Melissa Rudd: Let’s hope Pritchard is the only big name to leave Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A Premier League team swoops in to buy one of the best players at an under-performing Championship club.
On paper, there is nothing extraordinary about the sale of Alex Pritchard - it is both the business and nature of football.
The worry for the majority of Norwich City supporters is what that sale may signify.
Pritchard’s transfer was quite predictable. After all, he had come to Carrow Road from Tottenham with the hope of helping City to an immediate return to the Premier League. So when a top division side came calling 18 months later with Norwich 13th in the Championship, from his perspective it was probably an easy decision to make.
It is just unfortunate that an injury in July’s friendly at Cambridge United robbed Daniel Farke of the chance to utilise his obvious talent for almost four months of the season.
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The club’s insistence on using the term ‘undisclosed fee’ whenever they buy and sell players means it is always difficult to assess the worth of any deal. Reports when Pritchard was sold suggested City had paid £8 million for him, this week that figure was said to be nearer to £5m. With add-ons that may or may not have been met and with Tottenham’s sell-on clause, we can only hope that the deal left City a few million pounds in profit.
Yet without Pritchard on Saturday, it was City’s other star who shone at Ashton Gate and served a timely reminder of why the former’s departure must not represent the start of a fire sale.
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James Maddison’s exceptional goal was his fourth in nine league games, while he also managed three assists. His value to the team is undeniable, yet with each moment of brilliance will come more speculation that another club is waiting in the wings to snap up the 21-year-old at some point this month.
The club’s financial status, as we are often reminded, can be attributed in part to poor recruitment by the previous regime, record buy Steven Naismith, who hasn’t kicked a ball since August, being an obvious example. The sad reality is that funds from the sale of Pritchard may well just plug the financial black hole that failed signings created rather than free up money to bring in new players.
While fans ponder the departure of Pritchard and the loan of Yanic Wildschut to Cardiff, Farke’s charges managed to pull off one of their most impressive victories of the season in the West Country. Bristol City’s endeavours at the Etihad Stadium midweek no doubt made it a favourable time to play Lee Johnson’s team but producing such a resolute performance at a time when the squad is injury-hit should not be understated.
The pre-Christmas misery post Brentford has evaporated, Norwich are five games unbeaten in all competitions and suddenly a play-off place is only six points out of reach.
If offers do come flooding in for the services of Maddison this month, that is what the board should be focussing on. Supporters are well aware that the Farke-Webber regime is a project that may take far longer to reap rewards, but that shouldn’t mean this season has to be written-off.
For all the flak directed at the scouting network for identifying costly signings who haven’t lived up to their price tag in recent years, Pritchard and Maddison were two they got absolutely right.
While Norwich still have the latter it is imperative for the morale of supporters and Maddison’s teammates in the dressing room too that the club holds onto him - at least until the summer.
With sixth-placed Sheffield United the next visitors to Carrow Road, the prospect of moving within three points of them on Saturday will surely be in the back of Farke’s mind when he selects his team for Stamford Bridge less than 72 hours beforehand.
Given the slump that followed City’s gallant League Cup defeat at Arsenal it won’t be too surprising to see a much-changed line-up for the FA Cup replay either, and against the quality of opposition anything other than a resounding defeat in the Champions’ own back yard can surely be built upon when the league campaign resumes.