Norwich City Report Card: Grant Hanley bulldozes his way to the front
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Leader? No doubt. What about captain? Grant Hanley appears to have all the credentials. Paddy Davitt assesses an impressive first tour of duty from the centre-back, in the latest of our City report card series.
Grant Hanley was a force of nature at times in his robust debut season at Norwich City.
But beyond the terrace chants hailing his growing influence on Daniel Farke’s squad, the dominance over opposition strikers, not forgetting that vital derby-saving assist, there is one anecdote that illustrates how precious Hanley is for this road ahead.
It came minutes after the final whistle of a frankly embarrassing capitulation at QPR on Bank Holiday.
Hanley could not be exempt from blame, given he was part of a backline bullied by Matt Smith in a 4-1 Championship defeat that underlined there is still residual vulnerability.
But after the crowd had filtered away into the streets around west London, Hanley emerged again from the away dressing room to take a seat in solitude in the dugout. The steam was still rising from his body through the physical exertions in a losing cause.
Timm Klose was an unused substitute that day but wisely opted to keep his counsel perched in the same dugout as Hanley started to rant at no-one in particular over the scale of City’s surrender.
This was not a player happy to brush off a bad defeat and swiftly move onto the next assignment. This was a man who was hurting at the embarrassment to his pride and that of his team.
Hanley’s play on the park is a throwback to a bygone era. Tough, uncompromising, uncomplicated. Farke’s template may savour brains over brawn, technique over muscle, but it was Hanley’s emergence after his late-summer arrival from Newcastle United that added the steel to the smooth possession.
That QPR humbling underlined the Scottish international needs solid support but it is hard to envisage any blueprint under City’s German head coach that does not value him as a precious commodity.
It is worth noting Hanley was absent for the final day mauling at Hillsborough through injury.
Christoph Zimmermann and Klose, for that matter, appear to relish being paired alongside the former Blackburn colossus. Zimmermann is still learning his trade but exudes self-confidence and belief whenever Hanley was next to him.
Klose, by his own admission, is not programmed to withstand the same physical stress that defenders are routinely subjected to in the Championship, yet when deployed alongside Hanley. in the main. can provide a sturdy barrier.
The only cloud on this particular horizon is the toll on Hanley’s body. His absence from Scotland’s upcoming friendly tour allows precious recovery time for City’s sports scientists to strengthen those sinews over the summer.
The Scot is already a pivotal part of Norwich’s squad.
He left Tyneside to play games after a peripheral role under Rafa Benitez. He got his wish in abundance at Carrow Road, but perhaps such exposure after a prolonged period of inactivity with the Magpies caught up with him down the stretch.
A fully-fit Hanley is an essential item if Farke’s Norwich is to progress.
Given Russell Martin appears surplus to requirements and Ivo Pinto finished the past campaign deferring to on-loan midfielder Harrison Reed, there will be a groundswell to make him captain.
Farke might not attach quite the significance on that honour as many supporters do, but Hanley would be a fitting successor to the likes of Forbes, Watson, Mackay and Fleming.