Flavour of the month or a pariah, it starts all over again

Russell Martin made it clear Norwich City's squad must prove themselves again. Picture: Paul Chester

Russell Martin made it clear Norwich City's squad must prove themselves again. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Russell Martin called it right. This set of Norwich City players are now on notice.

Much of the focus before and after Alex Neil's final press call on Friday, before he was relieved of his duties, centred on those coming to the end of current Carrow Road deals.

There was barely concealed frustration from the former manager when the discussion delicately tip-toed around the imminent departures of a seam of fringe men, who could have left in any number of previous transfer windows with the Scot's blessing.

We hardly need to list them. One cursory glance at the minutes on the pitch under Neil would illustrate who was part of his inner circle and who were the ones on the periphery.

Neil's proposed summer makeover clearly encompassed finally shedding the wastage and freeing up the wage bill to bring in those hungry prototype footballers required to meet the challenge of a second tour of the Championship.

But the seismic events of Friday afternoon, and the continuing fallout, shifted the plates under this group of young men. Suddenly the future is not quite as black and white. Neil is no longer the manager deciding their immediate future.

Martin, speaking after Saturday's 2-2 Championship draw against Blackburn Rovers, made it clear the unveiling of Neil's successor will see the clock re-set, the slate wiped clean, and the need to prove themselves all over again.

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That might mean a reprieve for some but it also requires those who routinely featured during the Neil era to show the new man they can be part of the way forward.

Ed Balls intimated at the weekend the ideal scenario sees Neil's replacement installed before the final whistle blows against QPR on May 7, to address the huge task of refreshing this squad during the upcoming close season.

That lends urgency to the process in the coming weeks and in all probability those identified by the club's board over the hours and days ahead will already have a working knowledge of the playing talent at Carrow Road. Football is a small, closed world and you can be sure opinions and verdicts on the talent the new man inherits will already be formulating long before they walk through the door on day one.

City's under-performing squad have shouldered plenty of criticism in a campaign that started out as a concerted push for promotion and threatens to end listing somewhere just inside the top 10.

They have been judged, rated and devalued in equal measure with each dire away day, each heavy defeat and each failure to meet the challenge of mixing it with rivals at the top and the bottom. But such judgment from outside the camp, from disgruntled supporters or media, does not carry anywhere near the same weight or value as the thoughts of Norwich's pending incumbent.

The life of a professional footballer may be privileged, but it is relatively short and buffeted by the conflicting views of whichever managerial planet aligns with their own career path.

To reach this level of the game, every single member of the playing staff at Carrow Road will have had to prove they are good enough to progress, to stand out from the crowd, to emerge where the majority of their peers fell by the wayside.

But there is something unique about a new man at the helm of a football club in such a volatile business. It signals a renewed period of uncertainty. It marks the start of another chapter where a player has to prove his worth all over again. Where what went before counts a lot less than what they can do now.

If there are any members of Norwich's first team squad who may be tempted to approach the league run-in lacking in motivation or feeling there is little to play for they should think again.