Whittaker will ‘always be thankful’ for his roller-coaster ride at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Steven Whittaker holds no bitterness about the way his Norwich City career came to a close - as he weighs up his next move following the end of his time with Hibs.
The full-back, who will turn 36 next month, was alongside John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett and Seb Bassong among the group of seven senior players released by the Canaries following the arrival of sporting director Stuart Webber in April 2017, as costs were cut following a failure to bounce back to the Premier League. Whittaker had made 106 appearances for the Canaries since signing on a free from Rangers in 2012 but just 15 of those were in his final season.
“I think it was time for a bit of change, you could see the direction the club wanted to go but I have not got any issues,” said the former Scotland international. “I have not played for lots of clubs in my career, I’ve only played for three, I have always been, if a manager doesn’t want to pick you, doesn’t want to play you, it is down to the individuals, it is down to the player. So I have no qualms with the manager wanting to play some other guy ahead of me.
“I only look at myself, I don’t look at anyone else. If my time was up and I wasn’t playing regular football then that’s absolutely fine and we’ll move on. But I will always look with fondness on my time with Norwich for sure.”
Hibs announced that Whittaker’s contract was not being renewed on Tuesday, after 69 appearances during his second spell with the Edinburgh club, with sporting director Graeme Mathie hailing their academy product as “a real role model”.
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He’s not hanging up his boots just yet though, adding: “The body is still feeling okay so if I don’t have too much time off hopefully I can still go and play somewhere and at the kind of age I am at now it is more year by year. So if I can play for another year, see where I’m at and if I feel like the time is right, then retirement might not be too far away.
“I will probably go down the coaching, possibly management, route at some stage. I have been doing all my badges, my (Uefa) A Licence, I have been doing an applied management course at university. I just finished that in March and I have only got to do my assessment.”
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When the Scotland defender arrived on a free transfer in 2012, after the financial implosion of Rangers, he had to be patient. It wasn’t until the end of October that he got his chance, with Russell Martin still City’s first choice at right-back during the early days of Chris Hughton’s reign.
He actually won his first five Carrow Road games though, including a win over Manchester United, playing a key role in a 10-game unbeaten run in the top flight - only for a month out with a hip injury to curtail the Scot’s progress and keep him on the fringes as the Canaries eventually finished 11th.
He was in and out of the team during 2013-14 as Hughton went and City went down under Neil Adams but was a key part of bouncing back at the first attempt, teeing up Nathan Redmond to conclude the brilliant team goal which sealed the 2-0 play-off final victory over Middlesbrough in 2015.
However, eight league appearances during 2015-16 brought more frustration, finishing the season behind Ivo Pinto in the pecking order but signing a new one-year contract following relegation, with the option for a further year.
That option wouldn’t be taken up though as City cut costs under new sporting director Stuart Webber in 2017, after making 12 appearances during a season that saw Neil depart amid a disappointing campaign.
“I always felt like when I got the opportunities to play I did myself justice,” reflects Whittaker. “I was in and out of the team at times through different stages, but I was always committed and always gave 100 percent. The times I did get on the pitch I enjoyed it and feel like we did well as a club and a team.
“It was a bit of a roller-coaster, up and down through the Premier League and the Championship, but I can’t speak highly enough of my times there and the club itself. I really enjoyed my time.
“I played more games in the Championship and that was probably because we were a top team in the division and we got to attack a lot and that was probably what my game was, that was my strength. I played for Rangers and it was all about attacking and breaking teams down so that sort of became more natural to me.
“As a youngster I was more of a midfielder and that, getting forward and joining in, was always a strength of mine. Then obviously being in the Premier League you are on the other side of it when you are probably defending a lot more than what you maybe want to, and that is maybe why I didn’t play as much as I would have liked in that scenario.”
Both of Whittaker’s children were born in Norfolk and he won 16 of his 31 caps for Scotland while with the Canaries, which followed on from a trophy-laden spell at Rangers, winning the Scottish title three times and both the Scottish Cup and League Cup twice.
“I really enjoyed it, I think it was great city, a great club, a really friendly club,” he added. “I think the biggest change for me was being at Rangers and the intensity that you come under and the scrutiny you come under there from being obviously one of the top teams in Scotland, to going to Norwich.
“Don’t get me wrong, having that success at Rangers, but there were fewer people on your back and you got to relax and play your football a little bit more. I really enjoyed that.
“I was just delighted at the level the club was playing at and the opportunities I got to go and play in the Premier League against the best players in the world was something I will always be thankful to the club for giving me that chance.”
Whittaker is also pleased to see two fellow Scots still playing important roles at City, in Kenny McLean and Grant Hanley.
“They’re both very good players,” he continued. “Kenny had been a revelation up here for Aberdeen. One of the top players in the division, and thoroughly deserved to go and play at a higher level and glad to see he’s flourishing down there for Norwich.
“It’s good to see the Scottish boys doing well at that level, of course, and Grant has been down there for a while now. He has been brought up in the English game with Blackburn and stuff so his name’s been around a lot more. Again, I played with him for Scotland and he was really under-rated.
“I thought he was really good - him and Russell (Martin) at the back were a solid partnership for us, I thought they were very good, so again it was good to see him doing well at that level, definitely.”
- We reviewed the 2015 play-off final in episode eight of Pink Un Classics, which can be watched at the top of this article