Will experience really play a part in Norwich City tasting Premier League success?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It's always nice to start writing a column that you know won't be able to come to a conclusion. Some of you may consider it a technique I've perfected over years, but at least this time it's an open secret inside the first paragraph.
The mood music first struck following Norwich City's glorious climax to last season. Having spent 49 Football League games being referred to by almost everyone outside Norfolk as a Premier League squad, the Canaries booked their place back where they belonged.
And then shortly after that Wembley triumph, many a fan and pundit looked at Alex Neil's playing staff and decided that actually, now they were back in the top-flight, they were doomed to relegation. After all, back in 2013-14 they weren't good enough to stay up, were they?
To put it simply, you can only be one or the other – and not both.
For me, the way City were schooled in that previous Premier League season negated the quality at their disposal. That won't be an issue under Alex Neil this term.
Of course, at the crux of all this is the Canaries' significant recent Premier League experience.
Norwich have by my reckoning 26 senior professionals on their books – and only four of them have never played in the Premier League. Two of those still have full international honours. That's all without including Nathan Redmond.
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The experience argument stacked up for Match of the Day pundit Danny Murphy, who was happy to acknowledge his fears for Watford as they end their nine-year Premier League absence, and Bournemouth who have never played in the English top-flight before.
Both squads have hit and miss smatterings of Premier League experience – but nothing like that amassed by the third side promoted from the Championship last season.
That's all well and good, until you think about the last time Norwich earned promotion.
Paul Lambert – no doubt with plenty of help – perfected his first attempt at recruiting players with limited top-flight experience, and gelling them into an irresistible force that never looked like suffering relegation in 2011-12.
So assuming Bournemouth and Watford's lack of a Premier League past precludes them from being a success at the first time of asking, is as naive as expecting City to have walked the Championship last term.
Alex Neil had to broach the subject of experience numerous times last season – both in terms of his 'Premier League players' but also his own management career.
All questions were answered perfectly on the pitch, as we know.
And in press conferences, the City boss never placed much stock in what his players had done in the past or the reputation they'd earned. It was all about the here and now. Impressing him, delivering results.
Which may well have been the key to City's phenomenal year to date, when their squad regularly matched the reputations they enjoyed, a level above their opponents – but where they were driven by the demands placed on them by their manager, to prove themselves in the present.
And that takes us to the new Premier League season. As I wrote at the start, we'll have to wait and see whether experience really is a currency worth having this term.
But what City do have is a squad that knows what the top-flight is about and has proven in the past it's good enough to compete – all alongside a manager who will only accept 100pc in each approaching game or training session.
It's a mix that excelled last season, and every chance of working again.
• Just Saying…
• Some players I love to watch – and one of those is Jonny Howson.
My chat with Russell Martin a couple of seasons ago still sticks with me, when the City captain purred at the fact their No 8 does things no one else can in training, and makes them look so easy.
Things are never so simple in a match of course but Howson always looked a cut-above in the Championship and, in truth City were thankful I'm sure that he stayed for the ride.
So, and no surprises here, the news on Thursday night he has signed a new four-year contract at Carrow Road is superb – and no doubt arose from what Alex Neil thinks of his midfield star.
• Overall there are no complaints here about the Canaries' transfer business so far – but the fact every club still has the rest of the month wheel and dealing drives me mad.
Just wrap things up before the first game and be done with it. People say it'd be hard to sort, but I'm not buying it.