March 7 2014 Latest news:
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Aaron Wilbraham may not be in the running for Norwich City’s player-of-the-year. But the big man is indicative of the Canaries’ success in bucking the prevailing Premier League trend.
Long gone are the days of clubs winning league titles, cups and promotions with barely enough personnel to fill a minibus. Professional football is too demanding. Too all-consuming to patch up the same 12 or 13 faces every few days.
After experiencing the privilege of watching the action at White Hart Lane on Easter Monday sat literally four feet behind the injured Scott Parker in the home dugout, you truly get a real sense of the frenetic pace of top flight combat.
The reason a Luka Modric or a Gareth Bale stand out among their peers is because first touch and control are precious commodities. They buy fractions of a second to work out the next move and illustrate perhaps why both Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett have adapted so seamlessly to the Premier League despite bypassing the Championship.
Experience is a valuable commodity, but it’s dwarfed by the technical toolkit you need to flourish.That, and having deep reserves to your first team squad.
When Paul Lambert said he would need everybody at various points on the journey, he was not indulging in platitudes to keep the more restless under his command ‘on side.’ He genuinely meant it.
Some inevitably play bigger roles on a Saturday afternoon than others, but all have a part to play in the full orchestra. Lambert would not be able to alter his line up and his formations on what feels at times an almost weekly basis without having multiple options at his disposal.
Nor hope to emerge from two gruelling Easter tussles against Everton and Tottenham in the space of three days with four points from six available. City’s midfield earned huge credit against the Toffees, yet Wes Hoolahan, Andrew Surman and David Fox were all left out of the starting line up at Tottenham. Only Surman saw any further action as a late second half arrival.
Wilbraham’s undoubted impact during recent weeks is the squad model in its purest form. Lambert talks in glowing terms about his unifying effect away from the pitch. Fans and pundits alike must take him at his word for what goes on away from prying eyes at Colney.
But we have all seen in recent games how Wilbraham has the talent and the temperament to operate in the Premier League; albeit in abbreviated cameos until his first start at White Hart Lane. That merely serves to underline the point. Lambert uses him in what he feels is the most effective way. And his opinion is all that matters.
Ditto Simon Lappin, who has yet to be on the losing side in the Premier League. Or Steve Morison, who scored eight Premier League goals before mid-January. Or even Hall of Famer Adam Drury. The left-back played twice in the first five months of this season. Now he looks as good as he ever did going up against the likes of Bale and Aaron Lennon.
Every member of Lambert’s squad has made a meaningful contribution during the course of an arduous, but ultimately successful campaign.
That is the only litmus test you really need to apply here. The aim was survival. Survival has been achieved.
You don’t need to judge on the headline figures - the minutes or appearances on the pitch - but in what they accomplished when they were on it. To be a professional player in the modern era is to buy into the squad ethic. Some may need more careful handling than others. That is simple human nature and the point at which the very best managers come into the equation.
My apologies in advance to the amateur statisticians, but at the last count I made it 29 players had featured in all competitions for Norwich City this season. All bar two of those have experienced the thrill of Premier League football. Exactly the same number Harry Redknapp has employed in Tottenham’s faltering bid for Champions League and FA Cup glory.
City’s wage bill may be a fraction of the riches Spurs can lavish to attract the big name players, but both clubs know the true value of what it takes in terms of manpower to attain relative scales of success.
Wilbraham will never carry the pedigree of an Emmanuel Adebayor, but he has been invaluable to Norwich’s cause. And he is not the only one this season.