City report card: Can Mario re-discover his super powers?
Injury and then a change of tack from Daniel Farke limited Mario Vrancic’s bid for a leading role in the Premier League. But in the latest of our report cards, Paddy Davitt assesses where he fits in as he enters the final year of his City deal.
Had this been a look back at Norwich City’s Championship title-winning season Mario Vrancic’s showreel would have been bursting at the seams.
But his brush with the Premier League was fitful and unfulfilling. A calf injury before the campaign got underway curtailed his bid to ride that wave of a truly inspirational role at the business end of a fabled promotion triumph.
Vrancic did not start a top-flight game until December 8. He played in total only 30 minutes or so longer across the entire piece than Timm Klose.
Given Klose’s season was effectively condensed into the ‘Project Restart’ period through his own prolonged injury woes it should underline how little Vrancic was employed at the sharp end.
You could reasonably argue the biggest indelible mark he left on the Canaries’ failed survival bid was that sublime booming, crossfield pass slotted by Teemu Pukki against Tottenham in December that became something of a poster boy for all the ills of the video assistant referee system.
At least filtered through Norwich’s own sour experiences.
Pukki was adjudged to have strayed offside, although the technology was inconclusive, in slotting Vrancic’s magnificent pass in front of the River End. You can imagine how many times that would have been replayed; particularly if it had produced a victory that marked a genuine turning point.
The Bosnian’s only Premier League goal came earlier in that festive tussle at Carrow Road against Spurs. Collecting Emi Buendia’s turnover he advanced and coolly slotted the ball beyond Paulo Gazzaniga from the edge of the area.
It was a glorious but brief reminder of the quality Vrancic possesses. Injury may have limited his availability but there was also the clear sense Daniel Farke opted for the more durable pairing of Alex Tettey and Kenny McLean, at the expense of some midfield artistry to try and turn the tide.
It brought limited success and the clamour for Vrancic to feature more heavily following the lockdown period had ended was never truly sated.
Starts against Watford and West Ham did nothing to advance his claims.
In a squad where Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber have both since highlighted contained a lack of robustness required in the big league, Vrancic is the type of midfielder who perhaps underlined the point when you cast an eye over the current roster.
Now entering the final year of his existing Carrow Road deal it appears he is on the margins again in the midfield conversation.
The 31-year-old has been touted with a return to Germany this summer and Bundesliga new boys Arminia Bielefeld. T
here is certainly no appetite or any desire from Norwich to see Vrancic depart. The feeling appears to be mutual, given his recent comments in the Bosnian press.
But with Jacob Sorensen and Kieran Dowell joining Melvin Sitti in the building for the new campaign, and Norwich actively looking to add another defensive midfielder it could be the plates are shifting around Vrancic as a regular frontline option.
Moritz Leitner’s and Tom Trybull’s likely exits do free up some space in a congested midfield, but Vrancic may again have to impress from the margins in the Championship to earn a leading role later in the season.
You can foresee plenty of Carrow Road games in the second tier in the weeks and months ahead when City’s possession-based approach rubs up against determined, doughty opponents who might view a hard-earned point as a badge of honour.
Then it might just need Vrancic’s nous and cunning to pick the lock.
It might not be the end of the Vrancic story at Norwich, but perhaps we are entering the final few chapters.
But City fans will always have Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa.