Paddy Davitt: Norwich City's recruitment woes summed up in three words - Ricky van Wolfswinkel
PUBLISHED: 20:01 06 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:54 07 May 2017
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Ricky van Wolfswinkel is the poster boy for Norwich City's recent struggles in the transfer market.
A Dutch international striker, a mega fee for the Canaries, and a guarantee of goals, we were promised, when the 28-year-old swooped into Norfolk in the summer of 2013 after a prolific spell in Portugal.
A soaring debut day header to open his account in the Premier League against Everton seemed to confirm all the hype.
But that was van Wolfswinkel’s highest point. The landing was hard and bumpy. The goodwill remained amongst a declining number of supporters, who felt it was only a matter of time before he justified the price tag, and underlined his pedigree.
So the tale goes, his partner’s famous father, the great Dutch footballer of the 1970s, Johan Neeskens, claimed after watching a handful of matches in yellow and green van Wolfswinkel would struggle to score goals in his new side. A prophesy that proved painfully accurate.
This was the era of Chris Hughton’s stolid, attritional approach to top flight survival. Norwich, under Brighton’s promotion-winning manager, were not set up to furnish van Wolfswinkel with a rich seam of chances. Attacking thrusts were incremental, opportunities at a premium and confidence visibly ebbed away from the frontman.
The ex-Sporting striker arrived in a blaze of publicity. He left by the back door last summer after two lengthy loan stints in France and Spain failed to recapture that blistering goalscoring prowess.
City took a multi-million pound hit on the balance sheet. It was a costly mistake of epic proportions; recruited in the good times, jettisoned for a nominal fee to ease the pressure on the wage bill with the club back in the wilds of the Football League.
But those detractors who thought he would disappear without trace might be shocked to discover van Wolfswinkel’s career is in rude health again.
A potential return to the Holland national squad is on the horizon with van Wolfswinkel firing Vitesse Arnhem to the Dutch Cup last weekend; his current club’s first trophy in 125 years.
The one-time Norwich flop’s cup final brace also secured Europa League football next season and saw him reach the 20-goal mark for the campaign.
Few would argue Dutch club football lacks the same competitive edge or the cache of the Premier League. Van Wolfswinkel may find time and space is more generously afforded by defenders than he experienced in England, but his renaissance perfectly illustrates the vagaries of expensive forays into the transfer market and the pitfalls Stuart Webber must avoid this coming summer.
City’s new sporting director has delivered on his pledge to embark on a major clearout with the departures of John Ruddy and six of his colleagues and an influx of new talent expected this summer designed to inject energy and freshness. But despite his impressive track record at Huddersfield, and the fact Webber personifies a new approach and a new philosophy at the top of the game, football recruitment is still far from an exact science.
You can lessen the variables, perform exhaustive checks and conduct forensic analysis but there is an element of risk behind every deal.
Van Wolfswinkel was the handsome hitman with the million dollar smile who turned into a Carrow Road misfit. Harsh but true on every measure.
Yet the Dutchman clearly possesses the ability to score goals. That was true before and now after his sour stint in Norfolk. It simply failed to work out for a number of reasons - not solely due to his own failure to grasp the opportunity to shine on a much higher profile stage.
Right player, wrong time? Maybe. City reportedly weighed up a move for the all-action Wilfried Bony in that same summer of 2013 before opting for the seemingly more cultured van Wolfswinkel.
Bony instead moved to Swansea and scored at such a rate he was headhunted by Manchester City in a £28m move. That is the nature of the complex and unpredictable task Webber and his rapidly emerging recruitment team must shortly embark upon.
Not every move he makes this summer will pay off but Norwich’s short term prospects hinge on getting more right than wrong. They can ill afford any more Rickys.