Opinion: Time to move on from a coupling with no winners as Norwich City and Ricky van Wolfswinkel part
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Ricky van Wolfswinkel was the poster boy for Norwich City’s ills during an aggressively expansionist phase which ultimately cost them their Premier League status.
"To apportion the majority of any blame in the 25-year-old’s direction would be a distortion of the truth, but equally (Ricky) van Wolfswinkel appeared incapable of shaping his own destiny,"
Recruiting the Dutch international with the proven goalscoring pedigree in Holland and Portugal was a visible symbol City had endured the growing pains and were now setting course for more than mere survival.
That grand project imploded somewhere between the drawing board and the football pitch amidst a diet of anaemic football, a paucity of goals and a general sense they had lost their way.
To apportion the majority of any blame in the 25-year-old’s direction would be a distortion of the truth, but equally van Wolfswinkel appeared incapable of shaping his own destiny, taking control of his fate and proving he had the weaponry to survive in the far more competitive surroundings of the English Premier League.
That dexterous, guided header on the opening day of his league debut which salvaged a point against a slick Everton will now be remembered as an elusive tease; the highpoint of his torturous flirtation with Norwich that looks to have ended with a season-long loan move to France, which even if it does not become a permanent St Etienne switch, would surely be stopover to another career posting on the continent.
Van Wolfswinkel’s instinctive, swivelling header beyond a top operator in Tim Howard bore all the hallmarks of a deadly predator. What fans got was a man bereft of confidence and hampered by a foot injury during those early defining months which left him incapable of leaving an indelible mark on English football.
The Dutchman and his camp would point to mitigating factors. Van Wolfswinkel’s brand of football seemed totally alien to Chris Hughton’s methodology. In Portuguese football he profited from clever, technically proficient midfield artistry which embellished his own cunning and willingness to bait the last defender to exploit space in behind. Such fertile conditions were never likely in a Norwich set-up where Hughton favoured discipline above dash, where the priority was defensive shape and the premise City would have to forage without the ball for prolonged spells. When they got it, they advanced incrementally, limiting the space and the speed with which van Wolfswinkel carved out his reputation. Debates on whether he needed a second striker missed the contradiction at the heart of such a strained relationship. City’s style under Hughton clashed with van Wolfswinkel’s own personality on the pitch and tinkering with the number of personnel at the top end of the field was akin to shuffling chairs on the Titanic.
By the time Neil Adams had assumed control for the fraught run-in, van Wolfswinkel was a shell of the player who plundered in Lisbon; that phantom pass at Craven Cottage in Adams’ first outing symptomatic of a muddled, confused footballer ill at ease in his surroundings.
Separation may be the best course right now for both parties. Norwich and Adams need greater reliability in the arduous terrain of the Championship. Lewis Grabban has already shown the attributes to suggest he will prove far more effective. Van Wolfswinkel for his part needs to re-ignite a career which, lest we forget, carried him to the threshold of Holland’s World Cup squad this summer.
That he failed to make the same journey as Leroy Fer to Brazil was just another sad side effect of a desperate episode for both parties.