The best is still to come for Norwich City
Former Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington believes the thrill of the Premier League will be enough to top the current staff’s satisfaction in getting there.
Current manager Paul Lambert saw his yellow charges complete historic back-to-back promotions at Portsmouth on a Monday night that will live long in the memory of all City fans.
It means the Canaries will return to English football’s top table next season after an absence of seven seasons – when Worthington’s City side spent a solitary campaign in what many regard as Europe’s best league.
And although Worthington oversaw a Norwich side that finished the 2003-04 campaign as Division One champions, he felt the experience of taking on – and in one memorable case, beating – the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal was something special.
“I’m delighted for the football club and the supporters, and Michael and Delia,” said Worthington. “I’ve still got so many friends at the football club and I’m delighted for everybody – and it’s great for the county of Norfolk as well.
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“It’s a fantastic feeling, because you’re pitting your wits and your game against some of the best managers and the best players in the country – and doing that week in, week out.
“Promotion was fantastic highlight for me, but that year in the Premiership was something special. I loved every moment, playing Sir Alex, playing Arsene Wenger – you are playing all the big names, seeing how your players reacted to who they were playing against, some of the world’s best players.
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“Paul Lambert has done a wonderful job to get two promotions in successive years, it’s a fantastic achievement and great credit to the players as well.
“Given Joe Royle and Manchester City were the last team to complete successive promotions 11 years ago, it’s something that doesn’t happen all the time, which means all the more for the achievement.”
Worthington, who took charge of Norwich from 2001-06, believes the prospect of the Premier League for most Championship clubs is even more daunting than it was when he was preparing to take it on – although he also feels Blackpool’s efforts this season offer optimism.
“I think the Premier League is ever bigger, ever stronger, more money – it’s certainly more of a force,” added worthington.
“But you look at it, I think Blackpool have shown this year – all right they are getting into a dog fight at the moment – but they had a terrific start with 25 points in the first part of the season.
“So with a lot of hard work and organisation, and I’m sure Paul will be looking to probably bring a few more players in, things can be achieved.”
Having seen Norwich in action several times this season, Worthington is confident the likes of Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt can be as much of a nuisance to the Canaries’ opposition in the top flight as they have been in the two divisions below over the last two seasons.
“Again I look at Blackpool,” said Worthington. “Ian Holloway has done a fantastic job there, brought some players in. But I’d say half the group is from the Championship and his players have come through that. So I think it will be a matter for the mind and really going in and attacking the situation. But they are capable and good players.”
Worthington added: “That gap (between the Championship and Premier League) has been shown year in year out since the Premier League started, where the teams coming up will always have a real fight on their hands to try and stay in the league. And to stay up there beyond that first year can certainly be seen as a big achievement.”
Hoolahan was omitted yet again from the Republic of Ireland’s latest provisional squad yesterday, despite helping City to Premier League promotion. The once-capped midfielder was missing from the 33 names on coach Giovanni Trapattoni’s list for Ireland’s three summer fixtures.
And Northern Ireland boss Worthington admitted he would have Hoolahan in his squad if he ever got the chance.
“There are many players I would love to play for Northern Ireland,” said Worthington. “We haven’t got huge numbers to pick from and Wes has shown at Blackpool and of course Norwich what a fantastic footballer he is. I would love him to be (a Northern Ireland player) but I don’t think it can happen.”