Paddy Davitt verdict: Sit down, get back up. The City way
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
From desolation to delight. Todd Cantwell and Norwich City have travelled full circle in one season.
Cantwell took to the Carrow Road turf again on Saturday, after he helped inspire a 4-1 Championship win over Reading that sealed the title.
This son of Norfolk, the visible embodiment of a culture that values youth and homegrown cultivation, took a moment or two to detach himself from the celebrations and sit in isolation in the centre circle. There appeared the obligatory phone to hand. Perhaps sharing the moment with family or friends.
Now rewind to July of last year, when he cut a solitary figure on the same Carrow Road pitch following a Premier League home loss to Brighton that confirmed relegation.
Cantwell subsequently felt compelled to defend his actions from those who felt maybe it was a grandstanding gesture. That was a low in a season of personal fulfilment. A breakthrough top flight campaign that tanked alarmingly for the club so close to his heart.
For Cantwell, and Norwich City, to haul themselves off the floor and respond in such fashion is a testament to the character as much at the talent on which the House of Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber is built.
To shake the disappointment of a Premier League demotion which, albeit not unexpected, was painfully etched on the features of young men like Cantwell and Max Aarons after that Seagulls’ reverse was the first task.
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To find it within to go again at the lower level and engineer a successful promotion was another.
But to add a second Football League title under Farke, and to send club records tumbling in the process – against the backdrop of no fans in attendance and the on going footballing impact of the pandemic – will cast a lasting sheen on this achievement long after Grant Hanley lifts the trophy at Oakwell.
No praise is surely too gushing. No superlatives too inappropriate to frame this feat.
Inside the club, they will tell you this was the expected outcome from forensic planning and clinical execution. But even operators as surefooted as Webber and Farke will have harboured doubts, and worried about the imponderables outside their control.
Whether it was Barcelona picking up the phone to Webber, in what the club’s sporting director initially thought was a wind up, to ask to borrow Aarons. Or Farke sitting down for team selection meetings around the turn of this year weighing up not only form or fitness concerns but the outcome of lateral flow tests for his squad.
Or down the stretch the ridiculous scheduling that pitched Norwich into battle at Preston with a clutch of players on international duty barely 48 hours earlier.
Yet, City rode those adverse currents better than any of their Championship contemporaries. When the heat came on, when Swansea were full value for a 2-0 win in early February and Brentford briefly deposed them at the top, Norwich grew in strength.
The tougher the times, the more this group this season relished the challenge.
That is a great attribute to carry forward for the attempt to buck the odds in the Premier League. But that can wait for another day and another summer transfer window.
Now it is about savouring a title win from seeds sown when the people who matter at Carrow Road accepted relegation was inevitable during that ‘Project Restart’ period.
Expect the same cold eyed attention to detail and lack of sentiment shown to the likes of Moritz Leitner or Tom Trybull for the next phase.
Expect the departures of Alex Tettey and Mario Vrancic to be confirmed ahead of the Championship finale at Barnsley.
Both out of contract, both loyal servants of Farke, both with two title winners medals to show for their not inconsiderable efforts on and off the park since the German’s arrival in 2017.
The only enduring sadness was no Carrow Road full house could bid them farewell when they made late symbolic cameos in the closing stages of this Royals’ romp.
But moving forward is what defined Norwich’s response to the bitter pain of Premier League relegation. It underpinned the arrival of two relatively unknown figures in an experiment never tried before in these parts.
Now they are feted as visionaries at a football club that is the envy of many others in England. It has not always been so. Ask any Norwich City fan. Ask Cantwell. These are heady days.