TELSTAR TALES: Dutch way bearing fruit for City’s young stars
- Credit: Ivo Delahaye
In the final part of our series exploring the relationship between City and Telstar, Connor Southwell speaks to City loans manager Neil Adams about why Dutch football is the perfect destination for young players.
For Norwich City, there’s plenty to admire about Dutch football.
As loans manager and City legend Neil Adams explains, there is a clear strategy behind their approach in sending their young assets to the Netherlands to develop.
Instead of exposing them to the rigours of the lower levels in England, the Eerste Divisie has become a breeding ground for the Canaries loan stars.
Despite the relationship with Telstar being prominent at present with Dan Adshead and Sebastian Soto on loan at Rabobank IJmond Stadion, Adams is keen to stress City have no contractual obligation to fulfil with Andries Jonker’s club.
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“Many people have asked the same question – why the Dutch second division? I think we’ve had seven loans now to the Dutch second division. The primary reason is, if you go and watch Dutch football – and I’ve watched all the teams in Holland now, I know the styles and how they play – it’s very similar to how Daniel wants the players to play here.
“We still have really good links with Dordrecht. They’ve changed some of the senior staff but we have a good relationship still. It’s not solely Telstar – there’s nothing contractually between the clubs and some people have asked me if it’s a condition and we have to provide a player or two per season, but we were adamant that wouldn’t happen.
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“If we tie ourselves to one club financially then we exclude all the other clubs that might be good options for ourselves. We made it clear from the start that this will be a link and it can be as strong a link as possible – but it wouldn’t be anything more than that.”
Todd Cantwell’s success at Fortuna Sittard and subsequent rise at Carrow Road has reaffirmed the belief that this is a path that can bear fruit for those operators who are less physically capable and need to improve their technicality.
City’s relationship with Telstar was conceived when Jonker, former academy boss at Arsenal, rang Adams to inquire about the availability of Charlie Gilmour. The Scot went on to impress for Telstar, leading to the birth of a blossoming relationship.
“I don’t think you can get enough information when you’re looking at potential moves like this. With Andries being at the Arsenal academy, you know he’s football thinking, his ideas, his preferred system of play and how he functions.
“Providing he didn’t go to Telstar and become a long ball team – then you know it’s right. He’s worked at Barcelona and with Louis van Gaal. He knew Charlie from Arsenal and he coached him before so it was quite an easy one.
“It opened up the pathway for Sebastian and Dan – that’s how relationships develop, but you need to leave no stone unturned and do your due diligence because these are your assets and players that could turn into a Ben Godfrey, James Maddison and worth millions. The more information we get the better, we don’t want to just send a player anywhere and cross our fingers.”
Despite the comparisons with Cantwell, Adshead has been exposed to League One football with Rochdale. As a youngster, he played 11 times in the first-team at Spotland - so why didn’t Norwich and Adams feel it was best to place him back into that environment again?
“Purely because we look at the level and try and understand what they need. Dan has played for Rochdale at 15, 16 years old so he had that experience. Dan is quite a tough cookie, when he went over there it was like water off a duck’s back. No issues whatsoever.
“Again, when we knew we wanted Dan to go out on loan because we didn’t want him to play U23s football anymore, I recommended the Eerste Divisie straight away. If you’re comparing it to English football, I would put it at League One. Telstar and Fortuna could hold their own in League One quite comfortably.
“Every player is different. Once you’ve played in league football, it gives the understanding of what you need mentally and physically. With Dan, he’s played in League One at such a young age and he may not understand the complexities of the game, but he knows what’s going on at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon and how ruthless it can be.
“That’s gold dust at that sort of age because you learn so much so quickly. That’s helped Dan come to Norwich, settle in so quickly, play for the 23s and then go out to a very good level in overseas football. I think it’ll be no end of benefit for him.”
After every match, every loan player has to call Adams to analyse and appraise their performance. It was during one of these phone calls that he shocked Cantwell by stating he saw a marked improvement in his maturity.
City are hoping regular football in a technically proficient division will help Soto stake his claim for a place in Daniel Farke’s first-team squad.
“Kieran (Scott) and his scouts saw Soto and got in early and got in first to get these players. I’d never seen him play before he signed and then you take a look. We were lucky to get him, there were a number of clubs who wanted to sign him.
“Straight away we’re looking at where we could go. Then it was pretty universal that we go down this tried and tested route. Once we’d flagged him up to Telstar, we then had many hours of frustration with the legalities of it with the numerous football leagues and solicitors because there were different conditions with non-EU players abroad, we finally got it over the line.
“Sebastian was kicking his heels a bit because he couldn’t train or play in the division. We were delighted when he was a substitute but then we thought ‘now he needs a start’. Within 20 minutes he’d banged two goals, which is terrific. Then it is a case of let’s get him some games under his belt and then see if we’re able to get him back to our team or to a bigger club with the greatest respect to Telstar.
“If we’re recommending players that have done so well in the Dutch second division, Daniel takes the recommendation and takes a look at them. Soto knows that he doesn’t necessarily need to go elsewhere – if he does well enough then Daniel is quite happy to give him a chance. So it’s up to him. If he scores goals galore there then he’ll be knocking on the door.”
City are now at a stage where they have constructive relationships with three Eerste Divisie sides in Fortuna, Dordrecht and Telstar. In Adams, they possess someone who understands how to develop young players from his time as under-18s coach at the club.
The loan system is an incredibly important arm to their development process – spearheaded by Adams, they believe it’s one with immense value.
To date, they’ve had seven players go out on loan to Holland - that is a number that could increase in the years to come given the strength of these relationships.