Ins and Outs of unsettled summer

CHRIS LAKEY To say the summer of 2007 is spectacularly different to its predecessor of 12 months ago is an understatement - and we are most definitely not talking meteorological.

CHRIS LAKEY

To say the summer of 2007 is spectacularly different to its predecessor of 12 months ago is an understatement - and we are most definitely not talking meteorological.

A year ago we were basking in scorching temperatures, but the pot was constantly on the back burner as far as Norwich City's transfer activities were concerned. It was all pretty stale: Steve Foley had sadly departed as coach, axed the day after he was all smiles at the club's annual open day, to be replaced by Martin Hunter.

On the field, Nigel Worthington's chase for a big target man produced - a right winger, in Lee Croft. And that was it.


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Roll on a year and it's been wet and horrible, but at least Peter Grant has been busy in the transfer market.

Before the season was out he'd shown the door to five players, although the later departures of Robert Earnshaw, Dickson Etuhu and coach Hunter were unplanned.

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Grant's work had started before the final ball had been kicked at Hillsborough last May: Darren Huckerby had already committed himself for another year, Adam Drury, Joe Lewis and Dion Dublin were to follow. Youngsters Stephen Arnold, Patrick Bexfield and Bally Smart were signed for the future.

Then there was the matter of the manager's shopping list, which had the name David Marshall at the top, although pulling off the transfer was proving to be more protracted than many thought.

Jon Otsemobor was already in the bag, awaiting final confirmation, but by the middle of the month there was a feeling that perhaps Grant was struggling to bring in new personnel. Of course, we all worry that while others are sticking up for the new season, the homes shelves are bare. But that was soon to change in a week that could yet to prove to be the one that makes or breaks City's ambitions this coming season.

t Wednesday, June 27: Goalkeeper Matty Gilks signs after his contract at Rochdale expires.

t Thursday, June 28: Otsemobor's move is finally confirmed.

t Friday, June 29, 3pm: City announce that leading scorer Robert Earnshaw has joined Derby for £3.5m after a get-out clause in his contract is activated.

t Friday, June 29, 4pm: Golden Boot Jamie Cureton is signed from Colchester for a fee estimated at £1m.

TW3 - That was the week that was. Big time.

Earnshaw's departure was probably no great surprise - two failures to get back to the top flight meant he was bound to look elsewhere or the Championship escape hatch. He and his agent found it at Derby. Likewise, Cureton's return after more than a decade didn't raise too many eyebrows after his earlier transfer request at Layer Road.

A quality striker for a quality striker - but it was the question of ambitions that was worrying City fans. How many more players would be uprooting and heading for greener pastures because Norwich couldn't offer them success?

The answer was to come in July:

t July 3: Midfielder Julien Brellier joins after turning down a contract extension at Hearts.

t July 4: David Marshall signs from Celtic - for around £1m.

t July 11: Striker David Strihavka becomes the first Czech player to sign for City.

t July 17: Dickson Etuhu becomes the second player of the summer to leave through a get-out clause, triggered by Sunderland, who pay £1.5m for the midfielder.

t July 18: Jimmy Smith arrives on loan from Chelsea.

t July 24: Martin Hunter joins Watford as first team coach.

t July 30: Darel Russell returns to Carrow Road, signed from Stoke.

It was Etuhu's departure for Sunderland which sparked an angry outburst from a clearly frustrated Huckerby, with a read-between-the-lines message that said, 'if you keep flogging off the family jewels, I'm off too'.

Grant's response was to bring Jimmy Smith in from Chelsea on loan, although injury on the Dutch tour means he will miss the first few weeks of the season.

And if you thought that was that, think again. There were still a couple more twists. One came in the shape of old boy Darel Russell, who made a surprise return from Stoke. The other was another we had been waiting on for a while - the inevitable spat between Grant and Youssef Safri. The spark was provided by Safri missing training a week ago and then turning up late for the traditional photo-shoot. Lack of respect, yelled Grant, who pulled no punches when asked about Safri's future at Norwich. Basically, he had none.

So is that it for the summer?

Possibly, but you get the feeling that the jigsaw is missing one piece - a central defender. Grant has Gary Doherty and Jason Shackell, Dion Dublin as back-up - and no one else, really. As far as his manpower goes, that's the worrying area.

Up front he has options - Cureton and Strihavka look to be the chosen ones, but Chris Brown has done well in pre-season and could well get a start. Dublin might be content to start from the bench, but Chris Martin and Ryan Jarvis won't.

Huckerby hasn't been seen in pre-season, with Grant preferring to take no chances with his groin injury, but will be a shoo-in for a start when fit. Luke Chadwick is another to have enjoyed a good pre-season and while he prefers the left side, he can play along the midfield line - so there will be some interesting competition down the right flank with Lee Croft.

Safri is finally out of the equation but there is a ready-made replacement in Julien Brellier, while you have to assume that part of the reason Chelsea allowed Smith to come to Norwich was so that he could start games. Then there's Russell - and Mark Fotheringham, Simon Lappin and Andy Hughes.

Hughes has another string to his bow, the right back position, but Otsemobor will have the shirt there, with Adam Drury at left back.

Grant would appear to have plenty of competition for places, but the one signing of the summer which could prove to be the best of the lot was that of David Marshall.

Two brilliant saves against West Ham last week proved just what a good goalkeeper he is. Build from the back, they say - and at the moment Marshall could be the perfect foundation. Keep him in for 46 games and the defence should be a lot more stable than it was last year.

So there's the squad. What of its chances of success?

Tough one: it's Grant's first full season, this is his first full squad, so we don't know because he remains unproven. What we do know is that, on paper, he looks to have put together a decent squad. Putting it out on grass is an altogether different proposition.

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