Norwich City’s trip to the sunshine is the right call

Russell Martin and Grant Holt celebrate after Norwich City's stirring 1-0 early season Premier Leagu

Russell Martin and Grant Holt celebrate after Norwich City's stirring 1-0 early season Premier League win over Arsenal. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

News of Norwich City’s four-day warm weather training expedition to Abu Dhabi produced a predictably polarised response.

For those who choose to look less favourably on Chris Hughton’s squad departing for the Emirates on the back of no Premier League win in nine games and an embarrassing FA Cup defeat which helped create such a window of opportunity let me offer an alternative view.

If the Canaries return to top flight action and brush Everton aside at Carrow Road later this month, City’s mini break will have proved an inspired decision and less the holiday jaunt it has been labelled in certain critical quarters.

You can draw a parallel here with how vibrantly Norwich performed earlier this season following a similar fortnight’s hiatus sparked by an international pause in the calendar, when Arsenal were dismissed under the lights at home. Norwich were collectively superb that October evening as they overwhelmed the Gunners with a display laced with high energy, high tempo pressing. Arsenal enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but Hughton’s side performed with an impressively mature unity and sense of purpose.

In hindsight it was a breakthrough moment; the origin of that club record unbeaten Premier League run. If a sunshine break triggers the same recuperative effect, Everton will have to play extremely well to leave Norfolk with anything to show for their efforts. But this isn’t solely about the Toffees.

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Time spent away from Norwich’s current climate can only reap a net benefit. City have the weather and the top class facilities to train unencumbered by the cold and the freezing temperatures, the opportunity to fully integrate new players like Luciano Becchio and Kei Kamara into a tight-knit group and for Hughton and his coaching staff to re-focus the sights on just what matters between now and May.

Supporters will rightfully quantify the success of such a trip in terms of Premier League results. But one should not underestimate the value of a change of scene, a different environment. City’s squad is not the only Premier League outfit who have headed to that part of the world this week. Swansea, Reading, QPR, West Ham and Sunderland have all opted for training camps in the Emirates. Last month a number of Germany’s Bundesliga clubs used the UAE for warm weather training during their own domestic mid-winter break.

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English football continues to swim against the prevailing tide on that particular issue. Given the sacrosanct nature of Christmas holiday action ingrained within our own football psyche, it seems a non starter the Premier League will emulate their continental cousins any time soon.

What we have instead is a shutdown by stealth for a large swathe of the top flight not involved in European or FA Cup action over the coming days. That is the nature of modern football. The stakes are so astronomically high, clubs will look for any edge to obtain a competitive advantage.

British Cycling’s guru, Sir Dave Brailsford, always talks about ‘marginal gains’ behind his sport’s sustained excellence; a theory Swansea’s manager Michael Laudrup would seem to subscribe given his reasoning for taking the Welsh club to the same part of the world as the Canaries.

“The players need to be in different surroundings and train in shorts in 22 or 23 degrees, instead of two or three degrees,” said the Dane. “It makes a difference; it does not give you much physically, but it does mentally.”

You can understand why City’s relative flatline since the turn of the year may have resulted in the odd raised eyebrow or two from a section of supporters, but view Abu Dhabi through future potential benefits, not as a reward for mediocrity.

Hughton is a shrewd operator. He called it right after Fulham when he said the time for definitive judgements is at the end of the season – the yardstick to apply is whether City have retained their cherished Premier League status. If a trip to the Emirates has the desired impact it will be an astute call, and Hughton has got more of these big decisions right so far. City’s relative success at such an advanced stage of the season is still to be looking downwards to a clutch of clubs rather than up at the vast majority of the division.

Norwich’s margin for error may lessen with each winless week, but the Canaries remain in an enviable position. If swapping shivering temperatures for sunshine is what it takes to get over that line, it is a price well worth paying.

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