'It's special for me and it's special for my family' - Cantwell enjoying the ride at City
Todd Cantwell admits it's a special feeling for a Norfolk boy to make the breakthrough at Norwich City - but also warned aspiring youngsters the journey hasn't been 'all sunshine and rainbows'.
The 20-year-old midfielder is rapidly developing into an important part of Daniel Farke’s high-flying team, making 20 appearances so far this season.
For a lad who was born and raised in Dereham, joining the Canaries at nine years old, the campaign has represented everything he’s been working towards for a long time.
“It’s special for me and it’s special for my family as well,” Cantwell said. “My grandparents are massive Norwich fans and always have been, and being born in the area makes it extra special.
“I know people who have gone to other football clubs and made their career happen, but I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve always lived at home. I’ve always had home comforts and family and friends living around me.
“Playing for Norwich from such a young age and watching the games at Carrow Road, sometimes you don’t really think that it could be you because you’re amazed by the whole surrounding and you can’t picture yourself there.
“But to finally be there now is amazing.”
The creative prospect made a high-profile debut last January when coming on as a late substitute during City’s televised FA Cup third round replay at Chelsea, just minutes before Jamal Lewis headed in a memorable injury-time equaliser at Stamford Bridge.
That came almost two years after signing professional terms at Norwich for Cantwell though, after persevering in the youth ranks, helping the U18s reach the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2016.
He scored twice as City’s youngsters came from 4-1 down to beat Middlesbrough 5-4 in a dramatic game at Carrow Road in February 2016, only to miss the quarter-final loss at Manchester City through injury.
“It’s not all as easy as people think,” he reflected. “You have to overcome a lot of setbacks, tough decisions and tough coaching, but ultimately it is to get you where you are today.
“The sad reality is that not many people do make it through, and I’ve lost quite a lot of friends over the years in the age groups, and as a kid you find out there’s not many that get through. The realisation is quite tough.
“It’s a team game but to get to the team you have to push yourself through levels that you didn’t think you had. I think I hit that for a little while with the realisation of the level you have to be at for the first team and the fact it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
“But to get through and get where I am now, I just need to keep pushing on here and I’ve given myself a step to lean on.”
Lewis and Ben Godfrey were also part of that Youth Cup team, so Cantwell is loving their collective first-team progress this season.
“It has been brilliant and exactly what I expected it to be because Norwich fans have always been very loving towards homegrown players,” he continued, speaking to City’s matchday programme.
“It’s been a little while since the club has had that and for me, Max, Ben and Jamal to be coming through at the same time, and for me especially actually being from Norfolk, I think it shows the fans that it’s going well at the academy.
“The academy is where you get made, it’s where you get tested and pushed to the limit, and to come through from joining at nine years old is a credit to everyone at the academy as well and think that’s why we get such a warm welcome.”
After impressing for Fortuna Sittard on loan during the second half of last season, scoring twice and setting up another three in 10 games to help seal promotion to the top flight, Cantwell earned his chance at City.
“I don’t think I would be where I am now if I didn’t have that loan last season,” he added. “The loan was a very successful one and it was good to play some grown-up professional football in a different country.
“I decided to isolate myself a little bit with Holland because I thought if I’m going to do it I have to test myself off the pitch as well as on it.
“The club were fantastic from the moment I arrived and they hold a special place in my heart because we had such a successful season.
“We got promoted to the Eredivisie, that’s back where the club should be, and without that I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Setting up Teemu Pukki’s opening goal on his Championship debut during the 2-1 win at Reading was a good start, followed by a first goal during the 3-1 home win over Rotherham in December.
“It was amazing,” the playmaker said of that goal, on a day he also set up a Max Aarons goal. “The first half was a real tough one and we were probably expected to get a result against Rotherham. But I think the Championship this year, more than ever, is so competitive, and there are no easy games.
“You look at the fixtures and everyone is fighting for something. So for me to contribute with a goal in a game where we needed one was an amazing feeling.
“It was a weight off my shoulders because I’d come close. I’d been unlucky and I probably could have done better in certain situations, but for it to actually come off and go in was fantastic.”