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Paddy Davitt, Norwich City Writer
Thursday, January 9, 2014
One image above all others sprang to mind when the first stirrings of transfer speculation surrounding Wes Hoolahan broke on the eve of Norwich’s FA Cup tie.
"Any individual who wishes to agitate for a move away will do so from a position of clear weakness."
It was the bear hug Paul Lambert enveloped the Dubliner in as they both left the pitch at Villa Park following the first reunion between the Canaries and the chief architect of their rise from League One.
Hoolahan lit up that Premier League game in October 2012 and it was his instinctive intelligence and quick-thinking that fashioned a deserved equaliser for Michael Turner in the closing stages of a game Chris Hughton’s squad merited a victory.
Lambert did not go to any of his own Villans in search of an embrace at the final whistle, but headed straight for a player who did more than most to raise his managerial stock at Carrow Road. Lambert’s fabled diamond formation swept Norwich from the third tier but it was a tactical device that allowed Hoolahan to flourish at his most creative best; freed to a large extent from defensive responsibilities and tasked with supplying the likes of Grant Holt and Chris Martin.
That the Villa boss is a confirmed admirer of Hoolahan is to state the obvious, even before fresh reports on Wednesday night of a frankly derisory bid tabled way below the initial £1.5m figure floated at the weekend. Lambert is in the market for attacking midfielders and Hoolahan justifiably would be on any target list. But the Dubliner is not the only one. Of that we can be quite sure.
The agent of Belgium international Steven Defour was quoted last week saying there had been contact from the Midlands club to sound them out rearding the prospect of a mid-season switch to England from Porto.
There will be others. But whether you focus on Hoolahan or any other member of Hughton’s first team pool at Carrow Road this transfer window is all about Norwich City.
The Canaries’ board hold the upper hand in their desire to recruit and retain, not the players or their representatives. A healthy balance sheet containing record financial numbers in the last set of completed accounts and an astute policy of securing their prime assets mean any individual who wishes to agitate for a move away will do so from a position of clear weakness.
Hoolahan himself may not have been among the latest tranche of team mates to pledge their futures to the Canaries in recent months, but a new long term deal signed in December 2012 means he is contracted to these parts for the foreseeable future.
Hughton himself refused to be drawn on what he labelled a ‘hypothetical’ situation when forced to deflect the inevitable line of questioning sparked by Hoolahan’s absence from last weekend’s Fulham cup-tie.
Many conclusions will already have been drawn prior to the latest twist in a trading window built on smoke and mirrors, one which masks the detail and muddies the waters; when you have to decipher the semantics of an enquiry from a firm offer, expressions of interest from third party contacts and agents who purport to act on behalf of players and clubs. Or even in Hoolahan’s case, separate fact from fiction when it comes to transfer requests.
City’s board will dictate the final outcome of any potential approach for any of their contracted players. Hoolahan is a firm fans’ favourite who has been a loyal servant on the march to the Premier League. Given his advancing years and his relative lack of first team opportunities one would entirely understand a level of frustration amplified elsewhere in recent times with the public outburst from Luciano Becchio - or more pertinently his representative.
But Norwich have made great play of the fact none of their established stars have left against their wishes during this heady journey from League One.
Jed Steer’s exit for Villa generated a sour aftertaste, but the highly-rated young keeper was not about to dislodge John Ruddy.
They may be tested in the remainder of the transfer circus but all the circumstantial evidence reinforces the view Norwich City is not a selling club in the Premier League.