Norwich City must seize the day
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
For as much as this is now about Chris Hughton, it is really about his Norwich City players.
The manager and his experienced coaching staff can do everything right on the training pitches of Colney over the coming days and hours, but the Canaries' season hinges on 90 minutes this Sunday.
Put the convoluted mathematical equations to one side. Put a daunting final day trip to Manchester City in the same place and simply focus on beating a West Brom team who have nothing meaningful to play for.
Distil all that pain and suffering felt as they trooped away from Carrow Road last weekend and channel it as a force for good; a positive energy to engulf the Baggies.
Norwich's players do not need to hear this is a must-win. They do not need to be told how high the stakes are. They do not need the graphic ramifications spelt out should they lose the fight. They are more than just talented footballers, they possess enough intelligence and awareness to know the full gravity of the situation. They will have gone through the same gamut of emotions as the fans since the final whistle against Aston Villa. Feelings of self-doubt and pessimism, of hopes dashed by Sunderland's battling draw and then the joyous uplift from Wigan's implosion at home to Swansea on a night of wreteched tension. Supporters do not have the exclusive rights on pain and suffering - this is their livelihoods.
Relegation would signal inevitable departures. Not every exit would be on their terms. The damaging impact to lucrative, but relatively short-lived careers in the spotlight, should not be dismissed lightly. Nor should it be measured solely in financial costs.There is a stain and stigma attached to relegation; a recognition of professional failure.
That is something no player wants to be associated with. It may be the ultimate team game, but this is now about personal responsibility.
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One piece of sporting theatre has resonated with me a lot during recent days. Sir Ian McGeechan's moving speech during the successful 1997 Lions rugby series win in South Africa.
Different sport, granted. Different mindset, in all fairness, given McGeechan's spine-tingling oration came on the eve of a second test win which clinched that landmark series. But in its raw essence, its powerful emotion, it encapsulates the challenge that awaits Norwich's players this Sunday when they run out at Carrow Road in front of another full house.
'There are days like this that many rugby players never have, they never experience it. It is special. I can tell you that these are the days that you never believe will come again. It has. And I can tell you that I've given a lot of things up. I love my rugby. I love my family.
'And when you come to a day like this, you know why you do it all. You know why you've been involved in this.
'You'll meet each other in the street in 30 years time and they'll just be a look and you'll know just how special some days in your life are. Today, every second of that game - we've talked about what they're going to do, or everybody else has - we go for the jugular. Every tackle, every pass, every kick. And on that field sometimes today, all it will be between you is a look. No words, just a look. It'll say everything. And the biggest thing it will say is 'You are special'. Remember how you've got here and why. Now finish it off, and be special for the rest of your lives.'
Norwich's Premier League survival will not see Hughton's squad feted or lauded like McGeechan's tourists. It would be ludicrous to draw such a parallel. One achievement merely ensures they will live to fight another day. The other will forever be painted as a legendary triumph.
But to seal a third consecutive season in the top flight, given the disparities that exist between the Canaries and many of their direct rivals, would mean they had scaled their very own mountain.