How do City fill their Buendia-shaped hole?

Kieran Dowell of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 2nd goal during the Sky Bet Championship match

Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell could prove crucial to City dealing with Emi Buendia's exit - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

How do you replace the exceptional creative force that is Emi Buendia? It’s the crucial question that Norwich City need to find an answer to in the months ahead. 

The success of Stuart Webber during his four years in Norfolk has earned the sporting director a great deal of faith and trust from Canaries supporters, with his straight-talking and transparency aiding the understanding of his work and the club’s self-funded model. 

Daniel Farke was, obviously, involved in the decision to agree a club-record deal with Aston Villa for the club’s outstanding talent and reigning Player of the Season. Webber made it clear from the start of his reign that while he is the man responsible for the football department, the head coach will always be a key voice in such major decisions. 

Buendia was keen to talk to Villa and swiftly agreed terms on a move which he sees as a step up the ladder, with his move to Birmingham set to be confirmed once a medical can be completed following Argentina’s game in Colombia tonight. 

While that has left City supporters feeling wounded, knowing that they won’t get to see their slice of ‘football heaven’ in yellow and green again, it’s meant the pressure is on for City to replace a crucial player that contributed 15 goals and 16 assists to this season’s Championship title triumph. 

His impending exit will leave Todd Cantwell, Kieran Dowell and Marco Stiepermann as the chief attacking midfield options, with the pace of wingers Onel Hernandez and Przemek Placheta also in the mix, as well as young talent Josh Martin. Ireland striker Adam Idah has also been used as a wide option by Farke. 

Between the seven of them, their Premier League experience totals 60 starts, seven goals and four assists – with Cantwell the chief contributor. 

Mario Vrancic has also left following promotion and while Lukas Rupp and Kenny McLean have pushed further forward at times, City’s central midfield ranks are looking depleted enough at the moment, so we’ll leave them out of the conversation for the time being. 

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Cantwell’s situation is intriguing, with two years remaining on his contract - assuming that the 12-month option in his contract will be activated by the Canaries next year if required. 

The ‘Dereham Deco’ looked well-suited to the Premier League for much of 2019-20, although his six goals and two assists all came during the first half of the campaign. 

After shaking off his transfer distractions and injury issues to return in December of this season the academy product contributed six goals and six assists during 28 games, finishing in fine form and looking well-placed for another crack at the top flight. 

While the top-level interest in Max Aarons may mean the right-back also departs this summer, Buendia’s exit would appear to make it highly unlikely that City would consider a Cantwell exit as well, short of a particularly exceptional bid for the 23-year-old. 

Could there be scope for a new deal? While assurances of being free to explore his options in the event of relegation are likely to be needed, a new contract would provide welcome stability and give the skilful midfielder reassurance that he is seen as a key player for the club he’s been with for over a decade. 

There’s a similar theme for Dowell, who also enjoyed a very strong end to the season as promotion and the title were secured, finally overcoming that unfortunate ankle injury suffered during just his third Canaries appearance. 

Five classy goals and an assist during his final 10 appearances of the campaign ensured the Everton youth product was winning over City fans with his cultured left foot and ability to glide past opponents. 

Notably, the game that started that run of form was when Buendia was unavailable at Nottingham Forest in March. That night it was Dowell impressing on the right and cutting in on his left, with Rupp used as the central prong of the attacking trident. 

The 23-year-old's prowess at set-pieces was also prevalent and leaves him ready for a prominent role in Farke’s team, as long as he stays fit. 

Hernandez, Placheta, Stiepermann and Idah all suffered frustrating seasons and Martin showed glimpses of exciting talent before fading from contention and could well find himself out on loan unless he really impressed during pre-season. 

All of which means that it’s almost certain that Buendia will have to be replaced. 

City will again need to be creative, as they were so successfully when they signed the Argentine for an initial £1.5million from Getafe in 2018, which eventually rose to around £5m. 

This time City will need someone who is closer to the finished product and more experienced than Buendia was when he arrived, someone with top-flight experience who is ready to hit the ground running.  

A player in the region of £10m would seem a reasonable expectation but replacing Buendia immediately may not be a reasonable expectation. We have seen in recent years that it can take time for players to show their true colours at a new club. 

Cantwell and Dowell will need to take responsibility for replacing Buendia’s superb creative output of 41 assists in 121 matches – which should have been even higher.

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 6th goal from the penalty spot to complete his h

Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia forged a superb understanding at Norwich City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Teemu Pukki has admitted that in spite of all of his success, the brilliant service he has received should have brought even more goals during the past three years. 

City will need someone who can start contributing fairly swiftly though. Filling that Buendia-shaped hole will be so important to survival hopes but is just one of several challenges which Webber and Farke have ahead of them this summer. 

WEBBER'S WORDS

We spoke to City's sporting director Stuart Webber close to a month ago, following the conclusion of the Championship season.

When speaking specifically about the futures of Emi Buendia, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell, the Canaries chief was asked if it was inevitable that one or more of the trio would be sold.

Here's his answer to that question in full.

"I'm not sure it's inevitable, it's definitely possible though. I'm not going to sit here and say they're staying forever because that's not right and there are a number of reasons.

"One is that one of their journeys may end with us because all three of those players have been unbelievable for the club, since they either stepped in as an outsider like Emi, or since being promoted from the academy with Todd and Max.

"They've done unbelievable things for this club, they've all played over 100 games for the club which is incredible really and I think people are talking about Emi as one of the best players they've ever seen in a Norwich shirt.

"That's people who have watched Norwich for a long time, I respect their opinion on that and I'm not going to sit here and change their minds but we also have to keep their ambitions in mind.

"If a big, big club comes for one of them, we have to be respectful to the player, because a big part of our success is built on giving boys opportunities, backing them, developing them and working with them. It doesn't work if when the time comes to go, if everything's right, we don't let them go. 

"Then it's not only the resentment you get from that individual player. It's also the rest of the dressing room, and potential future players from the academy or signings, going 'they've turned down that? That doesn't seem fair'.

"I think we have to be open and realistic to that, knowing that a player will only be sold on our terms, if anyone wants any of those guys, they're going to have to break our club transfer record to even get me to answer the phone - and all three players are aware of that.

"The great thing is, with being back in the Premier League, there's less of an urgency for them to go because they're now playing in the best league in the world, in a good team, with a coach who trusts them in a style of play which certainly suits them.

“There's probably not the angst of ‘I must leave’ which maybe happens when you're in the Championship, understandably, because all three of them deserve to play at the highest level possible.

"If we're in the Championship now I probably have to answer that question very differently."

MORE: The top five moments of Buendia brilliance at City

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