Michael Bailey: Canaries are bridging the biggest obstacle to their future stars
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey assesses the Canaries' success at bridging the biggest obstacle that has faced their Colney academy production line.
By no stretch of the imagination was Wednesday's win at Reading a Norwich City vintage – but it did strike a chord.
The slow first portion of the second half replicated a similar pattern to the draw at Ipswich the other side of the international break – but for larger portions, there were elements on display that have been missing for a long period of time in yellow and green.
Playing out in front of us were two of the youngest flanks I've almost certainly seen play for the club – Max Aarons (18) and Emi Buendía (21) on the right; Jamal Lewis and Todd Cantwell (both 20) on the left.
Their own performances were not perfect – but what they did bring was energy, fearlessness and intangibles that only tend to come with young, talented players trying to make their way so early in their professional careers. That, and still plenty of quality to compete at Championship level.
It felt akin to a buzz and in the moments City took Wednesday's game by the scruff of its neck, that buzz made it exciting to both watch what Daniel Farke's side were doing on the pitch right then at the Madejski Stadium – but also what else they could bring us over the course of the season.
No doubt there were plenty of proud smiles and applause from the hardy City souls that made the trip to Berkshire, and then a few more from the away side of the Royals directors' box.
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Credit here to head coach Daniel Farke, who is proving to an arguably greater degree than his first season that he will not only throw in a young player if he trusts them – but he knows exactly how to blood them so that when they do get that proper first-team nod, they can cope with it and shine.
Likewise sporting director Stuart Webber, whose own mantra of making City's Colney academy a productive part of the club is becoming a reality – and not simply limp lip-service.
Following victory at Reading, academy graduates accounted for 1,473 minutes played by City players this season – that's just shy of 15pc of all the minutes played by Farke's squad.
Just two seasons ago, that figure stood at 8pc – while the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons saw the Colney production line deliver 163, 370 and 990 minutes respectively.
Of course the landscape, league competitions, context and in some ways ambitions of the club vary hugely over those campaigns – and some will see these figures as evidence of how far they feel the club has fallen.
But that rather misses the point as to the reality City now find themselves in and more pertinently, the pragmatic pressure on them to make their new world work.
Chucking in young players who are not ready, not good enough or not even toughened in preparation for coping with a Championship elbow in the face, a rake down their achilles or vicious words in their ear – from opponents or their own senior team-mates – is so crucial to making City's current path a genuine success. Doing it in a winning team obviously helps too.
Many will have played key parts in getting the likes of Ben Godfrey, Lewis, Aarons and Cantwell to the top of their youth development – but tipping that over into first-team action has been the toughest stumbling block for Norwich in the last decade at least.
Now the Canaries' new finishing school is starting to bear fruit, the rewards could yet match the excitement of seeing their first forays in a yellow shirt.
• As some of you may know, my dear dad Paul died less than a fortnight ago at the age of 61.
In some ways that is a thankfully long time yet in others, tragically short – especially as my gorgeous little boys are too young to carry the memories of smiles they brought out in him, even when he was so poorly.
Thank you to everyone who has sent a message or expressed their condolences. It means a lot, with many reflecting the funny, considerate and wonderful man he was.
In a conversation with my mum Geraldine in the horrible days immediately afterwards it struck us how dad's Norwich City fandom had such a tight grip, he couldn't bear the stress of actually watching games.
He even held off listening to them, despite how much he enjoyed the Radio Norfolk commentaries of Chris Goreham and Roy Waller. Dad always felt if he was listening, it would be his fault if City conceded or lost. So we decided that's probably why I do this job – so he could follow my Twitter feed safe in the knowledge he wasn't affecting anything!
Given how much he loved cycling, I'm already planning to try biking up a big hill – probably mountain – to raise money for The Big C (NNUH), whose support and information centre at Colney is a fantastic facility.
The fact I won't be able to chat away with my dad and pick his brain any more is something I'm yet to get my head around – but there's one thing I already know without the need to ask him: that both Saturday evening and Wednesday night would have made him, like all of us, a very happy Norwich City supporter.
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