Can Canaries resist an offer for Earnie?

It was a seven-second pause that neatly summed up the potential dilemma facing Norwich City and manager Peter Grant in the January transfer window.

It was a seven-second pause that neatly summed up the potential dilemma facing Norwich City and manager Peter Grant in the January transfer window.

Thursday morning's Press conference at Colney turned inevitably to the prospect of City striker Robert Earnshaw taking on his old club at West Bromwich Albion today.

No, said Grant, Earnshaw didn't have anything to prove to anybody at The Hawthorns. His goalscoring record spoke for itself.

And yes, said the manager, there was no doubt at the moment that his 10-goal leading scorer was the best striker in the Championship.

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Then came the equally inevitable question. What happens in January if a club comes in with a big cash offer for Earnshaw? Could City afford to turn it down? “Yes,” said Grant.

Would he turn it down? “Yes, I would,” came the answer.

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Then we all sat silently considering his answer for fully seven seconds until Grant added: “I'm not saying the board would, but I would!” Cue laughter all round - but it may be no laughing matter when the time comes.

It was pointed out to the City boss that a similar situation presented itself with Dean Ashton last January, when West Ham - Grant's club at the time - finally got their man with a £7.25m offer that was considered just too good to refuse.

He was quick to reply: “At the end of the day if you've paid £3m for someone and you get £8m or whatever it is for him, that's good business.”

Exactly. It's that kind of scenario that could once again confront the Canaries in the next transfer window. Their initial outlay for Earnshaw was £2.75m, but a determined Premiership club may well be prepared to double that if he keeps up his current strike rate.

And despite assertions to the contrary, this is one club that, historically, has never quite been able to resist the temptation to sell its star goalscorers when a fat cheque is waved through the boardroom window. Need we mention Davies, Curran, Cross, Reeves, Fashanu, Fleck, Sutton, Eadie, Bellamy . . .

One thing clearly in City's favour this time is the fact that Earnshaw seems happy at Carrow Road, banging in the goals, whereas Ashton was said to have had increasingly itchy feet and, apart from a hat-trick against Southampton last December, was not visibly enjoying his football.

That being the case, a healthy position in the Coca-Cola Championship table at the turn of the year is the best way to guarantee hanging on to your prize asset, as Grant acknowledged.

“Hopefully we're doing well enough that I can hold on to all the players that want to be here,” he said - but don't expect him to get down on his knees to beg anyone to stay.

“If players don't want to be here, I've no problem with that. They can move on and I'll bring in somebody else who wants to be here, because the more people you have that want to be at this club, the more chance you have of being successful. It's not about one player and it never will be for me.”

And he insisted he would not be concerned if faced with inquiries about his most valuable players.

“I would be delighted if the stands are full of all the top managers. There's no doubt in my mind about that because that means we've got a good side - and I'm hoping that people are phoning me because it means we've got good players.

“It's the day the phone stops and people are not asking about your players that you start to worry. I've got no worries about that.”

City's new boss has wasted no time, however, in seeking to sort out new deals for some of his key players. Skipper Adam Drury and acclaimed matchwinner Darren Huckerby have already had talks, while last season's player of the year, Gary Doherty, is among others out of contract in the summer.

Grant said he did not want to lose his best players by letting their contract run out and be “scraping the barrel” for replacements.

“If we don't get promoted - which I'm hoping is not the case - you've got to make sure you want players to stay and let them know that,” he said.

No time to lose, in that case.

t It's a hard life being a former football manager. If you're not busy counting your compensation cash or selling your expertise to a TV soccer show, you can always find yourself a consultancy role in some exotic foreign clime. How about the Caribbean?

Former City boss Bryan Hamilton's new job as an adviser to Antigua and Barbuda sounds like a million miles away from a typical English league ground in the driving rain and icy blasts of November and December.

“I'm not a miracle worker,” he said as he began helping the islands prepare for their Caribbean Cup second round matches.

Just as well they've been warned.

t The sad news this week of the death of John Taylor, at the age of 85, reminded me of an afternoon I spent with the hospital radio commentary team at Carrow Road nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The veteran broadcaster was in the box at the back of the old South Stand as one of a team of four covering a City home game in Division One against Notts County. He told me how delighted they had been to be able to broadcast from Wembley when the Canaries reached the 1973 League Cup final - and how he had been among the crowd that witnessed Hungary's 6-3 demolition of England in the same stadium in 1953.

I dug out the programme last night for that Notts County match, which was played in November 1982. City lost 2-1, and in the County side that afternoon was a 20-year-old described as “the most expensive player ever to come out of Northern Ireland when Notts paid £100,000 to buy him from Ballymena”. He was wearing the No 3 shirt, if you need a clue.

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