Paddy Davitt: Wes Hoolahan is the great survivor at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Wes Hoolahan appears to be getting better with age. Paddy Davitt assesses the impact of his Euro exploits in the latest part of his series.
Wes Hoolahan's heroics at Euro 2016 may have brought him to the attention of a mass audience but it was also a reminder Norwich City have a talent most in the Championship can only crave.
Hoolahan's exploits for the Republic of Ireland were all the more remarkable given the fact, at 34, it would not be unreasonable to detect growing signs his best days were gone.
But the Dubliner's mastery of the ball, his control, touch and vision are gifts which seem resistant to the ravages of time and many miles on the clock. Hoolahan's game was never about power or athleticism or even pace. His unique brand of midfield artistry ebbs in and out of fashion.
Hoolahan watched the Republic's last tilt at the European Championships from a Spanish holiday villa with his family. Giovanni Trapattoni appeared unwilling to place his trust in the little maestro. Despite his longevity at Carrow Road, since arriving for the frankly scandalously cheap price of £250,000 in 2008, Hoolahan has not always been in vogue. There was that prolonged flirtation with Aston Villa and his old mentor, Paul Lambert, that dominated the 2014 January transfer window, the almost comedy episode later in the season when he opened the scoring at Villa Park and the ripples from his muted goal celebration in front of the Holte End. That was undoubtedly Hoolahan's lowest point in Norfolk in a season under Chris Hughton which brought only 10 Premier League starts.
In Alex Neil, he has a manager who appreciates what the former League of Ireland part-timer can do rather than penalise him for what he cannot. Hoolahan is a good enough player to be accommodated, for allowances to be made, because in full flow he offers something few others can bring to the party. That indelible mark he left in France when he swept home a sweetly-struck half-volley against Sweden to earn his country a point in their opening group game at the Stade de France, or the majestically weighted pass onto club-mate Robbie Brady's head for the last-gasp winner against Italy underlined this is a craftsman who can still influence games in critical moments.
Yes, there was also the weak shot at Italian stopper Salvatore Sirigu seconds before making amends that looked set to sour his sojourn across the channel, but in essence that is Wes Hoolahan. Brilliant and talismanic, infuriating and frustrating. Hoolahan, as he himself said during a series of media engagements during Euro 2016 that hinted at his new-found profile, is the street footballer operating in the brutally unforgiving world of professional football who retains that zest and love for the ball.
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The Championship, clearly, is a less refined environment than the Premier League and the arduous nature of a congested fixture programme are factors Neil must weigh up in deploying one of his most creative assets. But given Norwich will expect to dominate many opponents through their grip on possession and territory this season, few are better than Hoolahan at picking the lock.