Paddy Davitt: Ivo Pinto is Norwich City’s Championship wildcard
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Chief Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt cautions Ivo Pinto faces another crash course in English football, in the latest part of a summer series.
Ivo Pinto can be Norwich City's renaissance man in the Championship.
Never did a player look more out of sync with his surroundings than those early, frenetic forays into Premier League football following his much-heralded January move from Dinamo Zagreb.
In the 26-year-old's defence, he was pitched into the maelstrom of a bizarre nine-goal episode on his top-flight debut against Liverpool at Carrow Road, when Norwich contrived to let a 3-1 second-half lead slip, that must have left him questioning the wisdom of leaving the relatively secure surroundings of domestic dominance in Croatia.
Given Pinto's next three top- flight games pitched him against Tottenham and their array of attacking talent, title winners Leicester City and dethroned champions Chelsea it should come as no surprise the Portuguese full-back looked off the pace and defensively suspect.
Too many of the goals conceded in those games were sourced from the same area of the pitch.
Pinto endured a torrid baptism to English football in a side that were hurtling down the table after that festive upturn. City's recruitment strategy was called into question by some supporters as the right-back struggled to adapt to the physical demands and high-octane thrust of the Premier League.
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But it is to his eternal credit that after being restored to the starting line-up for the run-in following a merciful breather to collect his thoughts he started to look like a player who had graced the Champions League earlier in the season in high-profile outings against Arsenal that brought him to the attention of Alex Neil.
Pinto appeared to grasp the physical demands required in his new surroundings, in the manner of his close quarters defending and his willingness to embrace the aggressive dimension of Premier League combat. That defensive resolution was married to the attacking, overlapping instincts that are clearly his strongest suit on the evidence of his first few months in a Norwich shirt.
The Championship is just another unique environment for him to master but Neil made it clear shortly after City's relegation had been confirmed he views Pinto as a major asset in the second tier.
It is not difficult to see why. Norwich will justifiably expect to dominate many of the league tussles they face this coming season, and that mastery of midfield can provide the platform – in terms of territory and possession – for Pinto to showcase his threat going forward.
The defensive question marks may linger, and Pinto will have to be just as aggressive in his pressing in less refined surroundings, but that width in wide areas is a coveted trait in the modern game. The Portuguese must see off competition from Steven Whittaker to establish himself in the role but that is clearly what Neil must strive for this summer right across the squad.
A depth and richness of resource is vital to handle the incessant workload and the volume of games in the Championship. Given Russell Martin's presence in the squad, Norwich looked well-stocked in that area of the pitch. Likewise, the current midfield mix appears to harness creativity and drive, guile and muscle, but much like last season the focus ahead of next month's official opening of the transfer window will settle again on the final third.