New signing Brellier may hold the key

JONATHAN REDHEAD So here we are again. The long, wet, summer is over and football has returned, although to be honest it never really left us, especially where Norwich City are concerned.

JONATHAN REDHEAD

So here we are again.

The long, wet, summer is over and football has returned, although to be honest it never really left us, especially where Norwich City are concerned.

If last year was painful as Nigel Worthington floundered around the transfer market looking for new additions with cash burning a hole in his back pocket, this year has seen Peter Grant as more of a whirling dervish.


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And at the end of it all there are six new names and two not so new, through the Carrow Road revolving door.

Forget about the somewhat acrimonious departures of Dickson Etuhu and Robert Earnshaw - if they did not want to be in Norfolk then there's no use crying over spilt milk.

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Instead, Canaries fans should get behind the new signings and hope they can deliver after two seasons of pretty sterile, yet inconsistent, campaigns of non-achievement.

But what of the new men? What can they bring to the party?

In just a handful of loan games in January and a few pre-season friendlies David Marshall has already proved he is going to be a top 'keeper, while Matthew Gilks seems set to push him all the way.

No matter who takes up residency between the sticks, it can only help the back four and be an improvement on last season's chopping and changing, although it almost certainly spells the end for another Carrow Road custodian, Paul Gallacher.

At right-back Jon Otsemobor's forward runs have been a revelation after Jurgen Colin's anxiety attacks over the halfway line, and Andy Hughes' willingness did not do enough to compensate for a total lack of positional awareness and a propensity to give the ball away too often.

Whether Otsemobor can defend to a high enough standard had yet to be really tested, but the signs are good.

The return of Darel Russell is an astute move by Grant as the midfielder obviously feels he has something left to prove in a City shirt. The same can be said for Jamie Cureton and if the likes of Russell can provide him with enough opportunities, he will surely find the net on a pretty regular basis.

Jimmy Smith has been unfortunate with his injury, consequently the jury will be out on him for a spell, while the signing of David Strihavka is actually a bit of a no-brainer. Obviously the Czech can score goals, but no-one should be looking at him for a replacement for Earnshaw.

If he takes a while to adapt, then Grant still has Cureton, Chris Brown, Dion Dublin, Chris Martin and a certain Darren Huckerby up his sleeve.

But given that time to settle, Strihavka, who has shown an excellent touch in pre-season, could be a top player. He's not a big, bustling target man as his size would suggest and instead looks to have blistering pace, certainly over the first few yards and looks happier facing goal than with his back to it.

He might not come into his own until the next calendar year, but 'Dave the Striker' who has already got a bit of cult following could be full of goals.

One man who already has a large cult following, particularly in Scotland, is Julien Brellier. For my money, the free signing from Hearts could not only be City's signing of the summer, but the best signing by any Championship club.

Even better than the millions Sheffield United have spent on Billy Sharp and James Beattie. Even better than the cash West Bromwich Albion have splashed on various people. Better than Charlton and Watford's summer acquisitions. Better than them all.

And I'm basing this purely on the 50-odd minutes he played against Vitesse Arnhem.

In under an hour, the Frenchman transformed my ideas on how far City can go this season. Despite not even being fully fit, and still not fully settled in, he was a class apart from any midfielder City have had for years.

His reading of the game was second-to-none. His distribution was calm and precise and he also had an eye and talent for a more ambitious pass. His positional sense allowed the 'goalscoring machine' Adam Drury and Otsemobor to bomb forward with intent in Grant's 4-3-1-2 formation.

But more than anything he added bite to the side. It was only a friendly against a decent Dutch side, but not the way Brellier went about it.

He was determined nobody was going to take the ball past him. On at least one occasion he threw his whole body on the line to stop an opponent getting in a shot. He showed more guts and determination than the now departed Youssef Safri ever did.

It was a refreshing thought to imagine what he could do when fully fit in a game that actually mattered.

Here's a man to build a team around. The only problem I can see with Brellier is keeping him at the club. Apparently, Rangers were sniffing around him last season and I'm sure he'll soon catch the eye of Premier League scouts.

Of course, it's early days and he might turn out not to be all that, but as far as my Norwich City predictions are concerned Brellier holds the key.

t MORE JOY FOR JOSE

Everyone's got an opinion one who will win what in the top flight, so for what it's worth here's how I see it finishing up.

I think the top two will be the same as last year, although Chelsea might just nick the title back, as Manchester United have obviously got more than half an eye on the Champions League.

As exciting as Nani and Anderson might be, I think Jose Mourinho's free captures of Claudio Pizarro and Florent Malouda could bear more fruit.

After spending a shedload this summer, I expect Tottenham Hotspur to mount a huge challenge to break into the top four and I can't split them from Liverpool or Arsenal.

At the bottom, Derby County look woefully short of quality at the moment and look odds-on for the drop, while I think Wigan will struggle again, while Fulham and Middlesbrough need massive improvements to avoid a relegation battle.

Sunderland and Birmingham City look capable of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship.

So I think Chelsea will win and Derby, Wigan and Middlesbrough will go down.

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