What now for Norwich City’s record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
We've been here before. Another summer, another chance at Carrow Road? Michael Bailey mulls over the future for City's record signing…
Hello and welcome to my now-annual piece on the how, what and why of Ricky van Wolfswinkel. It has been quite a ride – and it's not done yet. Possibly.
We all know the back story but as it's been an entire year, we may as well revisit it briefly.
It all started with that April 2013 scouting trip to Lisbon, watching a forward playing a key role in a struggling Sporting side. Portugal's top flight gave the Dutchman the room he needed to operate, and he notched 45 goals in two seasons.
There were warnings to me from more than one Portuguese journalist that it might take Ricky a bit of time to become a success in England – but still. He was 24, a Netherlands international with a decent scoring record in European competition to boot. The world was at his feet. And then, along came Norwich.
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After his goalscoring debut it was a case of one excellent saved header at Hull, an argument with Robert Snodgrass over a penalty and a toe injury that turned season one into a relegation nightmare.
Whether Ricky didn't want to play in the Championship, manager Neil Adams felt it best it wasn't repeated or the reported annual £3m cost of keeping him available to City was prohibitive, RVW avoided the second tier with a season on loan at top-flight side St Etienne.
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He did no better than OK. The deal in place for a permanent move was left alone by the Ligue Un side – despite losing top scorer Max Gradel to Bournemouth in the summer.
Even the chance of a Sporting reunion fell down – reportedly over the finances.
City returned to the Premier League the following season and there was plenty of involvement during the Canaries' 2015-16 pre-season – however, current boss Alex Neil opted to send Ricky on; this time the team in green he was set to play for was in Spain.
So how was Ricky's season away with Real Betis?
Well, a brace in their Copa del Rey win over fellow La Liga side Sporting Gijon made it two goals from three games in the competition – three from four in cups across the season if you add RVW's League Cup winner at Rotherham for City.
But the rest was a familiar tale of numerous substitute appearances, occasional starts, the odd assist and one league goal from his 17 outings in Spain's top flight.
'He scored those cup goals earlier in the season and there was a bit of excitement and a sense at Betis that this guy could be really quite good,' respected Spanish football correspondent Sid Lowe told me on Friday. 'It was a reasonably big deal that he signed. He was out for a bit of time through injury too but at this point there is no sense of a particularly lasting impact from him in Spain.
'Whether Norwich feel the move has been good for him might be a different situation, but he's been at a tough club in Betis too. There is a dispute over the ownership of the club, they've been chaotic for a very long time now. Pepe Mel was hailed as a saviour for a second time as manager – and they sacked him for a second time too.
'Betis also have some reasonably good players in attacking positions. Ruben Castro scores all their goals – 19 last season. Even Jorge Molina has been important to the club and they've got some good players coming in off the wing. They got excited when Charly Musonda joined from Chelsea on loan in the winter too.
'If you were to ask fans about the players that excited them this season, they would say Musonda and Castro. But I don't think anyone would say Van Wolfswinkel.'
All of which means RVW will almost certainly be looking elsewhere for the fourth and final year of his initial Norwich City contract, rather than an extended stay at Betis with their 40,000 season ticket base.
'Gus Poyet is manager now and they want to restructure the club – whether they can do that in practice, we'll see,' added Lowe. 'They were a newly promoted team and survived comfortably – but they are a club that aspires for more and the supporters will want the club to push for a European place, if it possibly can.'
Do not make the mistake of thinking any other future options wouldn't be attractive. Van Wolfswinkel has already tasted top-tier football in England, Portugal, France, Spain and the Netherlands – but there are plenty of leagues he has still to try out.
The financial demands from all sides compared to previous years won't be as great, expectations won't be as high, the suitors not so illustrious – but they will be out there.
And yet, he remains a Norwich City player. In much the same way Alex Neil switched from leaving Steven Whittaker out of his Premier League starting picture to offering him an extended deal ahead of the Championship campaign, there could be a line of logic that wonders whether Alex Neil might want to see if RVW could do a job for him in a Championship promotion push.
And yet, the greater pull suggests this could well be the last appearance of my annual Ricky van Wolfswinkel column – with one final foray abroad finally ending the ill-fated four years of Norwich City's record signing.
Either way, none of it has gone how anyone hoped after a couple of meetings in Portugal back in 2013.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey