Ian Clarke: Player of season list shows City's ridiculous strength

Oliver Skipp of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
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Keeping Oliver Skipp is pivotal to Premier League success should Norwich get there - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

I'll get it out there straight away - Olly Skipp will get my vote for Norwich City's player of the season.

In a campaign where we've seen so many heroes in yellow and green, I sense it may be one of the closest contests for some years.

And the number of genuine contenders to lift the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy shows the ridiculous strength in the Canaries' squad.

So let's start with why I feel the Spurs loanee will deserve the accolade.

In terms of stats, he's started all 38 games as City have surged relentlessly towards an automatic return to English football's top table.

England's Oliver Skipp - on loan at Norwich from Tottenham

Oliver Skipp has been a revelation for Norwich City - Credit: PA

Skipp has made an eye-catching 2,141 passes with an 87.7pc success rate.

Jose Mourinho has singled out the remarkable young man as a future Tottenham captain - and it's so easy to see why.

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Yes, he has a very modest one goal, one assist and five shots in 3,312 minutes of Championship action.

For me, what makes Skipp so impressive and so crucial to the promotion push has been the way the lad who is still six months short of his 21st birthday has been the hub, the fulcrum and the glue for the Canaries.

His maturity, his reading of the game and his ability to link up different parts of the unit are all brilliant.

At times he'll be the nearest City player to Tim Krul, mopping up behind the back four.

Then he'll be right in the middle of the park chasing down opponents and snuffing out their offensive drives.

Then Skipp will be the trigger for an attacking passage of play for City.

His attitude, work rate and commitment are fantastic. To think an on loan player, who must see his future as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, spoke of how he'd be back and raring to play on Good Friday at Preston after three games in a week for England's under 21s.

So, yes it will be Skipp for POTS for me.

However, he's fighting off some very strong competition - and some Norwich players who have had very decent years will be well down the list.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to find words to describe Emi Buendia.

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sideÕs 2nd goal during the Sky Bet Championship match

Teemu Pukki is hoping Emi Buendia stays at Norwich City. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Ten goals, 12 assists, 107 key passes, countless moments of crazy creative magic, phenomenal commitment... where do I stop?

As things stand, he'd be my number two.

So that means at the moment Teemu Pukki has to be third.

What?! Twenty-two league goals so far take him to the 14th all-time City scorer after just 118 games. His goals per game ratio is better than any Norwich striker in my lifetime - oh and by the way he just can't stop netting as well for his beloved Finland.

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sideÕs 4th goal from the penalty spot during the Sky B

Teemu Pukki has been tipped to become Finland's best ever player by a former boss of the national team.

All that means that Grant Hanley is currently number four in the season's finest chart.   

The Scot is everything I love in a defender - strong, brave, no-nonsense, a leader, a colossus....

There's no one single reason why Norwich have only let in 27 goals in 38 games and heading for one of the meanest defensive records in the club's history.

However, the skipper is a massive part of it.

Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson have looked a solid partnership in central defence for Norwich City. Pic

Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson have formed a solid partnership in central defence for Norwich City. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

A total of 170 clearances, 65 interceptions, a 71pc success rate in aerial duels (and he's come up against plenty of big units this term) - and 89pc pass completion rate.

I think Hanley is getting better and better. His reading of the game has improved and encapsulates the solidity at the heart of City's success.

And there's Kenny McLean. I can think of seasons down the years when the Mayor's contribution would have made him the stand out player.

He's been a revelation in the engine room with Skipp and proved any of his doubters totally wrong.

As the final run in begins, McLean would be at number five.

I'm really sorry for Ben Gibson (my number six) that his campaign has been cut short.

He's formed a superb partnership with Hanley and I'm confident his operation, rest and recuperation will ensure he's fit and firing for next term.

So that means I'm left with the mad situation of saying Tim Krul - who may well set a new record for the number of clean sheets in a campaign - is seventh in the running.

Last year he was the soar-away winner - and the difference in the pecking order is only down to the superb performances of those around him and no slight on the hero gloveman.

And yes folks, I'm embarrassed to admit I've currently got Todd (Dereham's finest) Cantwell at eight and Max Aarons at nine.

I've sat staring at the screen wondering how that can actually be possible.

That's £60m worth of players who would walk in to a good number of Premier League teams and I'm saying they have been the eighth and ninth best players.

Well, that sums up just how unbelievably good as a squad we've been.

Right, let's get back on it starting with the trip to Preston, finish the job and start preparing for a right good crack at the PL.

Top man Tim

So much has changed in football in recent years - and no area has the transformation been greater than in the sports science part of the game. 

I grew up with the "magic sponge" and the "run it off son, you'll be ok" mentality.

Now every aspect of players' health and fitness is forensically examined and treated.

For 20 years from the early 1980s, Tim Sheppard was Norwich City's physio.

Every player I've spoken to who was at the club under Tim heaps praise on the way he looked after them and was a pioneer in the treatment room.

This week Tim has retired after a total of 40 years in the profession.

My colleague Dave Hannant wrote a terrific piece about Tim's career with lots of great stories and pictures and if you've not see it yet, I'd thoroughly recommend it (read it here).

I've got to know Tim well through our mutual love of cricket and I look forward to a game or two for his Sheppard's Flock team later this summer.

(And looking at Tim, there's no way in the world he's 70!) 

Project to be proud of

So much has been said recently about how well Norwich City is run and all the great work going on off the pitch as well as on it.

I'm really proud of the club's ethos and the way it supports the local community.

A shining example of this can be seen with the Nest project, which has been developed by the Community Sports Foundation.

Millions of pounds has been invested in the complex on the old Anglian Windows site to create facilities which will benefit thousands of people of all ages for years to come.

The CSF deserves amazing credit for the vision, commitment and tireless work to make this happen.

MORE: The Nest - an example of City's commitment to the community

And the football club has given it tremendous support which is so crucial.

The tired old (and totally inaccurate) claims about Norwich not being ambitious are already coming out as the club prepares for a return to the top flight.

For me, the Nest is exactly evidence of sustainable ambition and "giving it go" rather than looking to a wealthy owner who chucks tens of millions of pounds at players in the hope they'll keep a club up.

OTBC.



  

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