Paddy Davitt: Brinkmanship is not a winning formula in Wes Hoolahan’s Norwich City exit strategy
15:18 23 January 2014
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Wes Hoolahan’s Norwich City career deserves so much more than a sour epitaph.
The Canaries’ longest-serving player has been a talismanic figure who has done more than most to salvage the wreck of a football club heading into the abyss not all that long ago. Promotion to the Premier League and the massive uplift to the club’s finances helped fuel a record transfer outlay during last summer which in effect served to stunt Hoolahan’s own Norwich career path.
The wonderfully-gifted midfielder made 28 Premier League starts during Chris Hughton’s first campaign in these parts. This time around he has made five. That is the kernel of truth at the heart of a troubling stand-off dragged firmly into the public consciousness with this week’s latest developments after you strip away the toxic presence of Paul Lambert and Aston Villa in a plot which will inevitably be resolved by the end of next week’s deadline.
Hoolahan is notoriously reticent when it comes to dealing with the media so the simple fact he, or more pertinently his advisors, felt compelled to air the Irishman’s grievances in a statement and then conduct a national newspaper interview following the rejection of his transfer request serves to underline the scale of his desperation.
David McNally and Hughton will do what is best for Norwich City, not for Hoolahan, and that is definitely not to let the Dubliner depart for Villa or any of their other potential Premier League rivals.
We asked you - what should Norwich do with Wes Hoolahan?
• 34% said sell him
• 56% said play him more often
• 10 % said leave him on the bench
The Canaries already face the unpalatable prospect of seeing Grant Holt inflict potential damage on the club where he was crowned triple player-of-the-year when they head to the West Midlands on March 1. Imagine the enormity of that scenario if it was his old Norwich sidekick Hoolahan supplying the ammunition.
That would be an illogical business decision from the club’s top brass which could cause irreparable damage to their chances of a fourth consecutive season of Premier League football. Even in the unlikely event City did back-track on their entrenched position and sanction Hoolahan’s exit, with the caveat he did not face his former employers, there is still sufficiently long enough left in the season for him to exert a positive bearing on Villa’s own bid for Premer League survival.
City dismissed Villa’s opening gambit as ‘derisory’ when it blew up in the aftermath of an FA Cup draw at home to Fulham dominated by Hoolahan’s absence from the matchday squad with an unspecified injury. As Hughton tellingly alluded at the time, one ‘reported’ by the player on the eve of battle.
Hoolahan’s latest course of action this week served to raise the stakes once more, but the balance of power still resides in the Carrow Road boardroom and without suitors making an enquiry based on a realistic assessment of the Irishman’s market value the Canaries will rightly feel under no obligation to entertain the prospect of his departure. Hoolahan’s frustrations are understandable and the majority of supporters would surely be sympathetic at watching their former leading man consigned to the stalls.
Hughton has elected to ration his unique brand of magic this season in a concerted attempt to harness a greater overall productivity. City’s enduring struggles indicate that remains an elusive target. Hughton has so far failed to embellish last season’s defensive resolution with a genuine cutting edge by sacrificing Hoolahan’s ability to pick holes in top flight defences.
A man who turns 32 barely a fortnight after the end of the current season needs to be playing at this advanced stage of his career. Hoolahan is also rapidly approaching the final year of his current Carrow Road deal. To earn another one or a contract elsewhere requires he cash in whilst his personal stock remains high and his reputation largely intact. The lure of an extra year on his existing Norwich contract reportedly on offer in the Midlands allied to the prospect of regular football on the big stages must be an enticing proposition for Hoolahan.
One can also reasonably surmise club considerations may not be the only factor at play here along with greater financial security for Hoolahan and his family. New Republic of Ireland international boss Martin O’Neill is a confirmed admirer of the Belvedere youth product. Hoolahan starred in O’Neill’s first game in charge against Latvia and would justifiably be considered one of his country’s most technically accomplished operators capable of forming the core of the Republic’s quest to qualify for the 2016 European Championships.
O’Neill was at Carrow Road for Norwich’s 1-1 Premier League draw against Swansea in December to watch the midfielder in action. What he got was the occasional glimpse of Hoolahan gently limbering up on the touchline. When pressed on the subject at a later date O’Neill insisted such relative inactivity would not count against Hoolahan, but it seems inconceivable how he could feature prominently for his country with limited chances to impress for his club.
Hoolahan’s insistence in his statement that his future lies elsewhere has echoes of Holt’s transfer saga at the end of the Canaries’ first successful season back in the Premier League. The Cumbrian took City’s unwillingness to commence fresh contract talks as a sign of their waning interest. Lambert’s departure brought a new deal for the striker before he eventually departed on the club’s terms, not his own.
That is a moral that should not be lost on Hoolahan or his advisors. City’s longest-serving player inspires devotion on the terraces because of his beautiful artistry. Norwich’s recruitment drive during the past summer was part of a refreshing commitment to evolve by equipping the manager with the tools to strive for more than another season of incremental toil.
But the 31-year-old is still unrivalled within Hughton’s current squad for his natural ability to knit back to front, to take the ball in the tightest of situations and to retain possession. His best days at Norwich may be behind him but Hoolahan remains too valuable a commodity to trade in this current transfer window.