Paddy Davitt: Why did it turn sour for Patrick Roberts at Norwich City?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City’s Championship resumption at Middlesbrough means two Canaries’ reunions this weekend. One evokes warm memories. One arguably still leaves both parties cold.
Jonny Howson is a former player-of-the-year loved by fans and fowl alike during a five-year stint that brought sumptuous goals and a key part in an epic promotion season that culminated against his present employers at Wembley in 2015.
The parting may have proved a touch fractious, early in the reign of Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber, but that transitory episode has long since paled when measured against Howson’s service in green and yellow.
The same could not be said of Patrick Roberts. A player who arrived with all the pedigree one associates with a footballing CV that included Celtic and his parent club Manchester City.
The 23-year-old looked just the type of signing required to add a touch of class to Norwich’s roster ahead of their latest Premier League bow. Three top flight substitute appearances later, and a loan spell abruptly cut short, merely had those outside the bubble pondering how a perfect looking match soured so quickly.
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Roberts should have been just the technician Farke enjoys moulding into his attacking armoury. Yet it was questions from the City head coach over his lack of defensive responsibility in those wider areas that proved the precursor to a swift divorce.
A mid-season break allowed Roberts to join the Teessiders, where he has remained despite the change in manager over the summer that brought Neil Warnock to the north-east.
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Yet ahead of this weekend the attacker has made just two appearances this season in the Championship.
There must be a sense of deja vu bubbling.
Boro is the fourth loan club he has tried his luck at, as the chance of making it under Pep Guardiola recedes into the distance. Celtic aside, Roberts has so far failed to extract the most from his undoubted talent. It cannot be every club and every coach he has worked under that is the problem. But neither is it always down to the player.
That much was underlined over this international break with a revealing, reflective interview from Tottenham and England captain Harry Kane. One of the most feared strikers in Europe, with the goal statistics to match, was once a callow youth failing to convince on loan at both Norwich and Leicester City in the second tier.
Injury hindered his ability to convince at Carrow Road but as he himself brutally noted in that recent interview, ‘it was probably the time in my career where it was the hardest - I was 19 and I was thinking ‘if I can’t play for Norwich or for Leicester, even in the Championship at the time, then how I am going to get back and play for Tottenham?’ Quite.
Kane used those bitter experiences to drive him on and when the chance eventually presented itself at his parent club he was ready.
Norwich fared little better with Marcus Edwards. A talent likened to Lionel Messi rather prematurely by then Spurs’ boss Mauricio Pochettino. Edwards played just six minutes of a Championship defeat to Fulham before he returned to sender. Now he is trying to relaunch his career in Portugal after joining Vitoria Guimaraes on a free.
Olly Skipp has shown enough already to suggest City may avoid an unwanted hat-trick in their loan dealings with Tottenham.
But what the cases of Roberts or Kane or Edwards illustrate is the imprecise nature of the loan market, even when clubs hope to remove some of the variables by dealing in Premier League talent.
Perhaps that was a factor in the decision making process in the final days of this most recent transfer window, when City weighed up whether to bring in a centre back and were linked with viable young options at both Arsenal and Manchester City. It might also suggest any similar quest in January will focus on sourcing a player they can call their own.
Much like Howson, who was smuggled away from Leeds to become an adopted son of Norfolk.
That is why there will be plenty of goodwill shown towards the midfielder over and above the objective of bringing three points home on Saturday. Likewise for the hosts towards Burnley loanee and Boro boy Ben Gibson.
Roberts’ possible presence in the home ranks, however, will induce disinterest. At best.