Is Rob a prince among strikers?

CHRIS LAKEY Never before have Norwich City had a player with a nickname even remotely as exotic as the Zambian Prince. But then again, they won't have had too many players like Robert Earnshaw.


Never before have Norwich City had a player with a nickname even remotely as exotic as the Zambian Prince.

But then again, they won't have had too many players like Robert Earnshaw.

Lightning quick and with a selfish attitude towards his trade, Earnshaw grew up on Zambia, moved to Wales when he was eight, discovered football and realised that there was gold in his young feet.

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In May 2002 Earnshaw ensured that the rest of the football world knew what the principality had known for a while when he made his debut for Wales and scored the only goal of the game to beat Germany in Cardiff.

It wasn't long before his goal celebrations - former boss Lennie Lawrence admitted to having kittens when he saw the Earnshaw somersault after an international goal - became his trademark.

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A big money move to West Brom followed, but after a decent first season, Earnshaw found himself marginalised to the point where he was forced to ask for a move away from The Hawthorns. He and Baggies boss Bryan Robson had fallen out to the point where the damage was irreparable - and Norwich were waiting in the wings with a healthy bank balance and the promise of regular first team football. The only thing Earnshaw has left to do is prove he's worth it.

It's all a long way from the northern Zambian mining village of Mufulira, where Earnshaw was born on April 6, 1981. At the age of five the family moved to Malawi where father David took charge of another coal mine. His mother Rita is reputed to have been a boxer.

At the age of eight the family left Africa to settle in the Welsh town of Caerphilly, where they lived with his aunt, although his father had died shortly before they emigrated.

Earnshaw started playing football at school and recalls his first organised match at the age of 12 with local youth side Lanbrachdach. He played there for a year before moving on to GE Wales where he attracted the attention of Cardiff City scout Gavin Tait - as would anyone scoring up to 80 goals in a season.

The Seagulls signed him one a one-year YTS contract aged 16 in the summer of 1997 and a year later he turned pro.

He started the season with an equaliser against Hartlepool but appearances were hard to come by, and loan spells at Middlesbrough and Greenock Morton would have done little to help his confidence.

However, Earnshaw buckled down and returned to Ninian Park a better player for the experience.

He finished the 2000-01 season with 25 goals and was a regular in the junior Wales teams. National team boss Mark Hughes gave him his debut in the summer of 2002 - and his goal against Germany ensured he would go down in Welsh folklore.

Earnie was named man of the match and a few months later was crowned Young Welsh Footballer of the Year.

He established himself in the Welsh squad, scoring a hat-trick in the 4-0 friendly win over Scotland in February 2004. The big boys sent scouts down to south Wales to have a look, but it was West Bromwich Albion, and their former Norwich boss Gary Megson, who won the race for his signature. In August, 2004, he waved goodbye to Cardiff in a deal worth £3m.

But what he thought would be a bright new career didn't turn out as planned. True, he started off well enough, scoring 18 goals in his debut season as the Baggies beat the drop - and Norwich went the other way.

But life in the Midlands soon changed. Megson was long gone, replaced by Baggies playing legend Bryan Robson, who soon showed his preference for the likes of Kanu, Nathan Ellington and Geoff Horsfield. Earnshaw was sidelined, literally, and the only escape route was to demand a move.

Two transfer requests were rejected but the signs were plain to see in Earnshaw's final appearance for West Brom, a lacklustre showing in an FA Cup replay against Reading. Earnie clearly wanted out, and in Norwich opened the door.

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