Ricky van Wolfswinkel increases Norwich City’s international flavour
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It is hard to remember so much being written and said about any Norwich City player in such a short space of time – certainly before he has even kicked a ball for the club.
The eagerly-anticipated arrival of Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel seems to have helped expend all the nervous energy reporters and supporters have been unable to use up during an otherwise tedious fortnight without any club football to watch.
Van Wolfswinkel, who joins the club from Sporting Lisbon on July 1 on a four-year deal for a reported £8.5m, is potentially one of the Canaries’ most exciting signings for years, but there seems to be a dangerous assumption that he is instantly and automatically going to be a roaring success. Let’s at least give the lad a chance to settle in when he turns up.
One thing his capture does illustrate, however, is a continuing shift in City’s recruitment policy, doubtless helped by chief scout Ewan Chester’s huge book of contacts, home and abroad.
It was at Easter weekend last year that the Canaries not only made headlines for a stunning 2-1 away win over Champions League challengers Tottenham Hotspur, but had the soccer statisticians reaching for the record books.
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That Easter Monday victory at White Hart Lane was City’s best result of last season, but was also a gift to the stats men because manager Paul Lambert fielded 11 players all born in England – albeit one of them, Russell Martin, was by then a Scotland international.
It was the first time it had happened in the Premier League since Aston Villa played host to Coventry City on February 27, 1999, with an all-English side. Incidentally, they lost 4-1.
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There was a certain pride - but not in an aggressive, nationalistic sense – in City finishing halfway up the Premier League last season with a squad almost exclusively of home-produced players.
But their horizons have broadened to such an extent that tomorrow, Easter Saturday a year on, when Chris Hughton’s team face Wigan at the DW Stadium, they may have as few as three or four English-born players in the starting eleven, and two of those – Martin and goalkeeper Lee Camp – are no longer eligible to play for the country of their birth.
Hughton inherited a squad last summer which, apart from Canada international striker Simeon Jackson and Spanish defender Daniel Ayala, consisted only of players from the British Isles.
Now there is a much more cosmopolitan look with the addition not only of two foreign players signed from English clubs in Sebastien Bassong and Luciano Becchio, but three imported from overseas in Javier Garrido, Alex Tettey and Kei Kamara, with Van Wolfswinkel on the way.
The United Nations flag could justifiably be flown from the roof of the City Stand, but Hughton is concerned only with talent, not country of origin, and has been linked with further targets on the Continent this week.
He said yesterday: “It really doesn’t matter where someone is from. Firstly it is about the abilities they have. Can they improve the squad we have and, probably more importantly, can they improve the team?
“If you happen to be bringing good characters and nice people along with it, that is a wonderful bonus.
“I have to say it is a very good dressing room. Fortunately for us, every player who has come in has worked within the structure very, very well and has been integrated into the group by a good group of lads.”
City’s ventures into the foreign market have not always been a conspicuous success, but this season’s crop of imports has mostly bucked the trend.
“I think you have to look abroad but for me it is about the right player,” said Hughton.
“Whether it’s a player from within these shores or abroad, it is about indentifying the player, getting what you regard as value for money and, of course, the right player for what we want here.”