Worthy, Grant, goals and frustration - Earnie’s action packed 18 months at Norwich City
- Credit: EDP pics © 2006
Robert Earnshaw’s clinical ability in front of goal was rarely questioned during his 18 months at Norwich City, a time the former striker looks back on with great fondness but also with a sense of what might have been.
The Wales international was signed in January 2006 after the sale of Dean Ashton to West Ham for around £7million, with the Canaries in mid-table under Nigel Worthington and still struggling to shake off their Premier League relegation hangover.
Earnshaw, 24 years old at the time, had burst onto the scene with over 100 goals for Cardiff as a youngster and had scored 11 goals in the top flight as West Brom eventually leapfrogged City to survival on the final day of the 2004-05 campaign.
Yet he was given few chances by Bryan Robson following that great escape and a move to Norwich for a reported fee of £2.75m gave him a fresh start.
“At the time with West Brom I felt I should have been playing and really my record showed that I should have been playing, but in the end it wasn’t to be,” he recalls, with Southampton another suitor at the time.
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“Nigel Worthington was the manager and it was done pretty quickly, the bid got accepted and it was up to me. I go back to knowing Norwich as a club from the 90s and the years before, and how well they did - and how well they did in Europe. So I understood them as a club because I used to watch them when Jeremy Goss is scoring the volley against Bayern Munich, I remembered that.
“I just felt it was the right place at the right time and a place where I could go and play, and after speaking to Nigel I really felt that he wanted me to come in and make a big impact.”
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His debut may have been a rather forgettable 2-1 home loss to Ipswich but the speedy forward got up and running two games later with a brace in a 3-0 win over Brighton at Carrow Road - and finished the season in a good rhythm, with eight goals from his first 15 games.
That started a run of scoring in seven consecutive home matches either side of the summer break, notching nine goals in those games, as he made a strong start to life in Norfolk and City finished ninth in the Championship.
“I just loved playing in front of the fans, the fans at Norwich were really great,” Earnshaw said. “They took to me as part of the team and everybody who was there before and after the game always complimented me, and in and around the city they were always great.
“So I really enjoyed that and I think we were definitely a different team, a much stronger team, at home.”
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Yet the Zambia-born striker found himself at Carrow Road at a tumultuous time, with the ‘Worthy Out’ campaign coming to a head with an ugly 4-1 home defeat to Burnley in October 2006, bringing former City midfielder Peter Grant to the fore.
Earnshaw had liked Worthington though, saying: “Nigel was great, I really enjoyed playing for him because he was driven, he was tough, he would say it as it is but also he was a good character, an easy person to be around.
“He helped me because I needed that kind of personality around me to do my bit, to feel he had the confidence in me to go and do what I needed to do.”
With valued team-mates including Darren Huckerby, Adam Drury and Dion Dublin in the squad, Earnshaw also got on well with “good guy” Grant and finished as top scorer that season with 19 goals in 30 games - in spite of a groin injury forcing him to miss much of the second half of the campaign.
“There was a few people came in and a few came out, a few people who had been there for a few years,” he continued. “There was a surge of some of the younger players around the club, Ian Henderson, Ryan Jarvis and a few other young players in the squad.
“So it was a bit of a mix but it was good, we just didn’t find the balance. I think especially defensively we struggled because we always let in goals, goals that were stoppable, I think was generally how the team felt.
“A few adjustments, in hindsight, could have been made and we really could have really done something because especially going forward I felt our biggest strength was attacking but we also conceded a lot of goals and that’s what killed us.”
That season would end in a disappointing 16th place and newly promoted Derby breaking the club record to activate a £3.5m buy-out clause in Earnshaw’s contract to take him to the top flight after his injury recovery - after a very creditable 27 goals in 47 games.
While his time with the Rams didn’t work out, three consistent seasons at Nottingham Forest led to a season back at Cardiff, before taking on an adventure that included Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and MLS football in North America with Toronto FC, Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Now, aged 39, Earnshaw has coaching experience with Vancouver and was assistant at US second-tier side Fresno FC for two seasons, earning his coaching qualifications alongside his role with the California club.
Now back in the UK and working as a media pundit as he pursues his next coaching role, Earnshaw still keeps an eye on the Canaries’ progress, particularly watching games during his time in the US, where more English games are shown live.
“I enjoy watching them, I think they have really good ideas, an exciting style really,” he added, of Daniel Farke’s team. “I know the position they’re in but they’re an enjoyable team to watch.
“I always keep an eye on Norwich, I always have.”
- You can listen to our full interview with Earnshaw in a bonus edition of the Pinkun.com Norwich City Podcast above