Michael Bailey: A glimpse into Norwich City's future – but it's just the start of such a long journey
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey wonders what the future holds for the next lot of bright young Canaries things.
It was only come Wednesday morning that it really struck me just how limited the experience was across Norwich City’s defence in their midweek victory.
As a reasonably settled Stevenage rocked up at Carrow Road for the first round of the Carabao Cup, fresh from a positive start to their League Two campaign, City were making 10 changes to keep a sizeable squad ticking over.
Felix Passlack and Max Aarons both made their City debuts – at 18, Aarons becoming the first player born in the 21st century to appear in yellow and green.
I had been convinced Ben Godfrey would be competing for a holding midfield berth on his return from Shrewsbury – but he’s making himself a genuine centre-back option, and long may that continue. He’s still only 20.
Despite Christoph Zimmermann’s regular appearances last term, City’s skipper for the night remains four appearances shy of 50 since his jump from the German fourth tier.
Indeed the average age of City’s starting XI against Stevenage was a little older than 23 years and six months – and two years younger than that if you disregard Michael McGovern’s veteran participation in goal.
If only Remi Matthews had still been here to complete the youthful Canaries picture.
It is context to consider given the online environment while the tie was level was customary angst.
This remains a hugely important season for City’s academy at Colney.
The need to prove there is a smooth, achievable pathway from encouraging action and impressive reviews for either City’s Under-23s or while away on loan, to serious first-team contention at City, is not only necessary to inspire the genuine talents being cultivated on Colney’s new and improved training pitches. It is crucial to rebalancing a current squad that feels lop-sided with a few too many players unable to satisfy the EFL’s homegrown rules.
Of course, counter to that argument is the fact those same rules are giving Todd Cantwell, Aarons and to a degree Louis Thompson a real taste of first-team contention – and you won’t find any arguments here about the rules existing in the first place, for that very reason.
For City’s academy to succeed and thrive, it is essential there are players involved that have both been developed in it – and proven good enough to make that next step beyond it.
Having been such a huge success, the Canaries’ Academy bond and £5m take-up will lend itself to being a good gauge of City’s youth development work.
According to both sporting director Stuart Webber and managing director Steve Stone, the final throes of 2019 will see the work completed and Colney looking like the elite sports facility that could really set the club up for the future.
Until then the building work and unsettling nature that often comes with such projects, will have to be ridden out like the ebbs and flows of a Championship season. At least everyone around the training centre will be able to see the progress first hand.
The palpable buzz of how City smashed Swindon going forward at the same stage last season has still stuck with me now.
And yet of the 11 starters that night 12 months and one week ago, only Christoph Zimmermann repeated the trick on Tuesday. Indeed, seven of that Swindon 11 won’t feature at all in yellow this season: Angus Gunn, Marcel Franke, Harrison Reed, Wes Hoolahan, James Maddison, Josh Murphy and Cameron Jerome. So in turn it will be interesting to see come another 12 months on, how the XI that beat Stevenage matches up in terms of first team contention, sellable assets and those that were considered surplus to requirements.
• It’s hard not to be disappointed at Remi Matthews’s departure to Bolton.
A Norfolk lad with some promising recent experience underneath him, the 24-year-old was in pole position to give the first team a real go this season. And then the games began.
It was always going to be a case of Matthews needing to earn the trust of Daniel Farke during pre-season – and sadly his performances weren’t enough.
Farke explained his thinking with his usual clarity – but the fact a permanent parting followed says a lot about how things went down, as well as the trust the club still has in its head coach.
That is going to be a crucial element over the coming weeks, whether City’s form picks up or gets stuck in a tricky run of games.
Regardless of all that, good luck up at Wanderers Remi – and here’s to a Norfolk boy hopefully destined to do good.
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