Michael Bailey: Over-staffed and highly paid – it’s the midfield ranks where Norwich City have their biggest calls to make over who they sell, who they keep and how the ship out the unwanted
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:50 17 May 2017
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Having a plethora of number 10s probably isn’t a good look when you’ve got a shortage at left-back – Michael Bailey looks at the Norwich midfield and where the real work lies for City’s sporting director
Stuart Webber says he will have to get creative to rebalance Norwich City’s squad – in which case, the midfielders are his paint pots.
The release of Youssouf Mulumbu, Ray Grant and Conor McGrandles were not a surprise but have also done little to alleviate the pressure on a box bursting with offensive talent, wide guile, defensive nous, extraordinary potential and sizeable experience.
The problem is, said box also includes midfielders tagged as injury-prone, hugely expensive, flattered to deceive and too similar to the bloke they’re standing next to.
In the parameters of this analysis, there are 13 midfielders at the club contracted anything from until the end of next season, to the summer of 2021.
But their contracted stays are almost irrelevant. City are only going to fund paying someone off who they want out of the door, by selling a more valuable player to finance it – and they will need to tread a fine line in making sure they build next season’s squad around the right players.
Unlike the need to add options to those in front and behind them, City’s midfield will be trimmed.
No more than five are going to play each week and as Alan Irvine has said, having more than two players for each position just gets in the way. By that assumption, 13 needs to become 10 – and fewer, to fund pay-offs and actually bring new faces in.
It’s easy enough to split the midfield into three groups, and it makes most sense to start at the top: those that play in the hole and offer a central-leaning option either side.
Wes Hoolahan won’t be going anywhere. Surely. The City legend’s last contracted season is also his testimonial and while he won’t start as often, he will have a role to play.
The reason we won’t see as much of him is City’s new head coach should build his side around Alex Pritchard. The 24-year-old has three more seasons on his current deal – and is arguably City’s most valuable asset.
His stay may well rest entirely on whether Steven Naismith has potential suitors, while in reality the second of James Maddison’s three contracted seasons may need to be on loan at another Championship club.
It’s hard to see how City avoid a choice between cashing in on Pritchard, Naismith or Maddison, given the work they need to complete elsewhere.
And all this without mentioning Tony Andreu, who spent last season loaned to Dundee United. He still has a year to see out at City, who will be hoping someone in Scotland will help him end his stay in England. That one would be as easy as the wins are going to get.
For the wide boys, things liven up considerably.
Who City would like off the books is probably easy. Matt Jarvis suffered terribly with injuries before he came to Norwich. Since he joined it’s arguably been worse. He has two years remaining on a serious wage packet. There is getting creative – and then there is working a miracle.
It all puts pressure on what happens to the other three. Yanic Wildschut will need to offer far more come pre-season at City – but he may be a prime target for City cutting their losses if someone calls.
And then there are the Murphy twins.
Someone tweeted me this season asking, if City had two players with identical assets but different surnames, would you not sell one?
The two play on different flanks of course, mostly to ensure they can share a pitch – but the accompanying openness meant we haven’t seen much of it.
City won’t want to lose one but with each committed for the next four years, either would offer a serious cash injection to boost other areas – with the key question being, do you need both brothers in the same squad?
Finally, it’s the holders. Graham Dorrans as chief passer with two years remaining. His skill set almost stands on its own – but will it suit City’s style of play for next season?
Alex Tettey is the one with only a year left on his stay. His future will depend on whether he’s tempted away, while Louis Thompson is hoping to be back for some of pre-season. If that young man makes a real recovery from his snapped Achilles, he could yet prove a refreshing and substantial asset in City’s new look.
Which leaves Jonny Howson. The box to box man who chips in with vital goals; crucial to City maintaining an air of superiority over the Championship’s also-rans.
Yet he’s another that leaves you wondering whether City’s need to trim, cash in and rebuild, might just prove too tempting if a lesser-known replacement was available and the right money came along – and we really are talking millions.
The reality is when City’s midfield is fully fit, it has every trait they need – pace, strength, fight, quality on the ball, guile, goals, assists, movement, leadership, youthful exuberance, wily experience.
What needs to come in will depend entirely on the offers they get and the players they feel they can afford to let go.
And what feel inevitable are significant midfield departures this summer, regardless.