‘People may say it is only the League Cup, but it is an outing at Wembley and it can get you into Europe’ Former Norwich striker Robert Fleck looks back on the Canries league cup exploits
On the eve of Norwich City's much-anticipated Capital One Cup quarter-final Carrow Road reunion with ex-boss Paul Lambert's Aston Villa, former Canaries' striker Robert Fleck tells PADDY DAVITT such massive games can be career-defining.
Robert Fleck insists medals and not money remain the currency of choice for modern-day professional footballers.
The Scot still holds the distinction of being the last Norwich City player to score in a League Cup quarter-final tie at Carrow Road 17 seasons ago. Fleck's goal salvaged a 1-1 draw against Villa's bitter rivals Birmingham back in 1996 before suffering cup heartache in a 2-1 replay defeat at St Andrews. The Glaswegian retains plenty of fond memories from his two playing spells in Norfolk, but Fleck also looks back on his time with a tinge of regret.
'A lot of people say now players are only in it for the money, but I know I was absolutely gutted that I didn't end up with a medal at Norwich,' he said. 'I was lucky at Glasgow Rangers but I never won trophies with Norwich or Chelsea and that will always be a disappointment for me. I'm sure the people at Norwich now they would say the same thing – you want to win trophies in your career.
'What we did was history and it is a lifetime ago. I am not one of those who can recall every match or every incident, but I remember big Jan's (Molby) goal in the replay and not much else from those ties. For the first time in this competition you could say we are favourites now because we are at home. Against Tottenham (in the last round), we weren't. I'm sure Chris (Hughton) wants to win it as well. People may say it is only the League Cup, but it is an outing at Wembley and it can get you into Europe.'
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Fleck is part of Hughton's extenisve scouting network and the Scot knows the return of Hughton's predecessor will add extra spice to a special occasion.
'Obviously with Paul coming back for his first game at Carrow Road at any level it adds even more interest to it,' he said. 'It is a very difficult game. It is a great achievement to get to the quarter-finals and an even greater achievement to get to the semi-finals. It is great to have a cup run and I think to be fair it has helped the club. It has worked out well for Chris. They have been lucky in cup games this season with three home draws on the bounce and obviously they are at the quarter-final stage now for a reason because they deserve to be there.
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'It doesn't really matter what is happening in the league and it won't have any bearing on a cup game. Chris has changed his team around for the cup games so I don't know if that will be the case again or not. The confidence is sky high and so it should be and any players coming in will won't to show him they are ready if there is a chance to get in for the league games.'
Fleck warns finding a route beyond Villa is only the first obstacle left on the path to a potential landmark appearance at the new Wembley.
'It is still a long way. You can say there are only eight teams left but you can't look that far ahead,' he said. 'You look at Arsenal and a couple of years ago the manager there would always put his youngsters out. Last season they got to the final and this season he has not made as many changes. They are in it to win it. I'm not sure that was the case the past three our four seasons. He is desperate to win it. Chelsea, I don't think have got the strength in depth that means they can afford to chop and change. They have world class players but not the depth. Norwich haven't either. They are not expected to win.'
Fleck believes Hughton has played his hand to perfection juggling cup progress with a marked upturn in Premier League fortunes.
'The lads playing in the Premier League deserve to be there week in, week out,' he said. 'Look at someone like Steven Whittaker and how long it took him to get a chance. It took an injury for Russell Martin in the end before he got a place. Russell has been a regular and a great ambassador for the club for the past two or three seasons but now he has to sit there and bide his time to get back in. That is the way it goes. If Steven had a couple of bad games or the team was losing, the manager might think differently.
'The cup is a bonus. They know the league is the bread and butter. Every player wants to be in the Premier League. We have a manager and a coaching team who will keep them on their toes. There will be a lot of disappointment if they lose, they will be gutted, but really the league form will look after itself. The manager sets high standards, he is quietly-spoken, but when he has to tell them I am sure he does and he will not let anybody look too far ahead. The next game is always the most important.'