Norwich City Report Card: New man could push improving star pretty hard from here
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After a season that veered from one extreme to the other - much like his hair colour - MICHAEL BAILEY gives Mario Vrancic's debut Norwich City campaign the once-over, in our latest end of term report card
Snap assessments and football – they are always good fun. Some of them should be rightly maligned, but that is not to say they are always wrong.
Mario Vrancic rocked up at Norwich City last summer as a £650,000 signing from relegated Bundesliga side Darmstadt – and that is a fair amount of money for the Canaries’ brave new world.
By the end of pre-season his blonde highlights and tidy skills were being hailed as a recruitment coup.
The locks returned to a much darker colour following City’s eye-opening thrashing at Millwall; Vrancic made the point to me shortly after that the two events were not related.
Following those opening months of the season there were jokes in what is the less than forgivable world of Twitter, asking for permission to release Vrancic from his contract – a beyond-harsh response to a player clearly in need of time to adjust to the robust and brutal world of English Championship football.
In fairness to the criticism, Vrancic agreed he was struggling – as did head coach Daniel Farke who maintained a decent job of dipping the 29-year-old in and out of City action, in a way that seemed to promote better performances over the entire piece.
And as everyone had hoped, the tied turned.
Come his first Championship goal in March’s Carrow Road win over Reading, Vrancic’s distribution and work was being hailed – before he was named City’s player of the month for April and flagged up for consideration back in Bosnia’s international squad this coming summer.
An early-season Carabao Cup brace at Brentford promised more than it eventually delivered – but at the same time, don’t doubt the pressure Vrancic’s free-kick preferences put on James Maddison’s hunger to deliver.
Back to the snap judgements. Not so much of Vrancic’s first season at Norwich was a real surprise.
From his first run-out he always looked a player that would need the right assistance around him; the legs, the runners and the support. The theory was often proven, as Vrancic switched from co-holder to deep-lying runner, number 10 to wider attacking support.
In reality, Vrancic’s efforts didn’t sway between extremes as much as some felt they witnessed. It was only a second quicker in possession and a couple of yards further running that made him more effective.
Yet what was obvious from his opening pre-season appearance in Cobh, was his quality with the ball.
Ashton Gate was one of the good days, with a delicious crossfield pass that turned neat build-up into real opportunity. As ever away from home last term, Maddison converted with aplomb and City held on for a 1-0 win.
What happens next really should whet the appetite. Vrancic now has the chance to mesh a season of Championship experience with another pre-season and all that ability on the ball.
The Bosnian says his best is yet to come, and the prospect of it arriving next season should provide a real boost to what the Canaries will be aiming to do.
But much like the campaign just gone, where Vrancic gets to shine will play a significant part in how successful he is.
With the right defensive support behind him in the shape of an interchangeable partnership between Alex Tettey and Ben Godfrey, the slight degree of attacking freedom Vrancic needs is there.
Playing deeper with runners ahead should offer him the space and time to set City’s tempo – and burst forward to chip in with a few more goals. He was worth more than three last season.
Likewise, the absence of Maddison could free up a fuller stint at number 10 when needed, while the arrival of Kenny McLean will mean some serious and determined competition that will push Vrancic hard for first-team football.
On paper, the pair sound like similar players with similar attributes – albeit with City’s Aberdeen signing three years Vrancic’s junior.
But for all the ups and downs, Vrancic carried much more quality than your average £650,000 signing last season – and it could be those rewards are fully reaped come the next.
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