The truth has been stranger than fiction

David Cuffley If TV scriptwriters working on a football drama had crammed as much action into one episode as we have witnessed at Carrow Road over the past week, they would be accused of making it too far-fetched.

David Cuffley

If TV scriptwriters working on a football drama had crammed as much action into one episode as we have witnessed at Carrow Road over the past week, they would be accused of making it too far-fetched.

An excruciating FA Cup defeat in a half-empty stadium at the hands of a team that had not won for 18 matches, noisy protests from fans in the street outside, the dramatic sacking of a manager who had pulled off a remarkable rescue act less than a year earlier, a player almost failing to make kick-off because of breathing problems, a sudden SOS to an old favourite and, now, the call to support your local Sheriff at dodgy City . . . all rounded off by special events to mark the visit of some of the club's heroes of yesteryear.

The Manageress was never as good as this on a Sunday night, despite the presence of Cherie Lunghi at the boardroom table, or even on it.


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But the most extraordinary development of the week was not the hostility of the "angry mob", rather melodramatically portrayed as such in some quarters, nor yet the sudden departure of the third different Norwich City boss in little more than two years, but the attempt to give one of them his old job back.

If anyone had suggested six months ago that Nigel Worthington would be offered the chance to manage the Canaries again before another season was out, the men in white coats - and I don't mean the City stewards in their 1970s attire - would have been waiting round the corner, ready to spring into action.

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Yet, truth being stranger than fiction, that certainly appears to have been Plan A for the City board some time between Glenn Roeder's dismissal Wednesday lunchtime and the issuing of a "hands off" statement by the Irish FA on their website the following night.

It read: "On Thursday evening the Irish FA turned down a request from Norwich City FC to speak to the Northern Ireland manager (Nigel Worthington) with regards to their vacant managerial position.

"Nigel is currently making preparations for the up and coming (sic) World Cup qualifiers and is fully focused and committed to his job as the Northern Ireland international manager."

City chief executive Neil Doncaster was at pains to point out yesterday that although they had contacted the Irish FA on an informal basis, there had been no official approach.

He also said: "I do think it's important to refute an accusation that we made a formal approach for anyone when that has not happened."

Asked whether he had personally spoken to Worthington, he said: "I think to talk about who we're talking to would be wrong."

But whatever constitutes a formal or informal approach, national football associations do not put out statements on their own website unless they feel a potential suitor means business.

And though, at first glance, it may seem incredible for the Canaries to consider re-appointing a manager they sent packing with a �600,000 pay-off little more than two years ago, even on a short-term basis, it is just possible to see why they might have been thinking along those lines.

For a start, Worthington was comfortably the most successful City manager since Mike Walker resigned 15 years ago this month.

Of the last 10 managerial appointments by the Canaries, Worthington's was the only one to last more than two years. For the first three and a half years, at least, he did a very good job and secured the club's first trophy for 18 years.

On Doncaster's assertion that "any manager who has had success in the Championship has to be among the candidates", he qualifies.

City need to make a fairly swift appointment and Worthington still lives in Norfolk, while one would not imagine the Northern Ireland job ties him up on a day-to-day basis, with international fixtures very often months apart.

He knows all the key figures at Carrow Road, had a good working relationship with the board and the staff, and knows the few senior staff left at Colney since this week's departure of Roeder, Paul Stephenson and Adam Sadler and, before that, the exit of Lee Clark.

The one remaining Newcastle connection, goalkeeping coach Tommy Wright, was also a former international team-mate of Worthington.

Worthington also knows a number of City's senior players. He signed Adam Drury, Gary Doherty and Lee Croft, had Darel Russell in his squad for two and a half seasons before selling him to Stoke and he works with Sammy Clingan, a player he rates very highly, at international level.

So, if they wished, the board could make out a case, in the current circumstances, for bringing back their former manager.

But the arguments against such a move appear to be much more powerful.

After deciding in October 2006, however reluctantly, that Worthington's time was up and paying hefty compensation, it would surely be an indictment of the board's own judgment to bring him back now.

They cannot surely have forgotten the dreadful atmosphere that persisted for much of his final year and a bit in charge, the difficult annual meeting in 2005 - though not as hostile as the most recent one - the protests, the Worthy Out campaign, the public meeting at St Andrew's Hall, the comment about "true supporters", the ultimatum after the Plymouth game . . .

After the City board gave the fans what they wanted this week - or 75 per cent of them, to judge from our website polls, for the rest do not appear to have a voice - by sacking Roeder, reappointing Worthington would only split supporters down the middle again.

Yes, there have been examples of managers enjoying a successful return to their former clubs - Harry Redknapp's second spell at Portsmouth being a prime example when he saved them from relegation, then last season won the FA Cup. But the past experience of most clubs, Norwich included, tells us that you cannot turn the clock back.

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