Chris Goreham: Nelson Oliveira and the curse of the number nine shirt at Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 20:00 22 January 2018
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The best thing on television at the moment has to be Inside No. 9.
The dark comedy created by two of the League of Gentlemen, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, features a different, perfectly and precisely written story each week.
The only thing that the episodes have in common is that they all feature the number 9 in some way.
Shearsmith and Pemberton don’t come across as the sort of people who struggle with creative thinking but if they did ever run out of ideas they could do worse than use the Norwich City dressing room for inspiration.
There is definitely something weird about the Canaries’ number 9 shirt.
Nelson Oliveira is the current owner of that feted jersey, a fact Daniel Farke was left in no doubt about at Fulham on the opening day of the season when the Portugese striker confronted his new head coach, pointing to the name and number on his back, in celebration of getting that dramatic equaliser.
Oliveira has been less keen to draw attention to himself in recent weeks.
With Cameron Jerome sold he is Norwich City’s only senior striker so Farke has no choice but to put all of his attacking eggs in that inconsistent basket.
The fact he was the only player to miss in that dramatic FA Cup penalty shoot-out at Chelsea sums up the way things are going for him.
The enigmatic front man hasn’t scored in his last seven games, got only two in 16 appearances and hasn’t netted away from Carrow Road since August.
Oliveira could point with some justification to a lack of clear chances being created for him but he also seems to have lost the knack he was displaying for much of his first year with the club of being able to conjure something out of nothing.
He is the latest in a succession of Norwich City number 9s to find it tough going.
Since Grant Holt left in the summer of 2013 four players have tried to follow in his footsteps.
The first, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, has become shorthand for Norwich’s poor transfer policy during its Premier League purple patch thanks to scoring one league goal for his £8.5 million transfer fee.
The next season, back in The Championship, Neil Adams brought in a new number 9. Kyle Lafferty played 18 league games and equalled RVW’s goal tally before being sent out on the first of a couple of loan spells.
In the summer of 2015, with Wembley glory burning brightly, Alex Neil filled that Holt shaped void by bringing in Dieumerci Mbokani on loan.
There were flashes of promise from the DR Congo international but the fact that Neil only picked him to start 15 of the 38 league matches in the top flight underlines that he didn’t become the go-to goal scorer we all hoped.
Mbokani got seven which puts him head and shoulders above van Wolfswinkel and Lafferty but only five of his strikes came before City’s relegation was confirmed.
That brings us back to Nelson Oliveira.
Assuming he doesn’t leave this month he will clock up two seasons in the number 9 shirt which is a big achievement by recent standards.
His Canary career has veered from the sublime of his clinical hat-trick against Derby in January 2017 to the ridiculous of being sent off at Rotherham a few weeks later.
For every moment of Cantona-esque brilliance there’s a petulant performance which makes you wonder whether his heart is really in it.
As it stands Oliveira is our main and only striker so Daniel Farke must find out what’s really going on inside his number 9.
Appealing to the masses...
If Norwich City’s FA Cup epic against Chelsea proved anything it was that not much captures the public imagination like sport on terrestrial television.
The horse has bolted when it comes to television rights. Sky and BT have helped to make top flight football what it is today by paying handsomely to entice customers to sign up for their products with the lure of live matches. There is much to admire about the way that both companies cover games but hiding football away on expensive platforms excludes most of the population which has just a passing interest in football.
The fact was brought home to me last week when, in the days after the Chelsea replay, a number of colleagues who never show much interest in Norwich City wanted to discuss the finer points of the game and how impressed they had been by the Canaries pushing their illustrious opponents all the way. I am grounded enough to know that most of these people hadn’t been listening to the BBC Radio Norfolk commentary. It’s the power of primetime BBC One.
One particularly interested TV viewer was the video assistant referee or the VAR as he was called in a way that made it sound like a potential Dr Who monster.
The unintended consequence of this technological experiment seemed to be that it made match referee Graham Scott more brave.
I can’t remember seeing three players get booked for diving in the same match and especially not all from a team the size of Chelsea.
It was almost as if having the safety net of someone immediately backing his decisions with the help of replays gave the official more courage in his convictions.
We’ll never know but I wonder whether all three of Pedro, Willian and Morata would have been yellow carded for throwing themselves to the floor in a match where players and managers could argue with Scott without him having access to the comeback of his decisions being double checked by another official with a TV remote.
What’s for certain is that having VAR doesn’t rid the game of controversy or debate as many mistakenly feared. It’s a system that still needs to be perfected but if we end up with something which redresses the often heard conspiracy theory that referees are often too frightened to make vital decisions against big clubs then it’s something that teams like Norwich City would do well to get on board with.