Paddy Davitt: Seb Bassong’s Norwich City career reaches a crossroads
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Life at Norwich City is never dull for Seb Bassong, but chief Norwich writer Paddy Davitt assesses the merits of a possible divorce, in the latest part of a summer series
Alex Neil was applauded for the brutal honesty of his reaction to Norwich City's Premier League relegation.
The Scot did not absolve himself from blame for why the Canaries came up short and face life back in the uncertain world of the Championship.
Neil also cited the recruitment errors of last summer and the frailty at either end of the pitch that was too often exposed in the top flight. But there was another soundbite in the midst of this cleansing process which may have not attracted quite as many headlines. The City boss conceded he would need to freshen up a squad which had started to show signs of weariness over the run-in. He went further and made it clear the contractual vagaries of his players would matter less in his thinking than their usefulness or effectiveness in melding a group capable of a concerted fight back.
In that context, departures are inevitable. The ever-expanding column inches touting the likes of Robbie Brady and Nathan Redmond with a summer exit is just one aspect. There may be others who are vulnerable because Neil has decided he needs to disturb the status quo to trigger a positive reaction; to spark another revival.
Seb Bassong at his best is a dominant force. Bassong at his worst is a hesitant, error-prone defender who appears to lose focus too easily and too readily. The 29-year-old was a talismanic presence, leading by example, in his first season at Carrow Road but found himself frozen out under Neil Adams and sent on loan to Watford. One of Neil's greatest feats since his arrival in Norfolk was the seamless nature of Bassong's rehabilitation. Paired again alongside Russell Martin he was a solid, dependable focal point in the march out of the Championship but the inconsistency returned last season in the Premier League. The Cameroon international was not the only player who made mistakes in a downward spiral but that authority, that soothing air of arrogance was gone. Timm Klose and Ryan Bennett looked a far more assured partnership during a mini-revival before Klose's season-ending knee injury earned Bassong a reprieve.
Bennett has already featured in the swirl of transfer speculation as he approaches the final year of his current deal. Klose, inevitably, given his initial impact in England, is sure to attract interest. Neil will have to factor in such probability and his prospects of retaining the services of such a duo when he assesses his central defensive options.
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But it is surely asking too much for a core of players who succeeded and failed in equal measure over the past two seasons to raise the bar again. Bassong clearly falls into that category. This is less about scapegoats and more about embracing the club's Championship challenge. It will take a herculean effort to threaten the promotion places, with rivals like Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday seemingly on the rise and Newcastle United and Aston Villa a clear danger if they navigate the same negative currents afflicting Norwich.
Neil needs to shake things up. That much is evident. The deals for Steven Whittaker and Cameron Jerome is a signal he wants to perform minor surgery rather than wholesale changes. But an exit for Bassong would underline things will be different this time around.