Nothing to fear for City starlets against Premier League survival rivals
- Credit: Alan Stanford/Focus Images Ltd
The youthful streak running through the heart of Norwich City's title success was a satisfying element of Championship triumph for Daniel Farke's team – but can the young guns step up to the Premier League?
The youthful streak running through the heart of Norwich City's title success was a satisfying element of Championship triumph for Daniel Farke's team - but can the young guns step up to the Premier League?
Full-backs Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons were so good during the Canaries' title joys that they were named in the Championship Team of the Season, alongside star team-mate Teemu Pukki.
Ben Godfrey's emergence as a dependable centre-back full of top-level potential only truly came to prominence during the second half of the season.
Yet the strapping 21-year-old, who was refined in City's academy after being signed from York in 2016, was so strong and determined that he earned England U20 caps and national media reports claimed Premier League giants including Liverpool and Manchester United were tracking his progress.
Sporting director Stuart Webber saw off any imminent threat from the big boys this week however when he signed Godfrey up to a long-term deal through until 2023, with the option for a further 12 months - signing a new contract for the third successive summer.
Lewis and Aarons also have four years remaining on their terms, having earned new deals during last season, while Emi Buendia committed until 2022 when he moved to England last summer.
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The former Argentina Under-20 international may not have been a talent guided through the academy funnel at Colney but as he doesn't celebrate his 23rd birthday until Christmas Day the former Real Madrid trainee is still very much one of the young guns.
Completing the set was local lad Todd Cantwell, who earned Farke's trust and made 24 appearances for the eventual champions - starting 16 of 18 matches between his full Championship debut and the 1-1 draw at West Brom in January.
The Dereham-raised midfielder set up Pukki during that league debut for the club he's been with since he was 10, a 2-1 win at Reading, and enjoyed the glory of a goal in front of the Barclay during the 3-1 victory over Rotherham in December.
Cantwell's progress may well have stalled during the second half of the campaign but the creative talent, a former England U16 team-mate of Liverpool's Champions League winning right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, will be looking to press his claims again during pre-season.
The youngster will no doubt have felt he should have had more than a goal and two assists, so still has plenty of work ahead to prove himself.
His contract situation has been well documented this summer, with Webber revealing that talks have been dragging on for the best part of a year, activating the one-year option in Cantwell's contract for next season.
As a teen the Norfolk prospect was reportedly tracked by Arsenal, so has an intriguing campaign ahead of him, with another loan experience still possible - knowing that his contract is currently due to expire next summer.
Reliable left-back Lewis is potentially the youngster in the strongest position to adjust to the Premier League, having already made almost 70 appearances for Norwich since his debut in December 2017.
The 21-year-old has taken to the professional game like a duck to water and already has 10 senior caps for Northern Ireland.
Lewis has played every minute of those 10 games, quickly becoming Michael O'Neill's first choice at left-back, helping to win all four of their Euro 2020 qualifiers so far. The former Luton trainee will need to improve the attacking elements of his game though, with his athletic abilities too often let down by his final ball last season, finishing as the only regular City outfield player without a goal.
On the other side is the reigning EFL Young Player of the Season, Aarons, a 19-year-old who was strongly linked to Manchester United this summer.
Superb stats of six assists and three goals from 43 matches made for a memorable breakthrough campaign for the England U19 international. Another with fine athletic traits, Canaries fans are eagerly waiting to see if he can maintain his momentum in the top flight.
Which brings us to Buendia, a leading light of Farke's all-conquering team, who tore up the Championship and surged into third place in the Player of the Season voting with his South American style and tenacity.
An outstanding eight goals and 18 assists from 41 matches made the £1.5million paid to Getafe look an absolute steal and the irrepressible talent did pick up some top-flight experience with his former club in Spain.
Those 21 La Liga appearances included the chastening feeling of being thrashed 6-0 at Barcelona, twice - with three of those goals scored by arguably the greatest player to ever grace the game, his Argentine compatriot Lionel Messi.
Webber has already warned that patience will be tested by such results against the big boys next year. It's not just the young players that will need to brace for some testing days.
Yet the starlets who dealt with the likes of Leeds and Aston Villa last season should have nothing to fear against survival rivals like Burnley, Brighton and Sheffield United, and that's where the points really matter. Any giant-killings are just a bonus.