Inspired signing for the money men

CHRIS WISE Dean Ashton was brought to Norwich as part of a long-term plan to ensure future success - and ended up being an extremely lucrative short-term investment.

CHRIS WISE

Dean Ashton was brought to Norwich as part of a long-term plan to ensure future success - and ended up being an extremely lucrative short-term investment.

Say what you like about the rights and wrongs of the young striker's impending move to the Premiership, but there is absolutely no doubt that the club's decision to splash £3m on his services last January was an inspired piece of business.

Nigel Worthington has taken more than his fair of criticism for his recent dealings in the transfer market -with some justification - but in this particular instance spending big on an rising young star has paid dividends in truly spectacular fashion.

While other managers were dragging their feet over a move for Crewe's hot prospect Worthington and his board grabbed the bull by the horns and splashed the cash to bring him to Carrow Road.

Then, just 12 months down the line, they sell him on, almost doubling their money in the process. I'm sure there are one or two investment companies around who would like to know secret of City's success. Financial success, that is.

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If you buy a player for £3m and then sell him on for £7.25m, with around £5.5m of that being straight profit, it's a good piece of business. Full stop.

Of course it will only end up being a good deal on the footballing front if Worthington can wheel and deal over the next eight days to bring in a suitable replacement - or replacements - for one of the most talented young striker around.

Having received the 'crazy money' for Ashton that he demanded the City boss is now likely to be quoted silly prices himself with deadline day rapidly looming.

If he uses his new-found transfer kitty to bring in a young thruster like Cameron Jerome and a big target man in the Steve Howard mode then the Canaries really could emerge from the much maligned January window smelling of roses.

But if fails to replace quality with quality then the Ashton deal won't look so rosy.

The pressure is now firmly on Worthington to deliver - and supporters will be watching the latest developments just as closely as they watched the bewildering saga that preceded the most expensive, and probably most protracted, departure in the club's 104-year history.

With Ashton clearly determined to leave City had little option but to sell. But only time will tell whether the deal turns out to be in the best interests of Norwich City Football Club - to use the manager's well-worn phrase.

There's no way Worthington should be criticised for Ashton's departure. As I see it fans should wait until February 1 before passing judgement - and should then wait again until the end of the season before reaching an overall conclusion on the performance of their long-serving manager. If City do spend big, and still miss out on the play-offs, then there will be reasonable cause for complaint. Ditto if they failed to buy adequate replacements before the end of the month. But, for the time being, I'd suggest it would be wise to keep your powder dry, not that all of you will!

With the next development eagerly awaited it's a good time look back on eventful 12 months in the life of the much talked about striker, who ended up representing the club on just 46 occasions before moving to a rather larger City 100 miles down the road.

For me, two images of Ashton's all-too-brief stay at Carrow Road will live in the memory - one which captured him at his very best and the other which summed up the somewhat less admirable side of a young man who clearly has a great future ahead of him.

I'll leave the best to last so I'll start with what proved to be the player's final game in a Norwich City shirt at Plymouth 11 days ago.

You didn't have to be an expert on body language to know that the lad's heart wasn't really in it that day. For a player of such ability his contribution to the Canary case was limited in the extreme, a fact summed up neatly near the end when he over-stretched and requested to be substituted.

He didn't wait until the arrival of physio Neal Reynolds before doing his 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here' routine. Seconds after the incident he was gesturing furiously to the bench - and the fact that he eventually went on to play for another five minutes or so before being replaced appeared to suggest that he probably could have made it to the final whistle at a pinch, and perhaps even conjured up what would have been a precious winner for his side.

Ashton was clearly suffering from a slight strain - but there was no way he was going to put his body on the line that day in front of around 1000 supporters who had gone to considerable inconvenience to be there. You couldn't help feeling you were witnessing the beginning of the end that day, and so it proved.

That little incident summed up a distinctly lacklustre finale to Ashton's career which saw him score in just two of his final 16 appearances. He was superb against Southampton, when he reminded us all of his talent by scoring a brilliant hat-trick, while he also knocked one in against Sheffield United in the penultimate game before the transfer window. But he drew blank after blank either side of those two games, and although there were occasional good performances scattered about there were also some distinctly indifferent ones as well. There was certainly little sign of consistency from the big man after an excellent start to the campaign which had yielded seven goals in his opening 14 appearances.

Of course that is only part of the Dean Ashton story. His contribution to the superb late run that so nearly preserved City's hard-earned Premiership status should never be forgotten and that brings me nicely round to my favourite Ashton moment.

I must admit it's a toss-up between the two brilliant glancing headers that helped the Canaries to victories over Manchester United and Newcastle. Both were classics in their own right but for sheer drama, I've have got to choose the amazing leap, followed by an unerringly accurate finish into the bottom corner, that earned City their dramatic-time injury success over the Toon.

That was Ashton at his very best and no-one could deny that he gave of his very best on a week in, week out basis as the Canaries launched their brave, but ultimate unsuccessful, battle against the drop.

Looking back on his Norwich career as a whole, it was something of a mixed bag, wasn't it? On the pitch I'd say the good outweighed the bad by some distance, but as for off it, well let's just say he didn't do himself too many favours towards the end of his brief stay, even though you could understand his frustration with what was going on around him.

He signed a long-term contract in August and made it clear he wanted to leave the club in January and that just doesn't seem right to me, no matter what the circumstances. It just makes you wonder what will happen if a similar situation arises at West Ham this time next year and one of the Premiership big-guns makes a move. Watch this space!

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