Connor Southwell: Why Grant Hanley won't care about being fashionable
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Experts always claim that the beauty of fashion is that it goes round in cycles, trends always seem to re-emerge in the mainstream after a while.
That is evident when you take a stroll past a phone shop at present and see the 'flip phone' making a comeback after the rise of the smart device. The same concept applies to football.
A few seasons ago, Pep Guardiola's tiki-taka Barcelona side were in vogue. Academies were replicating sessions and urging players to learn the technical side of the game. Teams sought to re-produce what was happening in the Nou Camp in all four corners of the globe.
Then we had the era of high pressing. Then Antonio Conte's 3-5-2 took the Premier League by storm. You can go on.
In an era of ball-playing centre backs and defenders who are used with an attacking focus rather than their defensive qualities, Grant Hanley seems to buck the trend and break the mould.
That is far from a derogatory statement. After all, when Daniel Farke was laying down the foundations of his desired philosophy at Norwich, it was the Scot they turned to when it became evident they required someone with the capability of knitting together the old with the new.
Hanley's arrival coincided with a vastly improved defensive effort, City would embark on a 10 match unbeaten run that followed his arrival.
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Everybody knows the narrative from there. Injuries have derailed his progress but Hanley has always ended up back in the side, often as the one entrusted with wearing the captain's armband and delivering Farke's instructions on the pitch.
For all the talk of Ben Gibson's progressive passes or Ozan Kabak's ferocious surging runs, it feels that Hanley's qualities are somewhat less attractive, but he has proven in recent weeks just how intrinsic he is to City's defensive structure.
That isn't to downplay what the others bring to the party but it graphically illustrates the importance of getting the defensive blend right, especially if the Canaries are to persist with a back three.
The Scottish international is at the heart of that. His ability to tussle physically with defenders and willingness to put his body on the line are essential to Norwich's improved defensive work in their last two matches.
Hanley has faced criticism from some quarters early season errors and underpar performances, but he battled both injury and Covid prior to the season starting and failed to play a single minute of City's pre-season campaign.
He looks more comfortable in a back three that allows him to get back to basics.
By his own admission, although he is competent in possession, he will rarely be someone to break the lines like Gibson with passes or surge through teams like Kabak.
And that is okay.
Hanley's skillset is about dominating aerially and utilising his pace to sweep up should Gibson or Kabak get caught out. In many ways, he is a throwback to eras gone by.
Games like Saturday are often where Hanley shines the brightest. In the wet, cold and grey of Burnley, he stood up and was imperious against an aerial bombardment that was required to ensure City left with a clean sheet when others would have crumbled.
He was utterly dominant in his battle against Chris Wood and was part of a City defence that limited Burnley's attack to very little in terms of clear cut chances.
When you have a pair of Hugo Boss trousers and are wearing expensive cologne, it can be easy to forget about the budget belt that is holding it all together. In a Norwich City side that is being upgraded both in terms of quality and finance, Hanley is a constant.
That is reflective of his own ability and importance to what is happening on the pitch.
Hanley is as important now as he was when he signed initially. He is an important and core part of the dressing room. He may not get any stylistic points or praise for defence-splitting passes, but he is the glue that holds City's backline together.
Many have wondered whether he is able to play at this level or if he still has what it takes to be a frontline option for City and Farke. Yet, those questions seem to have never truly disappeared. And yet he's still here and still proving them wrong.
Hanley won't care about being fashionable but Norwich City will need him to keep producing performances like in recent weeks if they are to buck the trend in the Premier League.