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Friday, January 27, 2012
You know the one. You buy one, you get one free. Less an annoyingly catchy television advert jingle, more a window to view at least part of Paul Lambert’s philosophy for success. If you peer closely enough.
Or to put it a less prosaic way; how you legally bend the Premier League’s rules on 25-man squads. And I’m not talking here about raiding the academy ranks to comply with the special exemptions in place to that golden number.
No. City will be well-stocked irrespective of whatever transfer business, incoming or outgoing, occurs at Carrow Road over the last week of the January transfer window. Silly me, I meant those frenzied, breathless, exciting, edge-of-the-seat – yes I am being deliberately flippant – last few days, hours, minutes so loved by Skysports and cabals of supporters who get drawn, almost trance-like, into congregating around reporters in pitch darkness outside nondescript buildings approaching the witching hour.
Lambert, David McNally and Norwich City do not indulge in the last-minute dash for fresh supplies before the shops close for the season. Not as a general rule.
Clearly, operating in the cash-rich top flight alters the dynamic somewhat. Players who can conceivably make a difference to the crucial final few months and matches of a Premier League season are few and far between. They also have their pick of suitors. Norwich like to do business in less frantic mode. Witness the latest arrival of Jonny Howson long before the Sky boys start to crank the countdown clock into overdrive. The fruits of which are obvious. No auctions, no spiralling inflation, no panic buys, no players who are here because their preferred bidder couldn’t scramble them a helicopter to fly their advisors from one end of the country to the other before the window slammed shut.
If Lambert brings a player in, it’s because the homework has been done. The identification process successfully and painstakingly completed. Two promotions from the Football League and top 10 in the Premier League going into this weekend’s FA Cup fourth round trip to West Brom is another measure; a footballing one as opposed to a financial one.
But herein lies a gem at the heart of City’s business strategy when it comes to bolstering Lambert’s squad. And it is encapsulated in one word. Versatility. Three of the starters against Chelsea at the weekend were playing in a different position on the field to when City broke another top flight taboo to go with last weekend’s clean sheet earlier in the season and that maiden win against Bolton.
Russell Martin partnered Leon Barnett in central defence at The Reebok. On Saturday he was back in his right-back berth. I would have inserted the word ‘familiar’ in that last sentence were it not for the fact Martin did a more than passable impression of having been born to the position at the heart of the Canaries’ backline with a string of fine displays. Good enough in fact to earn him a recall to the Scotland squad.
Yes, we all know the switch inside was necessitated by a crippling injury list, but that does not detract from the success of the ploy.
Kyle Naughton was seemingly recruited from Tottenham as a right-back, but in his last three outings, the 23-year-old has done more than a convincing impression on the opposite flank.
Anthony Pilkington has demonstrated at various stages he can make the move in the other direction. Raiding down the left to score at Bolton that memorable day, terrorising Ashley Cole down the right last weekend.
Pilkington looks a genuine two-footed operator, Naughton perhaps not, but both appear equally comfortable when deployed right or left. Elliott Bennett is another of the close-season arrivals you can label dual-purpose. For the opening months he appeared a decent foil for Pilkington on the right flank. At QPR, Lambert tried him in that playmaker role at the point of the diamond so skilfully operated during Norwich’s ascent through the Football League by Wes Hoolahan.
Norwich supporters should know Lambert and his coaching staff well enough by now. Changes are always by design, never accident; based on data that would have come to light when City did their research.
Some might reasonably say in this age of modern, academy-based coaching, the top quality youngsters should be capable of operating in numerous different positions across the pitch. Sadly, the weight of evidence in the English game continues to suggest different. Versatility is still a coveted trait.