Norwich City’s commitment to the future can pay huge dividends
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Youth is the dominant theme which has injected a stirring uplift to a stressful season for Norwich City.
The achievements of Ricky Martin, Neil Adams, all the academy coaching staff and of course that special group of players will forever stand the test of time.
Norwich's FA Youth Cup success and the euphoric outpouring of emotion that followed was rich reward for a run that tested the club's young talent to the very limit before that memorable two-legged final triumph over Chelsea's starlets was eventually confirmed.
The two games home and away against the holders were a masterful demonstration of both planning and execution. Chelsea's expensively acquired players undoubtedly possess wonderful ability, but it was Norwich's collective will to resist and the maturity shown by of a set of young men far beyond their tender years that prevailed.
Statistics tell you the harsh reality is the majority will not make the transition to the top echelons of the professional game. That merely underlines the scale of their achievements and the cut-throat nature of producing players capable of competing against the best at home and abroad. But the likes of victorious captain Cameron McGeehan and his band of brothers also have plenty of visible role models within Chris Hughton's senior ranks to help smooth that treacherous transition.
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City's dash for Premier League survival in recent weeks has been a fraught exercise in self-control; one that ultimately reached fruition in a comprehensive 4-0 win over West Brom. The previous Carrow Road home experiences against Reading and Aston Villa were desperately tense affairs. Stoke on the road was the physical battering we all expected.
Yet in these defining moments of the season, Hughton was able to rely on a core of men with their best years ahead of them. Ryan and Elliott Bennett, Jonny Howson and Anthony Pilkington are all currently aged 24 and under; all with two seasons or less of top flight exposure at Norwich.
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The Premier League, by its very nature, is a competition where the thirst for instant results and financial imperatives tend to subjugate a manager's ability to instigate long term development strategies. Hughton will be under no illusions he does not have copious amounts of time to wait for members of Adams' talented crop to blossom on the biggest stage. His first objective was to keep the club in the Premier League. His next one will be the same. And the one after that.
New arrivals are inevitable this summer to supplement his playing roster, but a by-product of these last few weeks under extreme stress is irrefutable proof he has a core of players – both at the right age and armed with invaluable experience – around which he can now mould a squad good enough to realise the club's stated ambition: to become a genuine Premier League entity.
Howson's personal renaissance is a prime example. The sublime goal against the Baggies merely underlined that Norwich have a player with the attacking instincts and quality to make a difference at this level. But his latest shift against Albion also demonstrated he is grasping the defensive side of his game in that screening role, which can only enhance his attempts to become a truly complete midfielder in seasons to come.
Elliott Bennett demonstrated against Reading, in particular, he can influence games from wide areas whilst Ryan Bennett was again masterful at the weekend. The former England Under-21 international has the pedigree and the physical attributes to become a fine Premier League defender. Experience will only bring a greater consistency to his craft.
Norwich's next generation demonstrated superbly at Stamford Bridge on Monday the club's future is in safe hands, but it is City's established younger stars who will pave the way to longevity in the intervening period.