Wes Hoolahan set for landmark occasion at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Wes Hoolahan is in line for his 300th Norwich appearance this weekend. Paddy Davitt argues the City midfielder remains just as influential as ever.
Wes Hoolahan is already a legendary figure at Norwich City. There can be no more fitting way to mark his 300th appearance than inspiring a positive Championship result against Leeds United on Saturday.
Hoolahan's special landmark, should he survive the cull Alex Neil threatened following a dire 5-0 defeat at Brighton, has been largely over-shadowed by the poisonous fall-out.
Which, you suspect, is how the Irishman would want it. Quiet, unassuming, reticent for the most part in exposing himself to the media glare, Hoolahan's voice is heard where it matters.
Not only his longevity but his technical ability set him apart. The Republic of Ireland international may not be unique but he is a dying breed; a long-serving player with the laurels and the battle scars to show for a professional career that started in Scotland and has veered from the depths of League One to the Premier League, along with an eye-catching cameo this past summer for his country at Euro 2016.
It has not all been plain sailing. Few relationships stretching eight years ever are. Hoolahan has found himself on the periphery for club and country at times. There was the infamous flirtation with Paul Lambert and Aston Villa in 2014 and the muted celebrations for his strike in front of the Holte End during an intense period of speculation regarding a reunion with the man who nurtured him in Norfolk. Divorce proceedings were shelved. Hoolahan remained an integral part of Norwich's creative output.
In Martin O'Neill and now Neil he has a pair of managers who appreciate his talent and in the right environment are willing to let it flourish.
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Hoolahan's form, along with that of his club mates, has dipped during this recent fallow period. But that only serves to magnify how well the 34-year-old started this season. Those pretty patterns, the touch and awareness, the balletic grace in confined spaces, the magical Hoolahan has given pleasure to a generation of Norwich fans who want the ride to continue for a while yet.
The fresh two-year contract signed in August could take the midfielder through to an obligatory testimonial. Hoolahan was suitably coy after penning the new deal earlier this season when pressed on the prospects of enticing Celtic to Carrow Road, should the occasion come to pass. When you reach the veteran stage, when your manager is only a few months older than yourself, it pays to live in the present.
That is why should Hoolahan run out this weekend against Leeds United he deserves a huge ovation. But then he needs to get down to business and underline why he still so influential.