Canaries youngster signs new deal before joining Tampa Bay Rowdies on loan as part of new partnership

Caleb Richards has joined Tampa Bay Rowdies on loan Picture: Ian Burt

Caleb Richards has joined Tampa Bay Rowdies on loan Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Left-back Caleb Richards has signed a new contract with Norwich City before heading across the Atlantic to join Tampa Bay Rowdies on loan.

The Canaries announced a new partnership with the US club last week, described as a long-term deal with the United Soccer League (USL) team to build a 'mutually beneficial link-up'.

City spent time in Tampa in November for warm weather training during an international break, holding an open training session at the Rowdies' base, the Al Lang Stadium, and visiting the other local sports franchises to exchange ideas about best practise on and off the pitch.

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With the Rowdies also playing in yellow and green there are also hopes for merchandising opportunities and for Norwich academy players to spend time on loan in Florida.

Richards will be the first player to go Stateside and is set to remain for the whole of the 2019 season, which is due to conclude in October – but has also signed a new contract before leaving, extending his deal until 2021, with the option of a further year.

The 20-year-old was signed from Blackpool last summer and has made 18 appearances for the City U23s so far this season, also recently playing seven games while on loan with National League North side FC United of Manchester, before flying out to train with Tampa ahead of the loan move being confirmed.

'I have loved my experience at Norwich so far and I think I have progressed well in my time here,' Richards said.

'It means a lot to have been given a new contract, especially when I was playing away, and they watched nearly every game.

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'It's good to know that they are watching my progression and they have rewarded me for doing well.'

The Rowdies play in the second-tier USL Championship and began pre-season training at the end of last month ahead of friendlies in February.

They are managed by former Sheffield United and Wolves defender Neill Collins, finishing 12th in the 16-team Eastern Conference last season, when they had former Chelsea and England midfielder Joe Cole in their squad, who has since retired.

'I can't wait to get started with the Rowdies,' Richards continued, speaking to City's website. 'It will be another step up and hopefully I progress further.

'The weather and the surroundings are unreal, and the club is set up very professionally with good facilities.

'It doesn't affect me being away as Norwich is four hours away from home for me anyway, so I feel like I have been eased into living away.

'I can't wait to start the season and hopefully be part of a successful season. The team has been very welcoming and they all live close, so they have been giving me lifts places and helping me to settle in.'

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Tampa boss Collins is well known to City's academy manager Steve Weaver, a former coach at Wolves, who is hoping the unusual loan route will teach Richards plenty.

He added: 'Going abroad and living in America is a big adventure for Caleb and playing in front of crowds over there will heighten his experience not only as footballer but it will also be a good experience for growing up.

'Tampa is the next stage for his development, and I think when the opportunity came up it was one that we couldn't turn down. Caleb has got the right attributes to go and succeed.

'I know the head coach Neill because I worked at Wolves at the same time he was playing there, and we were fortunate to get promoted from the Championship to the Premier League that season and Neill was a big part of that squad.

'He's a great lad and a thorough coach and I think with him and Martin Paterson (Rowdies assistant coach) it will be really beneficial to Caleb and Norwich City and hopefully his performances will benefit the Rowdies over the season.'

The transatlantic partnership with the Rowdies will see the Canaries make further visits to the Tampa Bay area, with the club continuing their major sponsorship deal with Visit Tampa Bay.

Tampa Tour: Time flies by in the yellow and green in UK and USAThe Canaries' head of partnerships Sam Jeffery explained: 'There are so many synergies between our two clubs – far more than just the shared colours – so we're delighted and really proud to be able to formalise our partnership.

'The Rowdies are owned by the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team and their whole mantra is to be ambitious and work to bring young players through. That approach cascades down to the Rowdies and we want to share that same ambition with them.

'The Rowdies chief operating officer Lee Cohen and his staff have been a real pleasure to deal with over the last year and their generous hosting of our team training in November was executed brilliantly. We also have great links with head coach Neill Collins who knows our academy manager Steve Weaver really well, so it's such a no-brainer to formalise our partnership.

'There's so much opportunity for growth in this and in fact we're currently in talks together around a really ambitious project that we hope will help set a lasting Norwich City footprint in the Tampa Bay region over the next decade, and do a lot of good in the local communities over there and here in Norfolk.

'We're here for the long term and we really look forward to becoming part of the Tampa Bay sporting family.'