David Hannant: Why I owe Wes Hoolahan an apology
PUBLISHED: 17:30 25 April 2018
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Ordinarily, news of a player leaving Norwich City on a Monday would probably not be the main thought of this column, which appears in this newspaper on a Thursday.
With most footballers, everything that can possibly be said, has already been said.
However, when that player just so happens to be Wes Hoolahan, I can - and must - make a special exception. And that is because Wes is exactly that - an exception and exceptional.
I’ve said it before in this column and I will say it again now, but in my eyes, Wes Hoolahan is the best player ever to pull on a Norwich City shirt. At the very least in terms of the amount of joy his play has brought me.
We are incredibly, incredibly lucky to have seen Wessi for so long and this is what makes him just so exceptional.
Everything about Wes Hoolahan is exceptional and not merely in the interpretation of the word to mean ‘really, really good’.
Wes’s Carrow Road career had such a unique set of circumstances which led to us being fortunate enough to have a whole decade of him in our ranks.
When he arrived at the club, he was 26 - the kind of age where most players tend to begin to really hit their prime.
However, his first season - by the standards we have grown used to - were far from ideal. He was brought in to replace Darren Huckerby - even though we all know now he is not a winger.
His whole season was spent either injured or out of position, while also carrying the burden of filling some mighty, adored shoes.
His first term also ended in relegation and few expected him to be with the club much longer.
However, once he came in from the cold we saw the Wes we all know and love now - but still he flew under the radar because of the fact City were - after all - a League One club.
Then, by the time he proved himself capable at Premier League level, he was already in his late 20s and early 30s.
Had Wes arrived at the club just three or four years younger, would we have enjoyed a decade of him? Let’s be honest, of course not.
One only has to look as far as his heir apparent James Maddison to realise this. Even the most dyed in the wool City fan would admit it would be water-into-wine levels of miraculous if Madders has a decade-long Canaries career.
Alternatively, you could also look at a player with a near identical career path to Wes - Liverpool’s Adam Lallana.
Like Wes, Lallana is a creative midfielder who led his side to a double promotion. The difference? When Wes made his Premier League debut he was 29-years-old. Lallana? 24.
If there was ever a player that proved age is just a number, it is him, but in the eyes of some, it is enough of a reason not to hurl a blank cheque Norwichward.
Another person to probably thank is somebody who is widely thought of in Norfolk as being a bit of a wally - former Ireland boss Giovanni Trappatoni.
Quite how Wes finished his international career with 42 caps - rather than 142 - still boggles the mind. A big part of this is the Italian, who until very late on was completely oblivious to the fact that Hoolahan is easily the Emerald Isle’s greatest export.
Had he figured this out a few years earlier and Wes had the opportunity to create more moments like that goal against Sweden, chances are somebody would have tried a bit harder to drag him away from us.
And then there was Paul Lambert, who famously did try and prise him away while at Villa.
I can only speculate on this, but maybe - just maybe - had Lambert left on more amicable terms, City would not have been quite so reluctant to do business with him.
Or maybe Randy Lerner is to thank tor such a derisory offer?
Nonetheless, this extraordinary set of circumstances meant that Wes became a true rarity - one who qualifies for a much deserved Westimonial.
And just how to thank Wes? There are too many ways - the keys to the City would be a start. How about a statue? Everything is not enough for Wes.
Oddly though, I finish this tribute to my favourite ever player with an apology to Wes himself.
Around seven years ago I was working at a cinema, when who should come in, but Wesley.
He was served by a colleague, but while he was waiting to go in, I decided to kindly point him in the direction of the booster seats.
To this day I do not know what he said in response - he mumbled and smirked, but I’m sure it wasn’t complimentary and I’m lucky it wasn’t a complaint to my boss of the time. I like to think I’ve (slightly) grown up since then, but just in case you are reading this, Wes - I’m sorry and truly, thank you for everything.
What to do now Wes’s number is up?
For the first time in a decade the number 14 is not going to have ‘Hoolahan’ over it.
No matter who takes the number, it will be a strange sight to begin with.
An interesting suggestion I read this week was to give it to Todd Cantwell, which I can see some merit to - if it inspires him to become ‘the new Wes’. However, on the other hand, considering what Wes gave, it’s a heck of a lot of pressure to be piled on.
I recall Darren Huckerby leaving well. Whoever inherited his number six - admittedly an unorthodox number for an attacker -was going to have to do a big job.
However, it went to Dejan Stefanovic. Remember him?
This was the ideal thing though, as with the Serb being a defender there was never any pressure on him to bring the same attacking flair and brilliance that Hucks did.
Contrast this with Grant Holt’s number nine, which has gone to a different man almost every year since he departed - all of whom are strikers and none of whom have even come close to his legendary status.
So just what do we do with the number 14 shirt? I believe only the most tragic circumstances warrant a number being retired, so, for me the answer is simple - give it to a goalkeeper!
What does the future hold for Alex Tettey?
Wes’s announcement was perfectly time, clearly so he can get his big farewell.
However, another of City’s long-serving players is coming to the end of his contract. I’ve been trying to work out all week what the Hoolahan announcement reveals about Alex Tettey’s future.
Part of me thinks that perhaps it is an indicator that Tettey may stick around for a little while longer? If Wes is given a home farewell, would Tettey not also expect this?
Sure, Wes is in his own stratosphere, but similarly Tettey’s Carrow Road journey has been a memorable one too.
But then I may also be reading far too much into it, after all John Ruddy’s exit was revealed as one of a number and arguably he was a bigger part of the furniture than the Norwegian powerhouse.
As I’ve already mentioned, Wes is an exception, so of course his announcement needed to be a solo occasion.
I hope by this time next week we will know, so if Alex is departing, he too gets a send-off, even if it is in front of an away following.