Michael Bailey: I’ve been fearing this day for seven years – and that got me into trouble
PUBLISHED: 06:07 27 April 2018 | UPDATED: 14:10 08 October 2018
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
In his latest weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey talks of seven years fearing the day would come – Wes Hoolahan and Norwich City’s parting of the ways.
It started with Ryan Harley. A young man pulling Exeter’s strings in League One back in autumn 2010.
Meanwhile, Norwich City were acclimatising well enough to life back in the Championship following their own promotion from the third tier.
What was also abundantly clear at that point, was the ruthless streak driving the Canaries forward. Lambert’s regular affirmation his boys needed a hand, had represented a severe turnover in staff that summer – and it was producing some serious results. That theme never left the project Lambert and co continued to mastermind.
So late October, up popped the name on my journalistic radar. Harley was, in the words of Rochdale boss Keith Hill fresh from a Ryan-inspired defeat, “a magician”. He would soon be out of contract too, attracting interest from much bigger clubs than the Grecians and – as was suggested to me – Norwich would be among his summer suitors if no January bids came in.
Pretty standard stuff in terms of transfer speculation – but there was a part of me that grimaced at the news. These were not the days of limitless number 10s at Carrow Road, and money was even tighter than it is now.
All of which left me with a question. If Harley really was being lined up for the summer, then what of the little man City already had on their books?
Wesley Hoolahan had spent barely two seasons at the football club, been relegated and endured a truly tricky first campaign – before looking able to take League One down the following year with just one, gorgeous left foot.
In terms of public knowledge, he was also out of contract in the summer – and I’ll admit it: two years of that little Irishman and the way he played football, the potential at his feet, just didn’t feel long enough. So I checked a few things and opted to write the story – linking Ryan Harley to a possible Norwich City switch from Exeter, while asking the question: Were City really going to risk losing Wes Hoolahan?
After all, Lambert was more keen to sell the Irishman than play him when he first arrived as boss, as well as the aforementioned ruthless streak in the background.
From there, life got surreal. First was a call from Paul Lambert – not exactly ecstatic one of his players had turned up in his office, fearing he was heading out of the club.
There was a lot of swearing, I remember that. It was a fair few months before he calmed down enough to let me talk to him and his players again.
Then on January 8, 2011, City announced Hoolahan had signed a new three and a half-year deal to keep him at the club.
Come January 21, Ryan Harley was signed by City’s Premier League promotion rivals Swansea – albeit, that was as good as it got for the little Grecian.
Professionally for me, it wasn’t the easiest time – and certainly one I learned from. I still have no idea how genuinely upset the story had made City’s number 14.
But I can say this on behalf of myself, both then and through to now – the only thing I wanted was Wes Hoolahan to remain a Norwich City player. Even then. Even that early in his Canaries career. Because let’s be honest, who on earth wouldn’t want a player like that at their club, in their prime?
It’s been a decade of opponents bringing up Wes’ name to exemplify City’s quality. And in the words of Stuart Webber this week: “If you like football, then you like Wes Hoolahan.”
I can’t comment on anything beforehand but I was roughly seven when I started really absorbing Norwich City. Since then, there have been so many great players I’ve been happy to stick on the back of a shirt or watch with adoration: Craig Bellamy, Chris Sutton, Dean Ashton, Ian Crook, Bryan Gunn, Darren Eadie, Iwan Roberts, Darren Huckerby... I’m going to stop there or this list will overrun.
But too many came and went all too soon: sold on for big bids and better stages; diminished by form or a manager’s favour; impatient for their own success.
And yet I can say with extreme confidence there is only one player I have watched for a decade, playing in yellow and green, entirely in his pomp. One who brought success at regular intervals. And one who made me exclaim ‘wow’ so often.
That we get one last chance this weekend to see Wes turn on a sixpence, spray the ball, thread someone through, sit his man on his backside and quite possibly lose possession on the edge of his own box, is one thing.
But to have all had the chance to savour a player of Wes Hoolahan’s powers – and at the top of his powers – even more than his own national side, is something I’ll always be thankful for.
I’m sure everyone inside Carrow Road on Saturday will be too.
• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on the following channels…