Fleming deserves his place in history

PUBLISHED: 16:48 13 January 2007 | UPDATED: 09:59 14 September 2010

DAVID CUFFLEY

A diplomatic silence descended this week over the future of Norwich City club captain Craig Fleming, but all the indications are that his testimonial season will be his last with the club, at least as a player.

A diplomatic silence descended this week over the future of Norwich City club captain Craig Fleming, but all the indications are that his testimonial season will be his last with the club, at least as a player.

Bournemouth's interest in the 35-year-old centre-back was confirmed last weekend by manager Kevin Bond, the former City captain, who said he understood Fleming may be “surplus to requirements” at Carrow Road and added: “If that is the case, I would certainly like to explore the possibility of persuading him to come here.”

Fleming has kept his own counsel since the Bournemouth story surfaced, while City boss Peter Grant declined to discuss his former team-mate's future, even as Bond and assistant Rob Newman sat a few yards away from him in the directors' box at Monday nightreserve team friendly against Tottenham, in which the veteran defender played a full 90 minutes.

But Fleming has been gradually squeezed out of the first team picture over the past three months through a combination of a hamstring injury he suffered against Colchester and the manager's preference for Gary Doherty or Dion Dublin as central defensive partner to Jason Shackell, who has missed just one match since Grant's arrival, and that because of suspension.

The former Halifax and Oldham man was in the starting line-up for the 3-3 draw at Queen's Park Rangers as Grant watched from the stands, two days before taking over the job.

But Fleming has started just one first team match under City's new boss, and that was the 5-0 defeat at Stoke. He has made a further three appearances as a substitute.

Since the Colchester game, his only senior outing was when he came off the bench in the closing stages of the 2-1 defeat at Southampton.

If he does move on, either during the January transfer window or at the end of the season - whether to Bournemouth or somewhere closer to his Norfolk home - it will bring down the curtain on one of the most admirable City careers of modern times.

In the past 30 years, only UEFA Cup trio Bryan Gunn, Ian Crook and Mark Bowen have clocked up more first-team appearances for the Canaries than Fleming, in an age when very few players spend 10 years with one club.

After being signed by Mike Walker from Oldham for £600,000 in the summer of 1997 - the first of five managers under whom he has worked at Carrow Road - Fleming had to wait, like the rest of us, for a sniff of real success returning to Norwich.

It came when, as an ever-present in the 2001-02 season, he played a major role in getting the Canaries to the Division One play-off final against Birmingham at the Millennium Stadium, and he was an outstanding performer on the day.

Defeat on penalties meant he may have felt his last chance of a return to the Premiership had gone, but City's Nationwide League title success two years later gave him that opportunity, and he thoroughly deserved the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy he collected as player of the season.

A crowd of more than 15,000 for his testimonial match against Newcastle United last July summed up City fans' regard for his commitment to the cause over a decade.

Fleming has never been one to worry about career statistics but at the start of this season, he needed only a further 20 first-team appearances to move into City's all-time top 10.

With just 12 outings so far this term, taking him to a total of 382, he has passed Bernard Robinson's total of 380, but it remains to be seen whether he can overhaul 10th-placed Terry Allcock on 389.

Either way, he has forced himself into the first eleven, just as he has for most of his 10 years at Carrow Road, and whatever the rest of this season brings, we can all applaud his special place in club history.

BECKS' BUCKS WILL KILL TEAM AMERICA

When I heard David Beckham had signed for Galaxy, I thought it must be another product he had decided to endorse.

After all, chocolate must be one of the few things David and Victoria have not made millions out of promoting. Or perhaps they have and I missed it.

But, of course, this is LA Galaxy football team and a five-year contract worth £128 million, or roughly £500,000 per week, a breathtaking piece of celebrity money-grubbing dressed up as a mission to improve football in the USA.

Not surprisingly, not every footballer in the States is as excited as the media about Beckham's deal, which will give him 500 times the pay of his team-mates.

Under Major League Soccer rules, each side is allowed one star player who does not come under the salary cap - but the budget for the rest of the squad is limited to around £1 million, or £50,000 per player per season.

Beckham's fellow former trainee and team-mate Terry Cooke said: “It's a disgrace if it's true what I've heard about how much he's going to be earning.

“Obviously it's good for him, but we have a salary cap here for each team which is 1.9 million dollars (£1 million) for a roster of 28 players.”

Football is still, believe it or not, supposed to be a team game. But if one player earns - sorry, gets - 500 times as much the rest, even if it is David Beckham, it's hard to see how that fosters team spirit.

There must be a big temptation just to give him the ball and say: “There you go, old boy - and the best of luck.”

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