Mumba must ensure he's ready after City's show of faith

Bali Mumba of Norwich in action during the FA Cup match at Carrow Road, NorwichPicture by Paul Che

Bali Mumba has signed a new long-term contract with Norwich City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Despite starting just three matches for Norwich City so far, Bali Mumba still managed to make a positive impression during his first season with the Canaries. 

The young full-back has done enough to earn a contract upgrade, as City acknowledge his potential and ensure he feels part of the first-team squad ahead of a Premier League season which could require further patience. It could also provide his big breakthrough. 

Mumba must make sure he’s ready to grasp the opportunity if it arrives because, as things stand, he could be first in line as full-back cover on either side. 

That will depend on the recovery of Sam Byram from his 18 months on the sidelines, as the Canaries attempt to revive a career that was showing so much potential, as Byram kept Jamal Lewis out of Daniel Farke’s team for a spell prior to his initial hamstring injury in February 2020. 

It’s likely that will be a gradual process, easing the 27-year-old back into full contention during pre-season. Yet as things stand it appears fairly clear who are Farke’s first choice options on either side. 

Max Aarons has very much been a Farke favourite at right-back during the last three campaigns and Greece international Dimitris Giannoulis impressed and hinted at top-flight potential as his loan proved successful and was made permanent for around £6million after promotion. 

Yet should any injury issues arise, it would appear that 19-year-old Mumba is the chief candidate to step in on either side at this early stage of pre-season – with over six weeks of the transfer window remaining, it should be stressed. 

More pertinent is the potential interest in Aarons.  

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The England Under-21 regular has been linked with just about every top club in Europe after forging a reputation as one of the most experienced players in his age group, earning a nomination for the prestigious Golden Boy award in 2020. 

From Barcelona actually making enquiries and Roma reportedly seeing a bid rejected, to transfer talk linking Paris Saint-German, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Tottenham and many more, the academy product’s future has created many headlines since his breakthrough as an 18-year-old. 

While Aarons’ development can work as inspiration for Mumba about the potential pathway at City, as a similarly speedy and attack-minded full-back, it also ensure he must be ready and eager for his chance this summer. 

Should one of the big boys stump up the big fee to take Aarons to the top level in the weeks ahead, it is almost without doubt that money would have to be spent to bring in a replacement swiftly. 

Yet the window doesn’t close until after the first three matches of the Premier League campaign. Should that situation move quickly and Byram is still working his way back carefully, Mumba would all of a sudden have a big opportunity. 

Just 18 months ago he was unsure of his future as an U23 player at Sunderland, playing at step three of non-league on loan at Northern Premier League side South Shields, prior to the pandemic forcing an early conclusion at that level. 

Max Aarons of Norwich, Bali Mumba of Norwich and Andrew Omobamidele of Norwich celebrate winning the

Title celebrations for Norwich youngsters, from left, Bali Mumba, Max Aarons and Andrew Omobamidele - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

With a year remaining on his contract with the Black Cats, Norwich reportedly sealed a deal for an initial £350,000 with potential performance-related fees to follow and Mumba subsequently playing regularly in the first team during pre-season and looking bright. 

Having made his Championship debut as a central midfielder at 16 and played alongside players including Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood for England at U18 and U19 levels, the youngster was getting his career moving in the right direction again. 

So when Aarons was away with the England U21s for the League Cup tie at Luton which kicked off the season, he was ready to step in. That may have ended in a 3-1 defeat but from over 1,300 votes on our Man of the Match poll at Pinkun.com, Mumba comfortably came out on top with 54pc. 

His chance didn’t really arrive on the right though, with Aarons continuing his consistency and only missing the 1-1 draw at Preston on Good Friday, as it came two days after international duty. 

Sean Maguire of Preston North End and Bali Mumba of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championshi

Bali Mumba's only league start so far for Norwich was a 1-1 draw at Preston in April - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Having a shot saved and a penalty waved away in the first half had seen Mumba slot in almost seamlessly yet there was a harsh late lesson, as he reacted slowly to the danger posed by Brad Potts after an awkward bounce of the ball and saw a shot deflect past Tim Krul for a late equaliser. 

His other significant opportunity came in November – being brought on at left-back with 22 minutes remaining against promotion rivals Swansea at Carrow Road, where Jacob Sorensen had been providing cover during Xavi Quintilla’s injury. 

Farke needed more attacking urgency on the left and Mumba provided it, with a series of surging runs, one of which finished with a stepover as he cut inside and crossed low to Emi Buendia in the box, who teed up Marco Stiepermann for a late winner. 

It seemed a real opportunity was opening up but an untimely knee injury in training tore that chance away, keeping him out for two months until returning during the opening hour of the 2-0 home win over Coventry in the FA Cup third round. 

With two brief cameos as a substitute in the mix as well, those six appearances and his good work on the training ground have been enough to ensure City have committed to a long-term contract. 

Four-year deals, with the option for a fifth, do not arrive without a firm belief in Mumba’s potential top-flight ability from Farke or sporting director Stuart Webber. 

He may have to remain patient or his big chance could be just around the corner. Either way, he only turns 20 in October so time is on his side if he has to keep grafting and developing at Colney. 

Making sure he is ready to impress when those opportunities arise is the mission, whether that’s on the right or the left. 

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