Top-flight years: Was Johnson exit the catalyst for City relegation?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's 2015-16 campaign turned out to be one of those yo-yo seasons - CHRIS LAKEY takes a look
Football club managers have to make big decisions – but did Alex Neil get it wrong when, on September 1, he allowed Bradley Johnson to leave for Derby County?
The midfielder had played a huge role in getting City promoted to the top flight; his performance in the play-off final win over Middlesbrough majestic. It was all acknowledged with the Player of the Season trophy. He’d already played in City’s opening four games of the new Premier League season, three as a sub, but his exit was a shock.
He later recalled: ““I was sitting at home and I got a phone call from my agent saying that clubs had been bidding for me and there had been a bid accepted. I was thinking ‘really?’. That was a night before deadline day, so I went in and spoke to the manager and everyone else but I think, in all fairness and respect to Alex Neil, it was out of his hands a little bit. It was more a decision the club made as a board about getting good money.” The club got £6m.
Neil had already clashed with striker Lewis Grabban, who was suspended after leaving the club hotel before a Capital One Cup match at Rotherham United, said to be unhappy that Norwich rejecting bids from his former club Bournemouth.
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Grabban got his wish a few months later. Neil cleared out plenty, including Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who was sent out on loan for another season, and Luciano Becchio, finally off-loaded in the January.
Incoming players included Steven Naismith, who joined in January 2016 from Everton for big money. He scored on his debut, a 5-4 home defeat by Liverpool, but it did not prove to be money well spent.
19th - and relegated
It was the second half of the season – after Christmas, when the damage was done. City had won five and drawn five of their first 19 games. But the second half saw only four wins and two draws – with a horrible run of just two points from nine games from January to March.
City were relegated to the Championship on day they beat Watford 4-2 at Carrow Road –Sunderland’s 3-0 win over Everton made that inconsequential.
Player of the season
Three goals in 33 games – his season had ended prematurely because of an injury picked up an injury against Manchester United - until that moment he’d been the only player to feature in every league match. Quality, player, strong and aggressive when he needed to be, but a good passer of the ball too.
The Congolese striker joined City on loan from Dynamo Kiev at the beginning of the season. “He’s a big, strong number nine. He can take the ball in, he’s mobile and he’s a real threat in the box. We’re hoping all of those things come together for him,” said Neil. Mbokani got off the mark in his third appearance off the bench, against Leicester, then in the following game, which was his first start – a 6-2 defeat at Newcastle. He bagged a brace in the win over Watford in May, which was his last appearances for the club, taking his season total to seven.
In March, 2016, Mbokani was caught up in a terrorist attack at Brussels International Airport. He was on his way to DR Congo for international duty.
"We were on the pavement outside the building,” he said. “I was near the taxi rank, my wife was near the buses, some feet from the explosion.
"It was my wife who saved our lives. I wanted to go in earlier, but she said 'let's wait for [my cousin and De Graafschap player] Nathan Kabasele's girlfriend,' who was taking the same flight.
"She told me that she was arriving in a minute or two. We miraculously survived.”
More than 30 people died in attacks at the airport and a metro station.