Michael Taylor: Norwich City don’t need a star...they need a proper engine like Bradley Johnson
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I read a very interesting and contestable headline recently: “Farke must build a team around his star midfielders”.
It’s irrefutable in a particular context but in my mind, it’s not accurate.
Under no circumstances will this team promote on the basis of Alex Pritchard and James Madison.... instead Daniel Farke must build his team around core midfield players and supplement that spine with ‘stars’.
But as my main theme will almost always revolve around central midfield, I shall address my opinion a little later.
Farke has a decent defensive platform but without Alex Tettey it is woefully exposed by a lack of protection from midfield.
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Ironically, it is Christoph Zimmerman (the least accomplished) that inspires me, he is flawed but playing at his ceiling at a club of this stature, yet he has the charisma to carry those around him. For Timm Klose and Grant Hanley, City is a stepping stone, their abilities are overestimated and no doubt they could easily move on in the future.
With Angus Gunn we have an outstanding goalkeeper but the full back positions are problematic.
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If you’ll allow me some contentious views, I’ll justify why I am not the biggest fan of Ivo Pinto; Russell Martin (in his prime) was a far more tenacious defender and when his performances matched his spirit he was an excellent captain and let us not forget he scored more than his share for a defender.
Even more surprising, I’ll suggest that, effectively, a painfully unmotivated Steven Whittaker could pass with either foot over great range and in combination with Nathan Redmond, his assists tally was exceptional at this level. He was a technically sound and intelligent player that could beat an opposition full back with skill and had a technically exceptional shot.
Whilst Martin and Whittaker’s qualities shone in the Championship I fail to recognise how Pinto has the same effect as either?
He’s certainly fast and direct with an infectious personality, but I am afraid those previous comparisons are beyond repute.
And then on the left hand side we have both Marco Stiepermanm and James Husband and again, these two players are a long, long way away from the performances of Adam Drury, potentially even Simon Lappin. Our current full backs are a major failing in this squad, and their defensive susceptibility is emphasised by the formations employed by Farke.
In attack, the competition for Nelson Oliveria is woeful. Cameron Jerome and Steven Naismith have offered no potency for two or three seasons.
It is sad that we are burdened by their wages and particularly with Jerome, the formation hasn’t suited his strengths since the last promotion season (his only successful season in yellow and green).
But that, staggeringly, is all we have.
There is no variety in the forward line, no pace of a Darren Eadie, Darren Huckerby or Simeon Jackson, no bullish power of a Grant Holt or Leroy Lita or Leon Mackenzie, no clinical finisher like Chris Martin, no poaching ability of Jamie Cureton, Mark Robins or Robert Earnshaw.
In Oliveria we have a superb technical player, but tactically he is one that drops too deep so that he is involved in play, occupying the exact same space that the ‘star midfielders’ prefer to utilise. Therefore I would contest he isn’t actually the ideal striker to complement Pritchard or Maddison, certainly not Murphy, and if we are to best utilise his attacking qualities I’d suggest more tweaks are necessary from Farke.
These guys can work together consistently but it may mean something surprising like playing Pritchard and Maddison in more involved wide midfield roles as supposed to supporting striker births.
Oliveria needs a player running beyond him, which Maddison and Pritchard lack the pace to do. After all, it is about the team balance and effect, not necessarily where two individuals are at their personal brilliant best. Remind yourself of just how different Holt, Wes Hoolahan and Jackson (or Martin) were in style. Our current three don’t have that diversity.
And so to Murphy. Alas, he is the most saleable of our assets. Homegrown and passionate, his effect on the wing is negligible yet he isn’t at the standard of the other attacking three to compete centrally. It is essential his pace is replaced, but when you consider that Nathan Redmond cost only 2-3 million from Birmingham, I believe that if media speculation about Murphy has any truth, he is the player we should cash-in on.
If we could only turn back the clock, I would spend every last penny on Bradley Johnson. And this is where I come full circle and contest building a team around stars. You don’t. You build a team around a player like he was for that season. Much like Huddersfield did with Aaron Mooy.
And thus the enigma of Alex Tettey. Tettey cannot be a staple for a season. His ability is incontestable but his body has not been able to handle this league ever since he’s been here. Therefore it is absolute lunacy that management, fans and even media emphasise his importance to this team. Everyone misses the elephant in the room. It is not Tettey as an individual player, it is his dominance as a generic player; his style, his position, his physique and his tenacity. But Tettey has only ever offered these qualities for 20 games a season. And he rarely scores and he barely passes. Which leads me back to Bradley Johnson, Gary Holt or Jeremy Goss. Imagine the potential from the snippets you’ve seen from Tom Trybull with any of those players enforcing a battle beside him.
I thought September was the bare minimum, the stabilising period where Farke found out about the Championship. I thought we’d leap forward from there... and the way to do it was with Pritchard’s return, some tactical tweaks, but mainly with a central midfield unit that offered just a little bit more than the stability that Tettey brought back. Tettey is the squad backup to the X-Factor missing since Johnson’s climatic season.
If we aren’t successful this season then there will be an exodus and a financial blackhole.
We will be staring League One or Championship monotony in the face until a Paul Lambert like miracle next comes along.
It is therefore absolutely vital that assets are freed up to replace Tettey with a replacement that can play 35+ games a season and do just that little bit more. So sell Murphy (or Pinto), be rid of the wages of Jerome and Naismith, build around the charisma of Zimmerman, the captaincy of Klose, the immediate pinpoint turnover that comes from Trybull’s passing, from the calm feet and competent hands of Gunn, from the emotional brilliance of Oliveria to the reliable and extra-ordinary talents of Maddison and Pritchard.
Have faith, there is always one team that surges after Christmas and it should be City. But unless we build around a dominant central midfielder that plays 35+ games a season, for 90 minutes (less the occasional yellow and red cards), a player who wins every tackle, every header, scores 10 or more from midfield, passes just a little more, runs further and harder and has greater stamina than anyone else in the team..... then it will all be for nothing. We once needed Huckerby at Christmas. Right now, we need a new Bradley Johnson.
Then we will be very, very close at the end of the season.... but without him we are staring mediocrity in the face. Build around a dominant, charismatic central midfield pairing, not around the star midfielders. They supplement. OTBC!