Norwich City Report Card: The big man's big impression - and big challenge from here
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In our latest Norwich City end of season report card, Michael Bailey reflects on a genuine success story at the heart of their defence - and their new direction. Here's to Christoph Zimmermann.
From Christoph Zimmermann’s first arrival in Norfolk, there was no hiding all the things the centre-back’s move was hoping to achieve.
Away from the hard facts – out of contract centre-back playing in the German fourth tier signs for Norwich City – was the real story.
“When I give him tactical instruction he always gets used to it quickly and acts in the right way,” said head coach Daniel Farke, on unveiling his first signing of last summer. “At Dortmund he was able to get the group together and build a team spirit. I know we’ve got a really brilliant character with him.
“Christoph knows he’s not in the pole position when he comes here, and he knows there are things he needs to improve such as opening up the game.
“But he’s a good fit for the squad, he’s still young and is a brilliant character, and has the skills to learn quickly.”
Zimmermann was the captain Farke left behind at Borussia Dortmund II – and swiftly the key arrival to support what City’s new boss and those above him were hoping to implement.
A year later, and there is no ignoring the journey or the progress that has been made.
At 25 and from a regional German league, the size of the leap facing Zimmermann was laid bare a few times. Defeats at Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers continued to state the point.
Even the final-day thrashing at Hillsborough emphasised a tired performance, at the end of a full Championship campaign that would have tested every sinew far beyond Zimmermann’s past footballing exploits.
But far more evident across the piece was the seed of a combative defender, growing stronger as the season progressed.
He missed just 45 minutes of pre-season action – in fact, Zimmermann effectively played almost two more friendlies than any of his new team-mates. It was only after a difficult afternoon at Villa Park five games into the new season, that Zimmermann was finally given some minutes off – sparing him much involvement in ‘The Millwall Debacle’.
Be it a strong block in the first half of the opening day at Craven Cottage, to full 120-minute evenings of heart, courage and endeavour against Premier League opposition at Arsenal and Chelsea – it’s no surprise Zimmermann became a poster boy for the Canaries’ future under their new model and beyond parachute payments from English football’s top table.
The whole season was perhaps encapsulated by about 30 seconds at Molineux, when Zimmermann dug himself a hole – and managed to get out of it by using his head, literally, to tackle Morgan Gibbs-White in the penalty box.
In essence there have been challenges but more often than not, big Christoph has found a way to beat them.
That fuelled a lovely new contract before Christmas to recognise Zimmermann as a proper first-team player, rather than the fourth-choice back-up that first arrived. Some admiring glances from Arsene Wenger probably helped.
But it’s not just on the pitch that Zimmermann has made an immediate impression.
At a time when some may fear a lack of loyalty and longevity could risk a football club’s imprint on its community, Zimmermann has stepped up here, there and everywhere – from fans’ groups to the Community Sports Foundation, offering a chat and helping out. His award as Norwich City’s PFA Community Champion for 2017-18 says it all.
Everything combined backs up a progressive and impressive first season for Zimmermann at Norwich and in England – but the challenges won’t stop now his debut campaign is done. It will probably be quite the opposite.
Some have already questioned whether Zimmermann’s popularity comes as much – if not more – from his community work and personality, rather than his abilities on the pitch.
If someone really wants to find a stick to beat things with, they will generally rip one off a tree.
But it’s entirely reasonable to ask of more again from Zimmermann next season. Another step up in consistency and performance. A little more threat at set-pieces and the sign of a man who has fought through an entire Championship campaign – and now wants to prove exactly how much he learned and that the scars were worth it.
If Zimmermann can do that while those that brought him in can dig up another couple of diamonds, then Norwich City will make their brave new world work just fine.
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