Transfer tales: Frantic phone calls, midnight dashes and a failed move - the story of City’s chase for striker

PUBLISHED: 17:56 07 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:56 07 April 2020

Leon McKenzie left for Coventry City in the summer transfer window of 2006. Picture: Archant

Leon McKenzie left for Coventry City in the summer transfer window of 2006. Picture: Archant

Norwich City sporting director Stuart Webber famously takes a very strategic approach to transfer windows.

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Norwich City FC V Sheffield Utd at Carrow Road
Leon McKenzie goal celebration
Picture: James Bass

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When transfer deadline day arrives he probably likes to pour himself a glass of wine and watch as the chaos unfolds with clubs scrabbling around to get that last deal over the line.

Webber and his recruitment team like to get things done early.

One can only imagine what he would make of the approach taken by Norwich City to the summer transfer deadline day of 2006...

A few days earlier Leon McKenzie had told then manager Nigel Worthington that he saw his future away from Carrow Road. Coventry City were waiting in the wings and keen to exploit a situation whereby they knew how keen the striker was to join them.

(14of14) Pic for EDP Sport - Norwich City FC Chief Executive Neil Doncaster after the postponement of the FA Cup match against Brighton.
Pic by Keiron Tovell. edp 6/1/03(14of14) Pic for EDP Sport - Norwich City FC Chief Executive Neil Doncaster after the postponement of the FA Cup match against Brighton. Pic by Keiron Tovell. edp 6/1/03

Worthington still saw McKenzie as a key member of his squad and rejected his transfer request – the then 28-year-old was told in no uncertain terms he would be going nowhere that window.

Two days before the window closed, sorry ‘slammed shut’, chief executive Neil Doncaster spent the bulk of his evening on the phone to McKenzie’s agent, who was pleading with the Canaries’ hierarchy to let his client leave for Highfield Road.

The morning after, following discussions between Doncaster and Worthington, the Irishman reluctantly concluded it would be counter-productive to keep McKenzie as part of his squad and, if Coventry came back with an acceptable bid, they would let him go. The one caveat was that Worthington wanted to bring in a replacement... Bristol City’s young striker David Cotterill.

Doncaster set to work on negotiating the two separate, but inter-linked, deals. A verbal agreement was reached on the two transfers with Norwich stating they would “strongly prefer not to do one without the other”. Not strongly enough, it would turn out.

Norwich completed the necessary paperwork and arrangements were made for Doncaster to meet with Cotterill, who had joined up with the Wales squad in Cardiff ahead of a Euro 2008 qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague.

After Cotterill had passed a medical the evening before, Doncaster drove through the night to attend a meeting with the player and his agent, former England international and West Bromwich Albion legend, Cyrille Regis.

It looked like Doncaster’s efforts had been worth it – personal terms were agreed and documents signed.

Doncaster faxed off all the signed paperwork to club secretary Kevan Platt, who started arranging for the registration documents to be lodged with the Football League and the FA.

There were still some important documents missing though... Bristol City had yet to sign their part of the deal, preferring to keep their options open in case another interested party made themselves aware.

It seemed a formality though and when Doncaster started his long journey back to Norfolk at 10am on deadline day he felt certain enough to ring Worthington and the board to inform them that both the McKenzie and Cotterill deals were all but complete.

An hour later and Wigan had shown their hand. Bristol City had accepted a bid, thought to be around £2m from the then Premier League side and Cotterill was on his way to speak to them.

By lunchtime Norwich are informed that their Cotterill deal was off – the 17-year-old had pulled out of the Wales squad to go and meet manager Paul Jewell and sign for the Latics.

Doncaster then got another call to say that Cotterill just wanted to see what Wigan were offering and that the Norwich deal wasn’t dead.

In the meantime Coventry faxed through their documents for McKenzie but the Sky Blues were informed Norwich would prefer not to complete the deal whilst the Cotterill transfer was up in the air.

By 7pm McKenzie took matters into his own hands and personally called Worthington, making it abundantly clear he won’t be coming back to Carrow Road.

He reportedly said: “There is no way back. I need to leave Norwich for personal reasons. I feel I cannot play another game for Norwich City. I desperately need this move.”

It was clear McKenzie would have to be sold regardless of what Cotterill decided and City concluded the deal with Coventry paying £600,000 up front and a further £400,000 depending on certain stipulations being met. Norwich did at least record a minor victory by inserting into the deal that McKenzie would be prevented from playing against the Canaries when the two sides met that season.

However, it does little to cushion the blow of Bristol City ringing at 9pm to inform Norwich that Cotterill had predictably signed for Wigan.

Norwich were left with just one recognised out-and-out striker in Robert Earnshaw and little over a month later Worthington was sacked following a 4-1 defeat at home to Burnley.

The Irishman would surely ponder what might have been had he been able to sign a replacement for McKenzie.

A transfer tale that perhaps reminds just how far City have come off the field... you can rest assured that this kind of scenario wouldn’t happen on Webber’s watch.

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