Premier League is light years away from what Robert Fleck used to know
The Premier League was in its infancy when Robert Fleck was involved in one of its very first big money moves.
After 4� years with Norwich City, bringing 66 goals in 181 first team games, the Scotland international striker joined Chelsea in a �2.1m eve-of-season transfer in August 1992.
Mention now that it was all nearly 20 years ago and you get a sharp intake of breath, so quickly does the time seem to have flown by.
But while Fleck’s move to Stamford Bridge did not bring the success he might have hoped for – four goals in 48 first team appearances and loan spells at Bolton and Bristol City before he returned to Norwich in a �750,000 deal three years later – the 46-year-old does not look ruefully back at what might have been.
As two of his former clubs prepare to meet in tomorrow’s eagerly-awaited top-flight fixture at Carrow Road, he insists his time with the Londoners was not wasted.
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“I loved it. I always say I have no regrets about going there,” said Fleck. “Chelsea was my first choice. I spoke to Terry Venables at Tottenham the night before I signed but I knew that conversation was a waste of time because I wanted to sign for Chelsea.”
Fleck was signed by Blues manager Ian Porterfield, but was unable to play when his new club visited Norwich in only the second game of the season. A clause in the transfer deal left him watching from the stands as City won 2-1 with his replacement, new signing Mark Robins, scoring his third goal in two games.
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Fleck was in the side a few weeks later when Mike Walker’s Canaries played the return fixture and completed the double with a 3-2 success.
Goals in victories at Aston Villa and Everton provided some reward but he lost his place before Porterfield’s sacking in February 1993, which paved the way for a brief spell under caretaker boss David Webb, followed by the arrival of player-manager Glenn Hoddle, who used the Scot less than sparingly in the next two seasons.
However, he insists: “There are no bad memories. I have a few thoughts on a lot of things that happened and the manager but that’s for other people to talk about. It’s all in the past now.”
Fleck returned to Norwich in 1995 for a further 118 games and 18 goals before wrapping up his professional career with Reading.
The domestic football scene now inhabited by his two former clubs is a very different one to that of 1992, he admits.
“The first season I went to Chelsea was the start of the Premier League. It was beginning to change then but it’s escalated at a phenomenal pace with the Sky money and the overseas owners and players,” he said.
“That’s why it’s lovely that Norwich still have City supporters running the club. It’s quite rare nowadays.”
Since the English football revolution of the 1990s, Chelsea have celebrated three Premier League titles, five FA Cup wins, three League Cup wins and appeared in two European finals.
“With the success they have had over the past 10 to 12 years, they’re now going through a bit of a transitional phase and they’ve got a younger man in to do the job in Andre Villas-Boas,” said Fleck.
“He has to set his stall out on how he wants to do things and it might take him a year or two. But they’re still in the Champions League and they will be again next season, I’m sure.
“Chelsea are still a very good team with a lot of world-class players. Fernando Torres is starting to hit a bit of form – it will come, he will definitely score goals.
“The manager will take it personally that they’re not winning more games but I’m sure in a year or two they will be back to former glories.”
Meanwhile, former player of the season Fleck believes City’s current position of ninth in the Premier League table under fellow Scot Paul Lambert is nothing short of “absolutely fantastic”.
He said: “I think everybody must be very happy with the position they are in and I can’t imagine any Norwich fans are complaining at the moment.
“I saw the Sunderland and Tottenham home games – two completely different games. The Sunderland game they deserved to win, while against Tottenham the two teams were even for the first 20 minutes but after that it became more one-sided.
“But they weren’t out of their depth the way they played at Manchester United or Liverpool and they gave Chelsea as good as they got at Stamford Bridge.
“Arsenal and Tottenham were just the better teams on the day, but in three or four games against the bigger teams they have been fantastic.
“So they will go into the Chelsea game with no fear and the way they played at their place will certainly give them confidence.”
Fleck, who has been working as a teaching assistant for nearly four years at Parkside School, Norwich, has no current involvement in football. After spells managing Gorleston and Diss Town and scouting for City, it is all quiet on Saturday afternoons. It has its consolations.
“It makes for quite leisurely weekends,” he said.