Paddy Davitt: Hanley's untold City story deserves wider praise
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It will never get the same exposure as the way the unheralded Emi Buendia flourished or Teemu Pukki plundered, or the faith shown in talented youth, but Grant Hanley has undergone some transformation at Norwich City.
Hanley’s new Carrow Road deal, keeping him at the club until at least 2025, announced on Monday, is a reward for perseverance from all concerned.
He was recruited originally in the early days of Daniel Farke’s reign to address an alarming concession rate and add some much needed defensive grunt.
What Farke has moulded since, and what Hanley has completely bought into, is a centre back with all the natural physical gifts, speed and composure in possession to approach this Premier League season with relish.
Good enough to keep Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford quiet in Scotland’s high watermark at Euro 2020, before they failed to progress beyond the group stage earlier this summer.
That transformation on the park last season was matched off it by the skill and expertise of City’s sports science and medical teams. Hanley played 51 games for club and country before suffering an untimely hamstring issue in the early stages of that defeat to Croatia.
Contrast such a voluminous body of work with 15 appearances the last time Norwich featured in the Premier League and nine the season before, when they stormed to their first Championship title under Farke’s direction.
Then Hanley, by his own honest admission, was little more than a cheerleader as he emerged at Villa Park to share the trophy lifting duties alongside Christoph Zimmermann. At Barnsley, second time around, he was the senior partner, as Alex Tettey’s emotional swansong got the mantlepiece picture it deserved.
So good was Hanley’s conditioning he returned from Scotland duty on a Wednesday evening in March this year and was able to play the full 90 minutes of a Good Friday Championship duel at Preston less than 48 hours later.
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His leadership and ability were priceless down the stretch, with both Zimmermann and Ben Gibson sidelined and Andrew Omobamidele exposed to the full first team glare alongside him. The Irishman’s nerveless displays were a credit to himself, but he would have been the first to acknowledge Hanley’s helping hand.
All against the backdrop of a promotion to seal and title to secure.
Some may equate City’s search for another high quality centre back in the current transfer window as a signal there are still question marks around Hanley, or Gibson, at the top level. Not for Farke, who placed total trust in the duo to anchor a far more pragmatic Championship coronation than the final points and wins columns would testify.
City want quality over quantity from front to back and in that context any potential arrival will find Hanley a stubborn barrier to the starting line up.
Outside of his own Norwich fan base there appears to be a residual misconception about a rugged central defender with technical limitations who struggles against speed merchants. That is lazy and ill informed nonsense.
Even his national boss, Steve Clarke, made a direct appeal to the Tartan Army detractors before his headline-grabbing display against the Three Lions.
Hanley is no extrovert like, perhaps, his compatriot and club mate Kenny McLean, but he is a leader and a focal point. He has the respect of his head coach and the players who fall into line behind him.
Like many in Farke’s ranks, who have had limited chance to stamp their mark at the highest level, he now has to prove he can make the step up and show he belongs in that exalted company.
This new City deal, and those previous soundbites from the head coach last season hinting there is yet more still to come, should be taken as a ringing endorsement from the people who really matter that he can bridge the divide from the Football League to the big league.
At 29, the man from Dumfries is in his prime. Norwich City will now see those best years of his career.