Not quite crisis management – but Norwich City need everyone on side
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Speaking as a journalist, it was a good story – but not the sort Chris Hughton wanted or needed to see when he woke up Thursday morning with two days to prepare for the latest biggest game of his Carrow Road tenure.
There was probably more than a little help from Luciano Becchio’s agent with that tabloid interview published on Thursday morning, no doubt with half an eye on Thursday’s Football League loan window deadline at 5pm – something that passed with little consequence for City or Becchio.
No surprises there, given the Canaries’ dwindling senior options and the fact full fitness seems to be going out of fashion at Colney quicker than black football boots.
But it still caused an issue and it perpetuated a narrative that is struggling to be shaken off.
When things aren’t going well, these niggly stories have a habit of not only rearing their ugly head – but they also have more of an impact than when the big stuff is going well; eg, win gathering.
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For the length of time Becchio has been at City, it is a surprise he hasn’t been given more opportunities. Yet the theme of his inaction has been pretty consistent in that time.
During the second half of last season it was Kei Kamara getting starts ahead of the former Leeds hitman – so how surprising is it that two forwards costing more than £15m between them and a third costing a bucketload in wages, all brought in during the summer, are now also ahead of Becchio?
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If – and no one should actually want this to happen – another striker joins Ricky van Wolfswinkel on the sidelines, then Becchio’s turn may arrive.
But for now, Hughton continues to feel he has the options he needs – ahead of Becchio.
In fact, Hughton has probably been asked about Becchio far more than most of the people asking about him have seen him play – and the City boss has been pretty honest each time. He’s sticking to his pecking order, and that’s it.
But as Becchio’s abilities continue to grow with each game he misses, that’s possibly where the real underlying issue starts. And why the continuing narrative hangs around.
Hughton has a core of players he likes to rely on. There is competition, but there is also a tangible order to how he likes to use his squad.
Clearly it’s not a particularly unusual way of dealing with a squad – but it’s not the only way either.
Four of City’s current long-term injuries are probably members of a reasonably defined first XI that you would expect Hughton to look to – Van Wolfswinkel, Alex Tettey, Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington.
Likewise when things are not going particularly well on the pitch, it leaves the toughest of balances.
Do you keep faith in the players you’ve earmarked as part of your core? Even if they’re not delivering the result or performances – sometimes both.
Or do you mix it up – at which point, how much belief and form are those players carrying when they are brought in from a temporary chill on the sidelines?
Hughton is a renowned coach. So many players in the game say as much – and they don’t do it lightly.
But over the coming weeks, it’s only his management skills that can get City out of their current malaise.