Canaries icon Hoolahan makes surprise EFL return with Cambridge

Wes Hoolahan celebrates his successful penalty for Norwich during the Championship play-off semi-final victory over Ipswich at Carrow Road in 2015 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Wes Hoolahan celebrates his successful penalty for Norwich during the Championship play-off semi-final victory over Ipswich at Carrow Road in 2015 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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Norwich City legend Wes Hoolahan has made a surprise return to English football, signing for League Two side Cambridge United ahead of the new season.

The 38-year-old former Republic of Ireland international had been playing in Australia for Newcastle Jets earlier this year but returned home to Norfolk with his family when the A-League season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March and didn’t return as the campaign was completed behind closed doors.

Now the Irishman, who scored 54 goals in 352 games for Norwich between 2008 and 2018, has joined the U’s on a one-year contract having only been able to make seven appearances for the Jets.

Prior to making the move to New South Wales, Hoolahan had spent a trial spell at Cambridge during pre-season in 2019 when former Canaries assistant manager Colin Calderwood was in charge.

“It’s a great move to a really good club and I’m delighted to sign for Cambridge United,” explained the Canaries icon.

“I was obviously on trial here for four weeks last year and I enjoyed my time. I knew what the training ground was like, what the boys are all about and that all factored into my decision to sign.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity and hopefully I can reward the likes of Ben Strang (head of football) and Mark Bonner (head coach) who have kept this option open for me, during the forthcoming season. I’ve met with Mark last week and he’s said some great things, he’s passionate about the game and going forward it’s clear he wants the club to succeed. I’ll enjoy working with him.

The Norwich and Leeds players gave Wes Hoolahan a guard of honour ahead of his final Carrow Road appearance in 2018 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesThe Norwich and Leeds players gave Wes Hoolahan a guard of honour ahead of his final Carrow Road appearance in 2018 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

“I’m looking forward to the number of games you have to play in League Two, there’s a good amount of Saturday-Tuesday turnarounds, it will be a challenge but I really want to play as many games as I can. I want to play my role in pushing Cambridge United up the League.”

Former Blackpool and Cardiff midfielder Bonner was promoted from within the club in January after Calderwood’s exit, guiding United to mid-table safety in the fourth tier.

Hoolahan’s former Norwich team-mate Mark Bunn is goalkeeper coach and head of football Strang was head of academy recruitment for the Canaries for almost two years, before leaving for Cambridge in 2016.

The creative attacking midfielder made six appearances for West Brom in the Championship the season after he left City, followed by his trial with Cambridge and eventual move to Australia.

He was honoured by an exhibition game in aid of charitable funds at Carrow Road in May 2019, to celebrate the careers of Hoolahan and Russell Martin, with a memorable exhibition played out by a host of Canaries legends in front of almost 20,000 spectators - preceded by Daniel Farke’s team celebrating their Championship title success on the pitch after their promotion parade trough the city centre.

Cambridge head coach Bonner, speaking to his club’s official website, added: “We are delighted that Wes has joined us and the quality and experience he will bring us makes him a really strong addition to the team.

It was an emotional farewell for Wes Hoolahan at Carrow Road in 2018 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesIt was an emotional farewell for Wes Hoolahan at Carrow Road in 2018 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

“He showed us last summer the benefit to our environment he will add by setting standards with his work ethic and professionalism.

“I know he will be another excellent character around the club and in the dressing room, but he is full of energy to play, to make us better and to contribute to a winning team.”

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