I wrote previously towards the end of last season about the alarming drop off in Norwich City’s form, and the real threat they could be dragged into relegation trouble. In the end, a late season rally saw them finish in a deceptively comfortable 11th place and guaranteed a third season in the top flight. Other than the obvious benefits of staying up, the real boon comes in the form of £8.5m Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, who has finally arrived from Sporting Lisbon. The deal, originally announced in March, was under threat as Norwich flirted coquettishly with the Championship, and his confirmed arrival will be a huge relief for Canaries fans.
Van Wolfswinkel comes already with pedigree, with a good goal-scoring record in Holland and Portugal, as well as two caps for Holland, a team blessed with attacking riches. He can play in a range of roles across the frontline and is a proven finisher. His capture is really an astonishing coup, having been linked in previous years to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United.
The resources taken to complete the deal, their record signing, are testament to their shrewd and steady progression through from a well-publicised 7-1 shellacking at home to Colchester on the first day of the 2009/10 League One season. The transfer policy of ex-boss Paul Lambert and later Hughton was clear; to look to the lower leagues for talented young players available on the cheap. This has sustained in the Premier League with the arrivals of Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass from financial basket-case Leeds United, Anthony Pilkington from Huddersfield Town and Elliott Bennett from Brighton.
But Hughton is now moving on. The players heading out of Carrow Road this summer; Chris Martin, Marc Tierney, Elliott Ward, Simeon Jackson, Korey Smith, won’t recoup the club a lot of money in fees or wages, but it’s a sign of intent if nothing else. These were core members of their League One and Championship teams. Those integral to Norwich’s astonishing double promotion are now surplus to requirements. Thanks and good luck.
But Van Wolfswinkel alone will not transform Norwich into a top half side. As I discussed in my last column on the Canaries, the area they have particularly struggled is in front of goal, with Grant Holt their top scorer last season with eight league goals, and no other forward scoring more than three. The club made a mistake in awarding Holt a bumper new deal after a surprisingly explosive debut season in the top flight, his difficult second season looking more like the type of return initially expected from him. Their lack of goals was initially addressed in January, when the club returned to the ravaged carcass of Ken Bates’ Leeds for one last bite for top-scorer Luciano Becchio, and to the MLS for the loan of Kei Kamara. Kamara looked energetic but lacking in real quality, and Becchio has barely looked that, his talent as a finisher obscured by an apparent lack of mobility.
So it’s no surprise that the club are hotly linked with Celtic’s Gary Hooper to link up with the new Dutch hitman. But Celtic, aware that Hooper is in demand south of the border, are holding out for a whopping fee from his range of suitors. Norwich could easily find themselves being forced to break their transfer record yet again if they want Hooper, having had bids close to £8m turned down in January. Whilst Van Wolfwinskel’s quality allows for such indulgence, Hooper isn’t worth it.
Their third signing of the summer, after capturing previous loanee Javier Garrido on a permanent deal, has just been announced as the bright young starlet Nathan Redmond from Birmingham City. Redmond is pacy and direct, and probably a really decent signing, but it would be a big step up for him if he was to have an immediate impact next season. Snodgrass is tricky and does have quality, but there is little else in the squad which could compliment the class of Van Wolfswinkel. With noises already emerging from the player that his move is primarily to boost his profile ahead of next summer’s World Cup, he may already need to be convinced that the club can match his ambition. Purchases like that of Redmond may be a sound investment in Norwich’s future, but they will do little to advance them now. Are they going to stick or twist?
So Norwich may have to look elsewhere for firepower, and for additional quality throughout the team. But this will require a different range of skills than those they have had to use in the past to acquire new players. Enticing gems from lower league teams is reasonably straight-forward, with clubs often desperate for cash and the allure of the Premier League too bedazzling to turn down for the players. But those of Van Wolkswinkel’s ability and clubs the stature of Sporting Lisbon will not be charmed so easily. Norwich have displayed admirable ambition so far this summer, but how much further are they willing to go?