David Freezer: Search for an heir to Tettey’s defensive midfield crown goes on for Canaries
PUBLISHED: 09:58 01 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:58 01 February 2020
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The closing days of the transfer window proved that Norwich City will continue to “focus on the root, rather than the fruit” – but what does the future hold for the great old oak tree of the Norwich City midfield, Alex Tettey?
That root analogy is a phrase that sporting director Stuart Webber is keen on and given City's precarious Premier League position, persuading players to sign up for a survival scrap will not have been easy anyway.
Which leaves Tettey among the players who can be confident of seeing serious game time between now and the end of the season, ahead of his 34th birthday in early April.
In fact, just 16 outfield players who have played in the Premier League so far this season are older than City's longest serving current player.
Just one of those 16, however, has exceeded Tettey's 18 appearances during 2019-20 so far - 16 of which have been starts - and that's Manchester City and Brazil lynchpin Fernandinho, who turns 35 in May.
None of which is meant as ageist in any way. If anything it's a compliment that the combative former Norway international still finds himself an important part of the Norwich squad as he moves towards the conclusion of his eighth campaign with the club.
The next few months will quite probably include a few moments of deja vu for the midfielder, as thoughts turn to whether he will repeat the trick of two years ago and sign a new contract just as it looks as if his Canaries spell is coming to an end.
If City can pull off a great escape and survive this season then it would seem likely Webber will feel that it's time to spend some of that hard earned money in ensuring a proper Tettey replacement is secured.
Even that's not certain though, as it's looking increasingly likely that the former Rosenborg and Rennes battler will have a key role in the months to come, so if he helps to pull off that special achievement, his experience may still be seen as an important part of the squad.
Time and time again Tettey has been turned to by managers at City, often proving his doubters wrong with that consistent ability to pop up in the right place at the right time to break up play defensively and disrupt the opposition, even if his passing can be inconsistent.
Even that has improved on Farke's watch though. During Tettey's first five seasons with the club his pass success completion rate averaged out to 84.6pc per game, according to WhoScored.com, but since the German took over in 2017 that's currently risen to 87.5pc.
Many successful teams include a defensive shield. For runaway leaders Liverpool it's Fabinho, for Pep Guardiola it was Fernandinho as Manchester City won the title in both of the past two seasons, at Leicester it was Ngolo Kante during their 2016 title success and now for the Foxes it's the impressive Wilfred Ndidi.
And at Norwich it's been Tettey ever since he arrived in 2012, with few players managing to truly lay claim to his status as chief firefighter.
Louis Thompson had shown positive signs during 2016-17, only for serious injuries to totally alter the course of his career. Now aged 25, Thompson is at least getting back to proper action and after a spell on the fringes at Shrewsbury in League One, now under the watch of Russell Martin at MK Dons in the third tier.
Should City end up back in the Championship next season then it's quite possible the former Swindon favourite will get another shot at Norwich, as he will still have two years on his contract, with the option for a further 12 months.
The new contender was meant to be Ibrahim Amadou but the Sevilla loanee saw the first half of his campaign disrupted by the Canaries' injury crisis, with seven successive appearances as a centre-back after Timm Klose, Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley had been struck down.
After two midfield starts in December, when his defensive instincts were clear but his passing ability less so, it's been back over to Tettey as first choice as the destructive presence.
Tom Trybull also offers some combative intent but is more cultured than an out-and-out defensive shield, leaving questions for the summer as to whether Tettey will still be needed to protect City's back-line moving forward.
The Canaries already have former Arsenal prospect Charlie Gilmour playing regularly out on loan in the Dutch second tier with Telstar, a 20-year-old Scotland youth international, who will also be hoping for a chance to impress during pre-season - but he will have a new rival.
Melvin Sitti was one of the players brought in with an eye on the future this week, with the defensive midfielder playing regularly in the second tier back home in France, returning to Ligue Deux on loan with Sochaux until the summer and soon turning 20.
It seems the groundwork has been laid for future contenders to Tettey's crown, but for now the know-how and nous of a player with 227 appearances for City should be appreciated - with just five needed to join the club's all-time top 50.
UPDATE: Since this article was written, Amadou's loan was cut short and he returned to the Spanish top flight, in a late deadline day deal.