Norwich City report card: What’s not to love about the raw brilliance of Buendia?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Replacing the creativity and wizardry of Wes Hoolahan and James Maddison looked a tough task for Norwich City. Then along came a dash of South American magic from Emi Buendia.
Seeing two hugely popular attacking midfielders leave last season left a void in the hearts of Canaries fans, seeing an all-time great and an exciting talent heading for the top both leave within months of each other.
There can be few of a yellow and green persuasion who could possibly have imagined a player involved in a relegation battle in the Spanish second tier was not only about to immediately fill that void but play a wonderful role in a title-winning success.
Add that to the fact that the Argentine star is just 22 years of age and it's no wonder that City fans are already concerned about how long Buendia will remain in Norfolk.
He became so important that Daniel Farke's team didn't manage to win a single league game without their summer signing from Getafe, demonstrated aptly at either end of the season.
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The former Real Madrid trainee started pre-season later than his Canaries team-mates as his campaign with Cultural Leonesa hadn't finished until early June last summer, with the playmaker unable to prevent his loan club being relegated.
Sporting director Stuart Webber had already made his move though and wrapped up a £1.5million deal with Buendia's parent club Getafe, to capture a player with 11 assists and seven goals from 42 games to his name.
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So it wasn't until the final two friendlies, at Luton and Charlton, where supporters got their first glimpse of the former Argentina Under-20 international and it wasn't until late August when Buendia made his debut.
That came at home to Preston, with Carrow Road an uneasy place at 0-0 with 24 minutes remaining, and heading towards a fourth game without victory.
He immediately injected attacking urgency and lifted the mood, thumping a shot that was deflected behind for a corner, before superb finishes from Teemu Pukki and Alex Tettey in the final 10 minutes grabbed a pressure-relieving 2-0 win.
Farke resisted starting his young talent against Leeds and a late cameo with City 3-0 down meant he could do little but the League Cup tie at Cardiff which followed proved a huge night.
Teeing up Dennis Srbeny and Max Aarons during a 3-1 win over Premier League opposition proved to be the first two assists of many - a quite ridiculous 18 of them in all competitions, alongside eight goals, to be precise.
Five days later Buendia and Aarons were played in tandem on the right for the first time, amid the white hot heat of derby day at Portman Road, and although that 1-1 draw was hard fought, the duo's emergence had begun.
That partnership would be disrupted in just five games, when an ankle knock kept the Argentine out for two games around the turn of the year and by a three-game suspension that would teach Buendia a big lesson.
An audacious flick for the winner against Brentford in October really started to get Canaries fans excited about the ball of energy in midfield giving their upwardly mobile team a little something different.
His willingness to battle back - averaging a league high of 4.7 attempted tackles per game - soon ensured the summer signing was one of the first names on the team sheet. The ability to find space, to use both feet, to squeeze a pass through defensive lines and natural inclination to get on the front foot ensured Buendia was a fan favourite by the time he dropped a shoulder and blasted the winner against Swansea at home in March.
It was the sumptuous mid-air back-heel to Pukki in the next game which really had supporters cooing though, so good that the striker was distracted enough to stand on the ball, only to back-heel the on-running Buendia, who nutmegged the keeper to ensure a 3-2 win over Hull.
There was to be a twist though, with a silly red card against QPR as he lost his temper and slid into a tackle, in a game in which he already had one goal and two assists as he dismantled the Rs.
City drew all three of their games without the pocket rocket and the promotion Champagne was left on ice, before returning to help seal the title and cap a wonderful first season in English football, finishing third in the Player of the Season voting.
Learn from that mistake, keep working as hard and continue to produce in such style in the Premier League and Buendia will soon be following Maddison towards the upper echelons of the game.
A team player who injects joy into games, with a smile on his face, a style which the legendary Hoolahan will surely approve of.