruitless stay in the second tier…

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