Kieran Dowell remains something of an enigma at Norwich City. 

A player blessed with so much technical ability and intelligence on the ball but, for the most part in a career at Carrow Road now approaching three years, yet to establish himself as a frontline option. 

In a sport groaning with every metric possible - bar inside leg measurement - one above all encapsulates this struggle for Dowell to move from the shadows to centre stage. 

He has made 31 league starts for the club, and 27 appearances from the bench. Break that down to this current season and it is eight starts, seven substitute outings. That is the definition of a player on the margins; one never quite ever able to grasp opportunities for a more sustained run in the side. 

Since his only goal this season wrapped up a 3-0 Championship win over Coventry City in early September – ironically a result which moved Dean Smith’s squad top of the standings – he has started only two more games.

There was another home win against Stoke, with Dowell’s exit part of a raft of second half midfield changes from Smith to tilt that match in the hosts’ favour. There was also the defeat in mid-October at Watford, although again Josh Sargent’s consolation just before the interval was sourced by Dowell’s burst through the centre and perfectly-weighted pass. 

We saw that trigger move on the grandest of stages in the Premier League last season, when he roamed free at Old Trafford to tee up Teemu Pukki.

At that point it felt Dowell was as close as he had come to elbowing his way into the Norwich starting line up on a regular basis. Deployed in a more central role, and with the licence to create, he appeared to relish the invitation, despite City’s downward spiral towards another dispiriting relegation.

There is no question in Smith he has a head coach who values Dowell’s ability on the ball, vision and range of passing. But in the coach’s enduring quest to find a cohesive set up that affords Norwich far more control and balance across the middle of the park Dowell, at present, does not seem to fit the template. 

There was an unfortunate health scare in the 1-0 home defeat to Luton Town in October, when he was removed from the starting line up after experiencing breathing difficulties in the warm up.

That was later diagnosed as laryngitis, but with Gabby Sara coming to the fore since and Isaac Hayden now firmly in the mix after his own longer term battle for fitness, Dowell may have cause to rue such bad luck and bad timing. 

Until Smith can harness genuine forward thrust the other side of this World Cup pause, it is hard to see how Dowell emerges from his place on the periphery. Arguably his best seam of Norwich form was towards the end of that second title triumph, under Daniel Farke, when he blossomed in an upwardly mobile side alongside like-minded creative forces such as Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell.

Worth noting there was the ballast and protection in behind from Olly Skipp and Kenny McLean to give players like Dowell such a platform to entertain.

Any who were fortunate enough to watch his majestic free kick winner at Derby County down the stretch would not question this is a player capable of exerting real influence in the second tier.

That was one of five goals in the final two months of a successful campaign, but his curve has regressed again. 

It cannot all be down to Smith, or his coaches, or the frustrations at why a group packed with Championship promotion-winning experience is now treading water.

At 25, Dowell is yet to make 150 league appearances in his career. Compare that with the body of work Max Aarons has achieved at a considerably younger age. Loan spells at Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United, Derby and Wigan underlined here was a young player looking to carve a niche while realising it was not going to happen at parent club Everton.

Norwich felt like a good fit for all parties. That may still prove to be the case. But there is nothing in the way Dowell glides across a pitch to suggest he is the type of character who will go out and muscle his way into Norwich’s midfield.

He still feels like a luxury item, when the currents are favourable, and City are able to dominate Championship opponents. That has proven largely beyond them, and it is why Dowell’s struggle is set to continue.