Opinion: New beginnings in northern Italy for Norwich City
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Appearances may indeed be deceptive but beneath the magnificent scenery of City’s idyllic Italian retreat and the difficulties in sourcing meaningful opposition there are genuine signs of renewal.
This is a happy group of Norwich City players. You do not need to be inside the camp to deduce that. The body language is positive, the interaction and the banter evident for all those in attendance at Sunday’s 13-0 training work-out against part-timers SC Vallee d’Aoste.
City’s first half line up were gently barracked at times by team-mates sat in the main stand of the 2,500 capacity stadium nestled in the foothills of the Alps. Neil Adams and his coaching staff watched the ebb and flow intently, picking out trends and filing away information which may become essential when the real action begins.
You can focus on the narrower aspects of lightweight opposition and the value of such an academic exercise but City will get plenty of tough tests in the harsher terrain of the Championship. What Adams is striving to do this summer is construct the basic framework, the solid edifice that will equip Norwich to go to a Rotherham or a Cardiff and resist when they find themselves under intense pressure.
Team work and team spirit are not clichés bandied about to project an image of unity; they are requisite components in any successful side. Andrew Surman, below, has already drawn comparisons between the spirit that bonded the Championship promotion-winning side of 2011 and this collective.
Kyle Lafferty’s testimonial on the same positive line carries added credence given he has come in from the outside.
Norwich’s Premier League struggle to survive last season foundered on that inability to resist. In the worst moments of a campaign of angst and recrimination, like at Swansea or Southampton, there always appeared a lack of will, an acceptance of the club’s fate; an unwillingness or simply an inability to change the course of the Canaries’ downward spiral.
Russell Martin is an intelligent, erudite footballer in a profession wrongly castigated too often for the relative scarcity of intellectual endeavour displayed by those out on the pitch. Martin also speaks from a position at the very heart of Norwich’s dressing room; his City career spanning the highs and the lows of recent times.
The defender’s admission in the immediate aftermath of relegation that somewhere along the road the club had lost its identity was the starting point for a revival those 20,000 plus season ticket loyalists and many others inside Norfolk and further afield crave.
Martin spoke honestly and candidly about re-discovering values which had propelled them up through the leagues on a dizzying ascent. The captain will be a key figure on the pitch and in the changing room over these coming months. You can see that in the way he has carried himself in the first, early moments of a season which will really only be judged come next May, rather than the picturesque surroundings of Chatillon Saint Vincent against mediocre opposition.
Right now, it is all about fitness and integration; between new players and the ones who had to endure the pain of last season, or the new breed merging with the established order. There is a refreshingly youthful vigour to City’s squad with the Murphy brothers, Jamar Loza, Adel Gafaiti et al where last season there seemed too often a weariness, a lack of spark or invention.
Adams has shown the same willingness to bring players back into the fold and sideline others that characterised his brief spell in charge prior to his permanent elevation. Wes Hoolahan at the point of a midfield diamond will cause better teams and better players palpitations than he has faced so far in this pre-season.
Adams also increasingly looks the part. The youth team coach is now the first team manager and that authority and distance with his men is vital for both parties. You get a growing sense this is his squad and his time. The cancellation of City’s second friendly against Livorno on Wednesday may raise fresh questions on whether their Italian job is a worthwhile exercise, but the stirrings of a revival are undeniable.