City report card: Almost perfect but Buendia still has plenty to prove
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In Championship terms, Emi Buendia’s individual 2020-21 campaign was about as close to perfect as could be hoped.
Were it not for two needless red cards, for picking up naïve second bookings, then it arguably would have been perfect.
Previously the tenacious Argentine’s best goal haul had been eight, as he emerged during the Canaries title triumph of 2018-19. He almost doubled that.
Urged by head coach Daniel Farke to push further forward and try to get behind defenders, combined with a heightened hunger for pulling the trigger, brought a superb 15 goals from 39 Championship games, as a midfielder.
Just six players in the division scored more than the man from Mar del Plata. All of them were strikers.
Even more impressively though, it didn’t hinder his scintillating creative instincts.
Two campaigns ago Buendia registered seven league assists. This season he more than doubled that total, with 16.
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The last player to surpass 15 goals and 15 assists during a Championship season was Matt Ritchie during Bournemouth's surge to promotion in 2014-15, with 15 goals and 17 assists but from 46 games, seven more than Buendia this season.
After a sticky start to proceedings thanks to suspension, injury and transfer window distractions, it didn’t take long for most within the yellow and green bubble to start declaring the former Real Madrid trainee was playing at a lower standard than his skills deserved.
Many had expected his mostly unrewarded creative numbers in the Premier League would be enough to prompt big bids from bigger clubs. But, amid the financial strains of the Covid-19 pandemic, no bids arrived.
It meant City were left with a player too good for the Championship, with plenty of motivation to fuel the fire of his future ambitions, to ensure that one way or another he would be a top-flight player again come the start of 2021-22.
Whether that is with Norwich, or not, remains to be seen but Buendia could have done little more to persuade potential suitors of his class and pure entertainment value.
On the same day that he lifted the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy after being voted Player of the Season by City fans, the 24-year-old was also named the best in the division at the EFL Awards.
With promotion and the title in the bag, the trophy celebrations at Oakwell concluded and many happy memories made amid the end-of-season partying, a chance for rest and relaxation at the end of a gruelling season was soon taken away – for the sweetest of reasons.
Barely a week after the final ball had been kicked and Buendia was making headlines again, after achieving his lifelong ambition of an Argentina call-up, being picked alongside superstars Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Add into the mix the birth of his second son, Giovanni, in mid-March and the pure joy of the last couple of months really starts to hit home.
Now it’s all about the future. The chances of Buendia playing in the Championship again are slim to none but if he is to take his talents to the upper echelons of the game, he has to keep his foot firmly pressed down on the accelerator.
Producing a magic moment on the international stage could seal the deal on the transfer front but whether Buendia begins the Premier League season with City, or one of the big boys, he still has much to prove.
Just one meaningless goal alongside those eight assists during the relegation campaign of 2019-20, combined with a petulant red card and too many angry outbursts, seemingly left other clubs unconvinced he was the full package.
Canaries fans will need no reminding of his calamitous loss of possession less than two minutes into the crunch clash with survival rivals Watford which led to a damaging 2-0 home defeat and being benched by Farke for three games.
That was the previous incarnation of Buendia though. The dominant force of 2020-21 has learned to channel his frustrations more productively and although he did see red twice, both were harsh decisions that owed more to his overenthusiasm than aggression or anger.
The former Getafe attacker has spoken of the need to tweak his defensive tenacity slightly, to avoid such flashpoints and ensure his goal contributions do the talking.
Manage that amid the VAR scrutiny and globally televised hype of the Premier League pressure and Buendia will be playing in European competitions soon enough.
If no one stumps up the required cash before 11pm on Monday, August 30 and he does that in a Norwich shirt then there’s little doubt he could prove the difference in the battle for top-flight establishment.
Whatever the future holds, Buendia will one day be able to look back on the 2020-21 season as something very special though, when he led the Canaries to a superb title triumph and ensured a strange nine months of behind-closed-doors football provided some very welcome joy for supporters having to watch from home.