Paddy Davitt: Second chance must be grasped by Steven Whittaker at Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 07:30 15 June 2016 | UPDATED: 11:03 15 June 2016
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Scottish international Steven Whittaker has to make the most of his reprieve argues chief Norwich writer Paddy Davitt, in the latest part of a summer series.
"It is all too easy to overlook the pedigree he brought from his successful seasons at Ibrox."
Steven Whittaker, by his own admission, thought his time was up at Norwich City.
The Scottish international’s final senior appearance last season for club or country came in a 1-0 friendly win over Denmark way back in March.
Whittaker used the opportunity not only to get some precious minutes on the pitch but deliver a realistic assessment of his future at club level.
“Next season I will probably move on. I want to play football again. This is the first spell in my career where I’ve not played, not even got a strip. It’s been five months maybe that I’ve not played. I’ve sometimes been on the bench but I’ve not played,” he said, in an interview widely carried in the Scottish media. “I’ve had a taste of what that’s like and it’s not nice. You train every week and want something to focus on at the weekend. That will come into my thinking.”
So much happened in the intervening period for Whittaker and Norwich. City were unable to arrest a terminal decline that ended with the loss of their Premier League status. The 31-year-old was similarly unable to dislodge any number of full-back rivals, from the rapidly-improving Ivo Pinto to luckless Liverpool loanee Andre Wisdom.
Wisdom has since returned to sender while Pinto, at this early stage of the summer cycle, looks set to start Norwich’s assault on the Championship, but Whittaker’s contract extension injects an unexpected dimension into the equation.
Based on the Scot’s honest admission, Whittaker must have sought assurances he stands a better chance of forcing his way into Alex Neil’s first team plans before agreeing to commit his future to Carrow Road. Norwich’s demotion inevitably enhances his career prospects, given he was a regular fixture in the promotion success of 2014/15. Arguably he saved his best performance of a frustrating Norwich stint for the game that mattered the most; City’s Wembley play-off final victory against Middlesbrough. Whittaker’s natural attacking instincts and aggressive intent crystallised with a pivotal role in that unforgettable team goal swept home by Nathan Redmond to seal a top flight return.
That was the moment of real acceptance from a support you sense have struggled to truly embrace the defender. Few who were present for Neil’s first-ever Norwich defeat can forget the critical reaction Whittaker received when he was mercifully substituted in a 2-1 loss to Brentford, when Neil accepted full responsibility for deploying the former Rangers’ man in an unaccustomed midfield role.
It is all too easy to overlook the pedigree he brought from his successful seasons at Ibrox when he headed south that spanned a period of domestic dominance and exposure to European club competition.
Whittaker, by the very nature of his position on the pitch and his calm, unflappable nature off it, will never set the pulses racing quite in the same way as Wes Hoolahan or Redmond in full flight, but there must be a degree of reassurance for Neil and Norwich’s fans who know exactly what they will get from him in the months ahead.