‘Zimbo deserved that’ – City captain discusses the highs and lows of his Canaries career so far
Grant Hanley has had a taste of how good it can be as captain of Norwich City – and is working hard to get back to full fitness so he can lead his team again.
The centre-back, who celebrates his 28th birthday today, was joining the few Canaries greats who have had the honour of lifting a trophy for the club in May but has endured injury frustration ever since.
The 2018 Player of the Season runner-up was on the fringes of City's title triumph in the Championship last season, after a thigh injury had kept him out of action for three months.
In light of just making nine appearances, the Scot wanted to share the trophy lifting duties with Christoph Zimmermann at Villa Park on the final day, with both defenders at the heart of the celebrations which followed - including Hanley standing on the roof of the parade bus as tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Norwich after a civic reception at City Hall.
"Honestly, it was unbelievable. Even now, thinking about it, it still seems surreal," Hanley said, reflecting on those celebrations. "When we actually got promoted after the Blackburn game and then winning at Villa and the couple of days that followed, it's like a blur really.
"It's crazy. I've been promoted before (with Newcastle in 2017) but it was nothing like that, it was kind of 'well done lads, see you later'. Whereas being a part of that and seeing how much it meant to everyone at the club and all the fans, the whole city really - what an experience.
"It was something you'll never forget, no question, it's right up there with the best ever."
With Zimmermann having worn the captain's armband for much of the campaign, sharing duties with Alex Tettey in Hanley's absence, the former Blackburn defender realised the German had to be central to the title party.
"It's hard for me, obviously I'm the captain and it's the captain that lifts the trophy but sometimes I feel like a bit of a, I'm not sure what the right word to use is, but a bit of a mug," he admitted.
"I'm the captain, I'm the one lifting the trophy but I've not played that much. So I spoke to Zimbo before the game, I went to his room and said 'if we do it today, let's do it together, because you've played most of the games and you've worn the armband most of the time'.
"It's not something I wanted to totally turn down and give to somebody else because I still feel like I was part of it and had a lot to say in other aspects than playing. But at the same time I think Zimbo deserved that and I think he appreciated that as well."
The form of Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey in central defence kept Hanley and Timm Klose among the substitutes for the second half of the campaign - but with Zimmermann having minor knee surgery and Timm Klose struggling for full fitness during pre-season, Hanley had his chance to reclaim his place.
However, that led to City's captain playing through the pain, playing the opening three matches of the Premier League campaign before giving way to injury at the end of August.
Hernia and groin surgery have kept Hanley out for around six weeks but he has returned to training recently and is hoping to be available for selection again during the next few weeks.
"In hindsight you maybe think that back in Germany I should have taken a bit of time out, or after the Luton game (during pre-season), and then maybe it wouldn't have got this bad," he explained.
"But it is what it is, you can't have any regrets. If I went back and had the same choice again I would still make the same decision. Unless there's really no chance I can get on the pitch, that's the only thing that's going to stop me, I'm going to try and carry on as long as I possibly can.
"So I had to take a bit of time, got back into training and then got injured again and we took the decision that maybe we need to look a bit deeper into it.
"But I will say I feel like I'm in the best hands here, the sports science and the physios at Norwich are brilliant, I have total trust in them."
- INTERNATIONAL PROSPECTS
Canaries centre-back Hanley has twice had to drop out of Scotland squads this season because of his injury issues.
The Dumfries-born defender won the last of his 29 caps in a friendly against Costa Rica at Hampden Park in March 2018, during Alex McLeish's second spell in charge.
With the Scots set for the Euro 2020 play-offs in March, his international prospects offer another motivation to shine in the Premier League, with manager Steve Clarke clearly keen to have the Norwich captain involved.
"Growing up that's what you want to do and I'm proud to play for my country," Hanley said.
"I think I've not got as many caps as I should have, through injuries and stuff. I was in the team and playing, but wasn't playing at my club, so that affected my place in the squad and I wasn't playing for a while.
"But I spoke to him (Clarke) and he's a good guy and a great manager. Obviously first and foremost in my mind is Norwich and getting fit here but if that can come along with it then I'm really happy with that too."
- Check back to this website tomorrow morning for more from our exclusive chat with the Canaries' captain