Why do Norwich City academy goalkeepers struggle to make the final step?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A few years back a call came into the office from a reader who said he had just seen the Norwich City goalkeeper of the future.
The lad in question was Joe Lewis and, at the time, he would have been in his mid-teens.
Lots of observers of youth team football shared our caller's opinion and, as the years went by, we saw Lewis develop into a natural successor, at the time, to Robert Green.
Sadly for Lewis, that is as good as it got: he never played a first team game for City and in 2008 was sold to Peterborough for £400,000. Lewis is now at Aberdeen and on Saturday kept a clean sheet after a 1-0 win at Dundee.
Lewis isn't the only keeper whose high hopes of a Carrow Road career never came to fruition – Remi Matthews became the latest addition to a recurring theme when, on Sunday, he joined Bolton Wanderers on loan, with a view to a permanent deal being made. Matthews had high hopes of a season in the Championship - but with the Canaries.
Declan Rudd was in a similar position to Matthews last summer when – with John Ruddy departing for Wolves under City's austerity measures – he returned from a loan at Charlton eager to prove his worth. City signed Angus Gunn and Rudd was sold to Preston.
Gunn, of course, came through the ranks here, was sold to Manchester City and only played for the Canaries first team when they signed him on a season-long loan. He is now at Southampton.
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Jed Steer, who was a long-time rival of Rudd's, followed Paul Lambert to Aston Villa in 2013, but so far hasn't cracked it in the Midlands and is now at Charlton, his fourth loan club.
Shrewsbury have Steven Arnold on their books while at the other end of the footballing ladder, Robert Green has landed a job bench-warming at Chelsea.
It seems that wherever you look, there is a former Norwich City keeper not far away.
Carrow Road, meanwhile, is home to two long-standing members of the keepers' union, Tim Krul and Michael McGovern, with young Aston Oxborough (a club 'product') waiting in the wings - although judging by the experience of some of his predecessors those wings may be clipped if he isn't careful.
It's all about opinions, of course, and in the case of Matthews is it those of Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber that matter most.
For the cynics it appears City have produced young keepers for the benefit of other clubs.
However, it has to be said that in many cases there is justification for their decisions.
Green left City for West Ham and the promise of Premier League football in 2006 – there wasn't much City could do about that one.
Lewis's role as understudy to Green was a tough one – Green was highly rated so it would take something special to unseat him. By the time he departed, Lewis was out of luck, suffering an injury which effectively closed the door. He helped Posh to promotion to the Championship in 2009 as City went the other way, but few of his subsequent appearances have been at a higher level – without opening a new debate on the quality of Scottish football.
Rudd made 21 City appearances and was surely a borderline decision: he had the pedigree for the Championship, but no doubt Farke and Webber plan for the future and the ambition for that must be Premier League. Was he good enough? Debatable.
Steer was a similar story: Lambert thought he was up to it but was perhaps proved wrong.
Gunn is a work in progress – but he left City as a 15-year-old, too raw to play for the first team, too good to turn down Manchester City. City had the benefit of his learning process – be grateful for that.
Arnold's CV of lower league and national league clubs suggests Championship football was perhaps a bridge too far.
What will become of the most recent departure, Matthews, is yet to be seen - and that is when the rights or wrongs of City's decision can be argued about.