‘It’s important to do my best and help the lads’ - City skipper on added responsibilities
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There’s plenty of pressure on the shoulders of footballers at the moment but Norwich City captain Grant Hanley is doing his best to represent his team-mates properly in talks about the Premier League’s potential resumption.
The government has given the green light for top-level football to resume behind closed doors next month but many important issues are still to be ironed out amid the coronavirus pandemic, as the game’s governing bodies try to avoid financial disaster.
For Canaries skipper Hanley, that has meant taking on added responsibility in helping sporting director Stuart Webber, head coach Daniel Farke and the rest of the club’s senior staff in planning for Project Restart.
“I’ve never been through something like this as a captain before,” the Scotland international explained. “I’ve sort of got to be the middle man. I speak to the club and I speak to Stuart very regularly. Feeding information back to the players has been my job and it’s important as a captain to try to do the best for the players, hear from them and know what their opinions are.
“It’s been very important to keep in constant contact with the lads and see what their feelings are. There have been constant questions over what’s happening and what it means. It’s been difficult because we’ve not always got the answers, but it’s important to do my best and help the lads as much as I can.
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“I’ve always been a talker on the pitch. Organising is one of the biggest parts of my game, so that’s probably one of my strong points. I like to think of myself as level-headed and trying to always do the right thing to set an example.”
The 28-year-old was signed from Newcastle for around £3.5million in August 2017 and was runner-up in the Player of the Season voting at the end of his first campaign, only for injuries to get in the way ever since.
He returned to action in December after three months out due to groin and hernia surgeries and had started 13 of City’s last 15 games in all competitions. So while the timing of the suspension wasn’t good for him, the Scot feels well established as a senior player.
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“Overall, it’s a good place to be,” Hanley continued. “As soon as I walked in the door, I got the feeling of the atmosphere and culture of the place that Stuart has driven forward since I’ve been here in terms of being in it together and family-orientated. That’s a massive part of the club and part of playing here.
“In terms of the football side, the manager is totally in charge, but in terms of a sporting director, it’s something I’ve never worked as closely with before. Stuart would probably tell you we’ve got a really good relationship, especially throughout what’s been going on recently.
“We’ve been in constant contact, even on a daily basis. Before, he was constantly at the training ground so we had that relationship already through seeing him every day.”
With football resuming in Germany at the weekend, attentions are turning to English football finding the safest possible way to resume full contact training and matches amid the pandemic, with training potentially expanding to allow for small groups to interact this week.
The restart does place a degree of pressure on players though, knowing how important the financial impact of not resuming could be but also having health concerns for themselves and their loved ones.
“We’ve got a good group of lads who are all sensible young men and know what’s right and wrong,” City’s skipper said. “I think they can look after themselves to a certain extent, but we have got a young dressing room so it’s important that we’re doing our best to help each other.
“We’ve got a good dressing room, there are no bad eggs. All the lads know that they need to stay ready mentally and physically and be professional.
“It’s been tough for everyone, the whole country and the whole world. Mentally, it’s something that we haven’t been through before. I don’t think any of us had been in the situation of being in the house and having one hour per day to go out to exercise.
“Physically, we’ve got to remember our jobs. We’re professional footballers so we need to be ready mentally and physically so when the time comes that we do go back.”
If football can resume, then the Canaries have the small matter of a six-point gap to safety to overhaul in their remaining games to survive, with Hanley saying: “In terms of being in a relegation battle, the atmosphere around the club doesn’t feel how you’d expect it to feel. There’s still a feelgood factor and a feeling that we’ve got the fans behind us.”