Paddy Davitt: Hail Norwich City's quiet man
PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 January 2019
Headlines may be the preserve of others but Marco Stiepermann is emerging as an indispensable asset to Norwich City's promotion quest.
Had he produced the finish to match his slaloming run in the first half of an exhilarating Championship tussle against Sheffield United that spotlight might have shifted from the likes of Teemu Pukki or Emi Buendia.
Stiepermann veered one way and then the other, swerving between visiting defenders on a mesmerising run into the penalty area before a wayward strike.
The sort of motion you might more readily associate with Buendia or, dare one say it, the Argentine’s compatriot Diego Maradona in his pomp.
What made that burst all the more thrilling perhaps is Stiepermann looks like a man who should be partnering Christoph Zimmermann in City’s defence. That is no slight on the Canaries’ stand in captain against the Blades; more a recognition of Stiepermann’s imposing physical stature.
A creative pivot operating in that influential number 10 role is the last place on the pitch you might slot Stiepermann at first sight.
But it works.
It is arguably the biggest masterstroke pulled by Daniel Farke thus far. And there have been a few if you look at the impact of Pukki or Buendia or the emergence of a cluster of academy talents.
To effectively replace James Maddison from within his existing squad with a player who has not only raised his own level - after an injury-hit but hesitant debut season - is one thing. Yet he also appears to have a galvanising effect on those around him.
Pukki harvested another vat of column inches and social media affection after his whipped strike back across Dean Henderson on Saturday, which for a few tantalising minutes threatened to be the winner.
The prolific forward was without his chief support recently in another promotion tussle at West Brom, when Stiepermann was ruled out with a thigh injury, and his relative isolation for long spells was evident until Jordan Rhodes made a dramatic late cameo.
The Finn’s work outside the penalty box arguably gives him the edge over another predatory finisher in Rhodes, but even that proved a bridge too far at The Hawthorns without Stiepermann to share the workload and connect Pukki’s intelligent runs to the rest of City’s midfield or attacking young full backs.
Cast your mind back to Pukki’s league goal against Rotherham United in December, which owed everything to the German’s willingness to harass an opponent right on the edge of the Millers’ own penalty area - one of six assists and counting in this campaign.
You could question the goal output from a man who memorably said he was ‘born to score’ shortly after arriving in Farke’s first summer. But appearances with Stiepermann are definitely deceptive.
This is a player who represented Germany at every age group level from under-15 to under-20; no mean feat when you consider that particular talent pool.
He progressed through the famed academy of Borussia Dortmund all the way to Jurgen Klopp’s first team, where his progress stalled, albeit he was part of the squad that lifted the Bundesliga in 2010/11.
Yet in the same manner perhaps a Tom Trybull or Moritz Leitner failed to flourish after early promise, Stiepermann had managed to carve out a more modest niche in the second tier of German club football, before the Canaries came calling.
At 27, he should be on the cusp of hitting his peak.
He certainly carries himself with the air of a player who knows his value to those around him. Farke clearly needed no persuasion but the doubting voices - after a less than convincing first season in Norfolk - have long since fallen silent.
Stiepermann is the quiet team man in a mix that continues to offer more than the sum of its parts.
He can play, make no mistake, but he is also makes those around him play better.
Maybe when you know your true value you have no need to chase headlines.