Paddy Davitt verdict: City hold the cards but they will never control the narrative
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It is a fair bet no previous Championship boss ever had to contend with the pre-match disruption of Barcelona’s interest in one of their prized assets.
That says many things. Chief among them Max Aarons has come an awfully long way from being pitched into an East Anglian derby debut at Ipswich Town.
He is not just Norwich City’s best right back, he is one of the best prospects in any position in England.
It also reflects handsomely on Daniel Farke’s development work and a pathway shaped by Stuart Webber that is reaping a rich harvest in first team minutes for the Canaries and, inevitably, when the football planets align financial reward in the transfer market.
Which brings us back to the events of Saturday morning. Aarons should have only had to focus on the issue of Preston’s impending visit to Carrow Road, and building on that opening day league victory at Huddersfield.
Instead, as his head coach succinctly put it after a hard-fought tussle with Alex Neil’s men, he had to contend with his phone ‘lighting up’ and his name front and centre across every conceivable media platform. Given he had previously been linked this summer with both Champions League finalists, Bayern Munich and PSG, he might have become hardened to it.
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But for a club the stature of Barcelona to not only be aware of Norwich City’s 20-year-old gem but have made official contact verges on the surreal.
This is not fantasy football or football manager. This is the club of Pep and Messi and Johan Cruyff. A global icon of a football institution.
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As with Liverpool’s brief flirtation with Jamal Lewis City have politely and respectfully set out their position.
Any of these suitors know the terms of engagement when they deal with Webber. But as with the Liverpool saga, Norwich discovered again at the weekend they can stick to their guns but they cannot control the narrative.
It is why Farke is desperate for the remaining three plus weeks of this turgid circus to pass as quickly as Przemyslaw Placheta covers the ground.
The wearisome drag on City’s early Championship campaign is never far from Farke’s thoughts. He has enough of a challenge assimilating new players and shedding the mental baggage from last season’s relegation.
Add the expectancy that comes attached to any relegated club with perceived financial advantages and the knowledge they will be seen as a scalp every week.
Neil himself referenced both the summer spend at his former employers and the fact they retain a Premier League squad in all bar status before and after he tried to increase Farke’s discomfort.
City had five new players on show. Preston’s starting XI were all on the books last season in the Championship.
It is a squad under a manager who have been building by stealth; pushing for the play-offs under the combative Scot but in his two full seasons to date falling short down the stretch.
They know what it takes to ruffles feathers, they have a simplicity and an honest endeavour to their approach.
They also have a healthy disrespect for more fancied rivals, which at Carrow Road manifested itself in a collective refusal to allow City to slip into their smooth, measured passing rhythms.
Norwich again displayed admirable spirit and commitment to come from behind twice when too many of the constituent parts were working intermittently or just plain faulty.
Preston’s midfield was superior and robbed of such reassurance the Norwich backline were again exposed, as witnessed in the Premier League. But there was also comfort in Teemu Pukki’s goalscoring display, the impact Placheta had in different roles, Adam Idah’s vibrant cameo and in Aarons’ front foot efforts after the interval.
No mean feat given the build up and a true measure of the defender’s maturity as much as the talent that has earmarked him out for special attention among Europe’s elite.
There is enough work to occupy Farke’s time on the park.
He is a reluctant actor in any other dramas.
Yet he knows better than any it is only when the window closes next month can the line between ambition and reality emerge into sharp focus.
At that point he can study the personnel he will have to work with until January; when the circus begins again.
There will be a clarity for him, the club and whether it is Aarons or any of the other valuable commodities.
Until then he can expect more distractions and inevitable speculation.