The Norwich City question that never goes away: what about Wes Hoolahan?
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The biggest question over Wes Hoolahan used to be – can he play wide left? Then it became, is Wes a luxury?
Ask a question on the subject of Wes Hoolahan today and you are unlikely to get an answer in a hurry – the debate takes a while.
Question one was always easy: No, Glenn, he can't.
Question two was usually: No. He's too good to be a luxury.
The question of Spring, 2017? What happens to Wes Hoolahan next season?
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Let's deal with his age, first: Wes turns 35 on May 20. He has started fewer than 350 league games since he was first paid to kick a ball 11 years ago. He is not a knackered old has-been by any stretch of the imagination.
However, Hoolahan is approaching a period where the question of succession has to be sorted out. And if that sounds like something out of the House of Windsor then, yes, it's what we are dealing with. There has to be a worthy successor in the House of Hoolahan. The question is, who and when?
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Like most of his colleagues, it has been meagre pickings at times for Hoolahan this season, but he has acquitted himself better than most. He hasn't been sidelined by injuries as many players of his vintage would be. The assumption (without seeing the stats that will be fed to management at Colney) is that he is still as fit as a flea. Okay, he might not last 90 minutes twice a week, but if you listen to managers nowadays, footballers are too highly-tuned for that anyway, no matter their age.
On form alone and assuming he is fit and able, is the case for or against Hoolahan being a major player next season? The answer has to be yes.
So what are the obstacles? Well, first off, a new broom is sweeping around Carrow Road in the shape of sporting director Stuart Webber who absolutely must be given free rein to do what he wants with the footballing staff. When my colleague Paddy Davitt revealed last week that the board had asked current caretaker boss Alan Irvine to stay on next season in a coaching capacity, you had to hope that it was on Webber's recommendation and not the board's request. The board must not interfere in the recruitment of players or coaching staff. Yes, it is their club, but success will be built on the ability of the football brains, not the suits, well meaning as we know they are.
Hoolahan's place will be under scrutiny. Put yourself in the shoes of the new head coach – you inherit a squad of under-achievers, some who have experienced both the very good and the very bad times. Some of those are the wrong side of 30. One is 35. That senior citizen is going to have a big question mark over his name.
Can you afford to keep him? Who are the alternatives? Clearly, that will be Alex Pritchard and James Maddison, both pretenders to the No10 crown. Pritchard has proved himself capable of late, Maddison's first full public appearance in the seniors was a goalscoring one on a rare successful away day.
If Wes is around, where do they fit in? To my mind, Hoolahan controls a game, Pritchard doesn't. That is not the way he plays: he likes a more advanced role and it is perhaps wrong to suggest he is a Hoolahan replica. Maddison has yet to prove himself, although it's right that he should be given the opportunity to do so now. But are there three people in this midfield conundrum when only two are needed? Does Maddison go out on loan again? Surely not. If Pritchard advances as he has done in recent games, does he become a saleable commodity next season at a time when City may be looking at the final parachute payment envelope.
And the other side of the coin? Cast your minds back to 2004 when City were promoted to the top flight. Then manager Nigel Worthington decided to let Iwan Roberts and Malky Mackay leave the club. Roberts had started 13 games, with 28 sub appearances and scored eight goals; Mackay had started 45 games out of 46. The stats aren't bad by themselves, but better still was the fact that these two were big and influential characters in a City dressing room which could have done with it in the Premier.
Hoolahan may be sleight of build and not have the forceful nature of, say a Grant Holt, but he has a similar presence; he is known and respected throughout football, not least by City's younger players. Having Wes around is important. Taking him out of the dressing room and a part of Norwich City has gone – for players and the fans.
This isn't a sentimental consideration just an acknowledgment that footballers are subject to the same emotions as the rest of us.
Keeping Wes around would have a lot of benefits.