Watching England toil will have done little to lift spirits of Norwich City fans
06:30 15 October 2014
It’s no coincidence that when players are called up to represent their country it is usually described as international duty.
Will Bassong always be an enigma?
The confirmation of Sebastien Bassong’s loan move to Watford is the latest chapter in what must be one of the most enigmatic Norwich City careers of all time.
With a trip to Fulham on Saturday it is worth remembering that Chris Hughton signed Bassong from Tottenham just a few days after the debacle that was his first match as the Canaries manager, a 5-0 defeat at Craven Cottage.
Bassong’s performances during that season rightly resulted in the Cameroon international winning the Player of the Season award.
His importance was underlined by the fact that he only missed four Premier League games that season and in three of those Norwich conceded five goals, once in that Fulham game and twice to Liverpool and Luis Suarez.
In the summer of 2013 Bassong, as one of the first names on the team sheet, was made team captain by Hughton and yet last season he seemed a totally different player.
Only every so often did Carrow Road get a glimpse of the defender who had been such a rock the previous year. Niggly injuries, sloppy mistakes and arguments with team mates on the pitch happened with worrying regularity.
By the time Norwich returned to Craven Cottage last April, Neil Adams was about to take charge of City for the first time. Bassong’s stock had fallen so significantly that he was not even on the substitutes’ bench that day and completely disappeared from view while the Premier League trapdoor opened.
The old adage that form is temporary and class is permanent would suggest that perhaps attitude might have been a big factor in Adams’ reluctance to turn to a player of such obvious pedigree in his hour of need.
Nobody has ever said so publicly, but the fact Bassong started pre-season this time training with the club’s under-21 squad does make you wonder.
So another trip to Fulham this weekend will mark the start of the next stage in the complicated relationship between Sebastien Bassong and Norwich City. The big defender, in all likelihood, will be making his Watford debut at Sheffield Wednesday.
The Canaries have either furnished one of their promotion rivals with a very talented defender for the next three months or left them scratching their heads and trying to work out how to tap-in to that undoubted potential.
It’s the second of those two words, ‘duty’, that is the key as anyone who sat through the two England games during this barren Canary weekend will testify.
Watching England toil to successive but expected wins against San Marino and Estonia will have done little to lift the spirits of any Norwich City supporter still stewing on those wins that got away against Charlton and Rotherham before the Championship broke for its international abyss.
It does seem that something of a pattern is emerging at all levels of football. Those last two England games and the most recent pair of Carrow Road frustrations all quickly developed into fairly predictable games of attack v defence. The favourites dominating the possession and huffing and puffing to break down an underdog who hadn’t so much parked the bus as opened up a full scale Park and Ride depot, offering one brief return journey into the opposition half every 45 minutes, if you’re lucky.
It’s an inevitable conclusion of the fact the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened. Under Chris Hughton in the Premier League it was Norwich City who would regularly attempt to play the part of the frustrators, with limited success.
Having had three years in the top flight and benefitting from the riches that go with it, the Canaries now find themselves as the frustratees in the Championship.
It might not be much of a spectacle for the fan whose pocket has never been dug deeper into in the name of football but organising a solid defence and nicking an against-the-odds 1-0 win has become something of a manager’s art. Unfortunately it works just often enough to encourage those cautious coaches that it is their best chance of upsetting the form book, just as Charlton did at Carrow Road a fortnight ago.
It’s understandable pragmatism from those for whom football is a high pressure job and it flies in the face of the hopes and demands of those who go on a Saturday afternoon, seeing their favourite sport as a form of entertainment.
That’s not to say that international weekends are totally joyless affairs. For City supporters with enough of a sense of wonder there is plenty of fun to be had. Watching Russell Martin faultlessly help Scotland to an important win over Georgia, Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty putting in a menacing and goal scoring performance against the Faroe Islands and Wes Hoolahan scoring an all-important winner for Republic of Ireland against Gibraltar all provided reasons for a bit of optimism that Neil Adams may get his internationals back more inspired than injured.
Granted, Hoolahan’s 58th minute strike gave the Irish a 7-0 lead against the tiniest of minnows from Gibraltar but the fact that it was the final goal of the game and killed off any hope of a comeback means we can count that one has a genuine morale booster.
Away from those games, a couple of high profile sporting books have been released. Kevin Pietersen and Roy Keane’s publicists are clearly switched on enough to realise that column inches and air time still need filling during these international wilderness weeks.
I have seen one passage from Keane’s book during which he describes the time he got into a fist fight with his former Manchester United team mate Peter Schmeichel in a hotel. Sir Alex Ferguson was apparently furious the next morning, not particularly because two of his key players had come to blows but more because the altercation had woken up Sir Bobby Charlton.
I have a feeling Sir Bobby will have caught up on 180 minutes of the sleep he missed that night if he tried to watch England take on San Marino and Estonia.