Cult heroes: How Liverpool star helped symbolise a glorious time for Norwich City
- Credit: Archant © 2011
The latest in our cult heroes series sees Mark Armstrong reflect on how the ‘little Spaniard’ helped rid the club of the ‘little Norwich City’ tag
Having covered Norwich City on and off for the best part of 15 years I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in several promotion campaigns.
The Canaries are one of the most interesting ‘beats’ you could wish for as a reporter. Rarely has a season passed without drama when promotion or relegation has been on the line.
Supporters, and reporters for that matter, can often fall into a trap where the most recent success feels even better than the last one. This is not to take anything away from the wonderful job Daniel Farke did in masterminding promotion on a shoestring budget or even what Alex Neil did in galvanising an under-performing bunch of players in 2015 and taking them on a roller-coaster that would end in Wembley glory.
But, for me, the most memorable promotion was that of the Paul Lambert side of 2010-11. Let’s forget what happened thereafter (you might have noticed it’s not gone great for him since leaving Carrow Road...) because whatever else he has done since, he ridded Norwich City of their inferiority complex.
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‘Little old Norwich City’ was no more. Under his stewardship the Canaries suddenly felt like a big fish in the Championship, despite having found themselves in League One the season before.
Towards the end of the 2010/11 season, Lambert and City were even entrusted with helping develop the talent of a certain Dani Pacheco – once seen as the future of the Spanish national side.
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Having recently won Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, Spain were the nation everyone wanted to copy and when City were able to get the player on loan from Liverpool in March 2011 for the rest of the season it felt like a real coup.
‘We Are Massive’ was all City fans were talking about and to get a mercurial player like Pacheco felt like a big deal.
The then 20-year-old appeared to just appreciate the chance to get some game time, knowing that in the parlous state Liverpool were in at the time there was a chance to show at Carrow Road that he was worthy of a future on Merseyside.
Liverpool was a very different beast compared to the one that seemed destined for the Premier League title this season until the coronavirus pandemic intervened.
Fenway Sports Group (FSG) had recently bought the club amid much acrimony after the disastrous spell of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who almost bankrupted the club.
‘Moneyball’ was the new buzzword where statistics and analytics would be used to determine the success of players and their recruitment strategy.
It offered a clean slate to a player like Pacheco, who had been deprived of first team opportunities under Rafa Benitez after signing from Barcelona in 2007.
When Lambert unleashed Pacheco for his Norwich debut he produced a matador-like performance in the 6-0 win over Scunthorpe. After setting up the first two goals he would later leave the field to a standing ovation and a bond with the Canaries’ faithful had been firmly established.
Pacheco maintained that relationship with supporters from that moment and at a time when players were just starting to use social media, he proved himself adept at showing he cared about Norwich. The little Spaniard helped change the stigma that loan players were merely guns for hire, an idea which firmly took root during Glenn Roeder’s time in charge at Carrow Road.
After the demolition of Scunthorpe, Pacheco would go on to make only another five appearances for City but his cult status was secured in scoring the final goal in the 5-1 win over Ipswich Town at Portman Road. His other goal in Norwich colours came on the final day of the season in the 2-2 draw with Coventry.
The following summer there was much speculation that Pacheco would come back to Norfolk, but he decided to take his chances at establishing himself under Kenny Dalglish at Anfield.
However, the cult of Pacheco lived on... several transfer windows would pass before fans stopped seeing him as the answer to Norwich’s creative issues at one time or another, helped by the fact he would regularly post about the Canaries on Twitter.
After loan spells at Rayo Vallecano and Huesca he would permanently sign for Alcorcan in 2013 before moving on to Real Betis the following summer.
He went on to play for Alaves and Getafe and the 29-year-old is currently plying his trade in the Segunda Division with Malaga.
Perhaps his career might have gone down a different path had he decided to sign for City permanently... or perhaps, in the tradition of the best performers he was wise to leave fans wanting more.
Do you have a Norwich City Cult Hero? let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org