Chris Goreham: Evolution of City's midfield will be feature of summer
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When Kenny McLean declared himself the Mayor of Norwich we all laughed.
It turns out he actually meant it. Or at least he was plotting to become the Sheriff of the City midfield.
In the last week he’s driven three more rivals out of town. Alex Tettey, Mario Vrancic and Oliver Skipp have joined a growing band of midfield marshals to have left the club since McLean’s victory speech on the City Hall balcony.
Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull haven’t been able to show their faces at Carrow Road for some time and there was that Amadou fella who came and went rather quickly in the Premier League. No wonder Jacob Sorensen decided to get out of Mayor McLean’s way and pretend to be a left back for a few months.
Suddenly, having been stacked with a wealth of midfield options, Daniel Farke finds himself with McLean as almost the last man standing. It’s going to be fascinating to see how that particular area of the team evolves in preparation for another crack at the big time.
If you think that comparing the Championship to the Wild West is going too far, have another look at the celebration pictures from the weekend.
McLean and Skipp were on crutches as the trophy was handed over at a soggy Oakwell. Teemu Pukki and Ben Gibson had those protective boots on while Christoph Zimmermann and Lukas Rupp compared their wounds from the season just gone. Even Grant Hanley was hobbling. That scene illustrated the physical toll of gaining 97 points from 46 Championship matches squeezed into eight months.
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One can only hope that McLean’s injury, suffered during the second half of the draw at Barnsley, isn’t as serious as it looked. His performances since returning to the starting line-up in February have been superb. Others have written more headlines and been heaped with higher praise but few in the City squad have matched his consistency.
Farke will want McLean in his Premier League midfield in August.
It’s sad that neither Alex Tettey nor Mario Vrancic will be alongside him but football moves on at a fierce pace. There is a perception that Farke’s two Championship titles have been achieved with basically the same set of players. It’s not quite true.
Tim Krul, Max Aarons, Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki have shone in both campaigns but the starting line-up has evolved without anyone really noticing. New signings like Ben Gibson, Dimitris Giannoulis, Skipp and Kieran Dowell have all played vital roles. Hanley and Todd Cantwell were not regular starters two seasons ago but were superb this time. Some of the stars of the 2019 triumph like Marco Stiepermann, Onel Hernandez and Zimmermann were part of the supporting cast two years on.
Does that mean that Norwich City have a better chance of staying up this time? We all hope so but much will depend on how the summer squad surgery goes.
For now, we mustn’t forget to bask in the glory of what has been a stunning season.
Tettey wasn’t the only person with a yellow and green heart to shed a tear or two at the weekend. Nine years of tremendous service to the club finally came to an end.
He was still wearing his shirt with the number 27 on the back long after the final whistle. Perhaps removing it would have meant admitting that he was no longer a Canary.
Signed by Chris Hughton in 2012 he was also a first team regular under Neil Adams, Alex Neil and Daniel Farke. There is no greater tribute. All of those managers with their different styles and the variety of challenges and circumstances they faced all saw his presence as key.
It took until this season and the arrival of Skipp for someone to actually be able to keep Tettey out of the team.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that the Covid restrictions will deprive us of a proper celebration this year. I’m not sure Tettey could cope with another emotional farewell. Plus you never know what Mayor McLean is going to promise next.
The final match of the season brought a new commentary challenge. I was lucky enough to be joined by a member of the current Norwich City squad for the first time.
The Canaries kindly agreed to let us borrow defender Ben Gibson on a one-match loan. The fact the Championship trophy was being presented at Oakwell meant the entire squad made the trip, even those who were injured.
After a long season Gibson could have been forgiven for deciding to watch the match in peace but he accepted the invitation of an afternoon on the mic.
He took to it just as comfortably as he has done to playing in the heart of the City defence. The level of insight and information he was prepared to share from within the dressing room was fascinating.
We like to consider ourselves as decent hosts to our guests on BBC Radio Norfolk and there were a few things I was worried about.
Firstly, getting him into position in the tight old wooden Press Box at Oakwell. Having a player worth several million pounds tripping over one of our wires and aggravating his ankle injury would not have looked good.
Then there was the risk of committing an on-air faux pas. How much was it ok to talk-up the performances of young Andrew Omobamidele given that he had taken Gibson’s place in the team? What if one of the players made a terrible mistake or got sent off?
I had also promised myself that I wouldn’t mention the play-off final of 2015 given that he had been in the Middlesbrough team beaten by City that day.
In the end there was no need to worry. Although I am now concerned about whether it was ok to say that I’d like to do it with him again sometime. Clearly, he’d much rather be on the pitch.
It was also the first time we’ve let a co-commentator leave five minutes before the end of the game. He had a trophy to go and collect on the pitch which felt like a good enough excuse to me.