Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Farewell Robert Snodgrass, the Argos Arjen Robben leashed to a lamppost.
Not many Norwich City players have severed opinion quite like Robert Snodgrass.
There was no middle ground. Most were convinced that he was either Norwich’s best player, the conductor of all things good, or he was a whingeing, tumbling, one-footed blind alley.
Truth is, he was both.
Our first glimpses of him were promising. Shoulders hunched, head down, left foot gnawing away at the ball, right foot an accessory; he was an Argos Arjen Robben. He attacked defenders, created chances and, with more pace, may have wooed a top-six club.
Yet, as every performance became a slightly smudged carbon copy of the previous one, doubts surfaced. Last season, those doubts turned to frustration, and, with some fans, frustration turned to anger. Defenders had got wise to him. Snodgrass, it seemed, wasn’t savvy enough, and his game not nuanced enough, to react to this.
He spent most matches engaged in his own tantric football, where the pass always came too late. He ran like he was giving someone a piggyback and when attacking would barely shift from a small circumference on the right of the penalty area, yapping and straining like a dog leashed to a lamppost.
His increasing predictability meant that you could at least take your mind off the on-pitch horrors by playing Snodgrass Bingo: uses left foot when he should use right; cuts inside when he should hit the byline; loses the ball and falls over; moans at a referee after falling over; slows down attack; strikes the first man from a corner; tracks back without marking someone. Bingo!
That final point – his tracking back – was where you would find out which side of the Snodgrass fence fans were on.
Many admired his “work-rate”, “guts” and “passion” for running back, using it as proof that here was a man who put the team first and gave the mathematically dubious 110% every match. Problem was, when he did get back, he made roughly 0% effort to tackle or close down. His tracking back was just keeping up appearances, a man stepping in to break up a fight after it’s already fizzled out.
There is still a very good player wrapped up in the enigma of Snodgrass. He was outstanding during Norwich’s unbeaten run in 2012-13, when he replaced Elliott Bennett. With Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington joining him in a three ahead of two holding midfielders, Norwich were penetrative across the width of the pitch.
This year, far too much of Norwich’s play was directed through Snodgrass, like he’d set up roadblocks to divert the traffic his way. Despite the amount he saw of the ball – and at times it bordered on stalking – he ended the season with just two Premier League assists to his name.
We shouldn’t forget Chris Hughton’s role in this. If Snodgrass became one-dimensional, it was because the manager didn’t employ an attacking coach. If Snodgrass slowed down attacks, it was because Hughton insisted on playing him only on the right, despite it becoming increasingly clear that he isn’t a natural winger at the top level.
He cut inside so often from the right that you started to wonder if he was actually wing-phobic, the sight of the advertising boards and white lines giving him the shivers. Greater still was his fear of the left, which existed somewhere around Nigel Farage levels. His reluctance to swap flanks throughout matches was as self-serving as it was detrimental to the team.
Instead, his attributes – good first touch, quick feet (or foot) and a feel for space – have always suggested he would be better suited to playing at No.10.
Neil Adams recognised this and nudged him into the hole, where his staccato dribbling was still infuriating but often more penetrative. Even when he stumbled down blind alleys playing centrally, at least those alleys led into the penalty box. Too late, we had a tantalising – but ultimately depressing – glimpse of what could have been.
So farewell Robert Snodgrass. We will miss your left foot, your goals, your beard, your celebration, but we won’t mourn your stumbling, stalling and moaning. You were the best of players, you were the worst of players. Now you are Hull’s to argue about.
• Daniel Brigham is features editor of The Cricketer magazine. He tweets at @cricketer_dan