David Hannant: These are the men who could define Norwich City’s 2018/19 season
PUBLISHED: 18:20 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:20 28 March 2018
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It is a disappointing reality that for all intents and purposes, Norwich City’s season is now over.
Sure, there are still a handful of games left and, of course, what we want to see is City win as many of them as possible - in fact all of them - why not?
However, in terms of real aspirations, there aren’t really any. We won’t go down, we can’t go up, what is left to aim for?
In my last column - published on March 15 - I made a list of goals for the remainder of the season, all of which I stand by. However, with very little left to aim at, I’m doing what us City fans have been encouraged to do all season - look at the future and look ahead.
So while the season dwindles slowly away, let’s start thinking about next season, and in this piece, I’m going to specifically look at the players who could be the most pivotal in making sure it isn’t a fourth Championship campaign in a row, come 2019/20.
One candidate is obvious - James Maddison. By far and wide he has been City’s biggest success story of this season and the most potent creative outlet.
If, and it’s a big if, we can hold on to our most prized asset, he will obviously be the most important player in the squad.
However, it is such a big if that, from this point, I’m going to gloss over him.
I would love to be proved wrong and the optimist in me says he may decide he wants to remain the big fish, repay Daniel Farke for the faith his predecessors never showed him and have one more crack at promotion with Norwich City. However, common sense says the riches of the Premier League will surely drag City’s star player away.
This leads me to having to look elsewhere for the players that will define City’s next season - and some of my choices may surprise.
• Mario Vrancic
I start with a man who has split opinions this year. A man who even my column buddy Ian Clarke - who normally drinks in the same optimistic tea round as me - had severe doubts about earlier on.
When Mario Vrancic arrived in the summer, there was a fair bit of hype about him, but his early season showings left a lot to be desired.
However, what I’ve seen from the Bosnian recently fills me with hope he could be a big player for the club next campaign.
With each game he looks more comfortable with the English hustle and bustle and has shown he has a real eye for a pass.
By August, he should well and truly ‘get’ the Championship and a more assured, confident Mario Vrancic could prove a real asset.
• Onel Hernandez
I’m really, really starting to get excited about Onel Hernandez.
In the 3-2 win over Reading, he looked direct, exciting and like he wanted to make things happen.
He does occasionally disappear from games, but I’m putting that down to having to acclimatise to English football, just like Mario Vrancic needed to.
The one thing he needs to add to his game is confidence in front of goal, which should come with time and the right opportunities.
If he continues to grow in confidence and adjust, Onel Hernandez could very well become the most exciting winger to pull on a yellow and green jersey since Darren Huckerby.
• Grant Hanley
The towering Scot has been a real revelation of late - it’s no coincidence that City’s leaky defence became somewhat less so when he bedded into the team.
He is a leader, never says die and puts his body on the line.
I’d be disappointed if he is not sporting the captain’s armband on the first day of the season.
• Ben Godfrey
With it looking increasingly likely that Alex Tettey will be heading for the exit in the summer, next term City’s midfield will be in some desperate need of added steel.
It’s been well documented that Daniel Farke loves a midfielder with flair, you only need to look at recruits like Mario Vrancic, Harrison Reed and Moritz Leitner to see this. However, Alex Tettey has served as a great lynchpin when he has figured.
Godfrey has been ever-present for Shrewsbury Town, in a team that could well be joining us next season. He could very well prove to be the man to fill Alex’s boots.
In an ideal world, City will be able to retain the services of Angus Gunn, for another season at the very least.
However, this is probably another unlikely one, sadly.
However, just like this year was Gunn’s big break, next year could well be Remi’s.
On loan at Plymouth, Matthews has kept nine clean sheets in 20 appearances - not a bad return at all. If Angus does not return, we could very well see another top stopper emerge.
The curious case of Sean Raggett
One name I’m sure a few of you may have expected in my main piece is Sean Raggett.
His FA Cup heroics for Lincoln meant his arrival came with reasonable fanfare, certainly in comparison to any other arrival from the lower leagues.
He is, though, a curious case, as far as ‘ones for the future’ signings go. Raggett is, after all, 24, which is an age you would expect footballers to really start hitting their peak. What makes me more concerned is that, rather than sending him back out on loan, he has been retained, but not used. Even when the likes of Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann had spells on the sidelines, Daniel Farke elected to change the system, rather than throw Raggett in. Obviously, I know James Maddison was in this exact position 12 months ago, but I’m leaning towards the feeling that if he isn’t involved now, will he figure next year? I would love to be wrong and see Raggett go on to become as much of a cult hero for us as he was for the Imps, but for me, the jury is still out.
More of the same after five-goal thriller please
In my aforementioned last column, one of the objectives i set out was for more goals.
I think my exact wording was that I wanted to see City give somebody ‘a drubbing’, and when we went 3-1 up at home to Reading, I thought the boys had chosen the earliest possible point to oblige.
Of course, it didn’t quite materialise, but it was still a win and it still provided five goals - even if two were in our own net.
As far as entertainment value goes, it was up there with the best of the season, even if the actually quality of football wasn’t blinding.
But with nothing really left to play for, I’d rather see a few sloppy errors, with goals and fun, than professional 1-0 wins - which earlier in the year I’d have obviously taken.
To reiterate a point I made last time around, the rest of the season is essentially a freebie as far as implications go, so why not make it fun?
Next season professional 1-0 victories will be more than welcome, but with nothing to lose (or gain) I’ll take video game football every time.