Chris Lakey: Success for Norwich comes when a City is united
Darren Huckerby, Grant Holt, Teemu Pukki... who’s the odd one out?
Apologies, it’s not exactly Mastermind, because while all three are destined to go down in Norwich City’s history books, it’s Teemu Pukki who has yet to achieve promotion as a Canary.
Huckerby did it brilliantly with the 2003-04 side that reached the Premier League; Holt two years in a row as City went from League One to the top flight with successive promotions.
Pukki? We are still waiting... and hoping.
Those three players raised a question that can never be answered: who played in the better team?
Huckerby’s view was: “Ask yourself if present team could stop us? But what I would say is if current team win the league it’ll be a bigger achievement than 2004 and 2011.”
I was fortunate enough to cover the promotions of Huckerby’s and Holt’s team, while I watched from slightly farther away the progress of Pukki and Co – although being that distance does lull me into the comfort zone that say, yes, of course City will be promoted. Why ever not?
But as to which is the best team... that is so tough.
Nigel Worthington’s promotion winners of 2004 were as tough as teak, and perhaps closer to a team unit than I always thought the City teams of 2010 and 2011 were: that’s not to suggest the latter didn’t have a unity and a team spirit, but it is not the first thing I consider. Worthy’s team was a unit, a strong, experienced group that walked on to the pitch and immediately had the opposition on the back foot. Stylish and imposing.
The then sports scientist Dave Carolan pointed out this week the following appearance stats – Robert Green played 46, Craig Fleming 46, Malky Mackay 45, Adam Drury 42 and Marc Edworthy 42. “They played 96 per cent of league games together. Defence wins championships! Not to mention... Iwan Roberts 41 appearances, Hucks 36, Paul McVeigh 43 and Damien Francis 41 and Gary Holt 46.”
Huckerby was leading scorer with 14, with the goals spread around (Leon McKenzie 9, Iwan 8, Mathias Svensson and Francis 7).
The 2010 team didn’t have one player who started all 46 games (Simon Lappin was best with 42), but had three players in double figures for goals - Holt with 24, Chris Martin on 17 and Wes Hoolahan 11.
And that’s what I think of when I recall the best of 2010 - Holt and Hoolahan. No disrespect intended, because Lappin, Gary Doherty, Drury, Fraser Forster, Korey Smith and Darel Russell were all excellent players. But there were two superstars, legends if you like. But they were a team.
But while Worthy’s team combined brains and brawn, Holt and Co were more swashbuckling, more off the cuff.
So, what of the current squad?
As far as playing football is concerned, I think they are the best. I watch a lot of football, and I have not seen a team entertain me more than this one: the football is, at times, sublime. The confidence the players have on the ball and the trust they have in each other is remarkable.
I am indebted to Mr Carolan again in response to someone asking for his best combined XI from 2004 and today: “I’m not sure you can mix and match. They are cohesive groups that work well together. Different eras, players, management, even supporters.”
It is an extremely valid point (he knows what he’s talking about). I guess no one apart from those on the inside knows the strength of the relationships between players and coaches and management. From the outside, the class of 2019 appear to be thriving on it: Marco Stiepermann washing the head coach’s car after losing a game of spin the wheel; Todd Cantwell’s car wrapped in cling film on his birthday. Best of all, the sight of substitute Timm Klose in the tunnel as players headed out for the second half last weekend - he had a word for every single one of them.
Had Daniel Farke wanted to sub Tim Krul, the keeper wouldn’t have thrown a hissy fit.
Farke himself has gone about this the right way: no public dismantling of players, no false deification of fans.
You can’t create a happy dressing room and have the fans on your side as well by conjuring up a scrap with the locals.
What City have got is real. Just as they had in 2004. Just as they had in 2010. I don’t expect Pukki to be an odd man out much longer, because Norwich are a City united.
A sad loss
Many years ago, when I made the move from King’s Lynn to our Norwich HQ, I received a letter from a man called Maurice Bunting.
Maurice was groundsman at The Walks and before every game we’d have a chat and put the world to rights.
On my departure, Maurice wrote to wish me good luck: a fine gesture from a very fine man who died this week.
There will be a minute’s silence before today’s game: Maurice deserves that.
Lynn’s media officer media officer Mark Hearle put it nicely: “He was a gentleman and a great character. He was also very good at preparing a pitch with limited resources and sometimes providing a miracle in getting a game on after a week of difficult conditions. He used to love a chat on all sorts of things – not just football – and more often than not would offer some wise words on a real variety of subjects. “I speak for everyone at the club when I say we will miss him greatly and we are all thinking of Maurice’s family and friends at this sad time.”