A major centre-back shortage, some big decisions in goal and even less left-back cover - the immediate contract realities that will await Norwich City's next manager
PUBLISHED: 09:18 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:58 14 March 2017
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Norwich City may have ditched Alex Neil to give their new appointment more time - but as Michael Bailey reflects, the contracts to-do list won't wait too long.
It wasn’t just the last throes of his reign that Alex Neil opened up over his plans for Norwich City’s summer rebuild – a job he never got to start, never mind complete.
For months, the Scot was quizzed by me and my colleagues over various players and their futures – be it youngsters out on loan and on the fringes, or senior players with either options or exits loitering in the background.
However long the process, whoever lands the role and whatever the structure is that they have to work on, there will be one clear job needing immediate attention – securing who they will want on and in their side come the start of next season.
At present City have 11 professionals with a debut under their belt, who are also out of contract come June.
Options in the club’s favour will likely exist in most cases but that doesn’t alter the need for the new manager, director of football, head coach – whoever – to assess, decide and use the best judgment at their disposal to get it right.
Young Ray Grant is currently on loan in the National League, while Conor McGrandles is still feeling his way back from a serious injury. Both futures won’t be top of the priority list and likewise, even in a season of transition are unlikely to drastically alter City’s fortunes.
At the other end of the scale, the situation is entirely different.
City currently face losing three centre-backs with 323 appearances between them. Whether or not you view Norwich’s future as including Michael Turner, Sebastien Bassong and Ryan Bennett, their departures would need immediate replacement – and this is regardless of what happens to Timm Klose from here.
At 27, Bennett is the only one of that trio the right side of 30. You imagine his future would be at the very top of the list. Letting him go for no fee in return, would be far from sound business.
On-loan Mitchell Dijks will return to Ajax of course, while Steven Whittaker does have an option available for City to take up come June. But that won’t alter the fact Harry Toffolo will be the only natural left-back option on City’s books.
Scunthorpe’s failing League One promotion bid could well do City a favour there, preventing too much stiff competition for the defender to take up his option.
A similar problem will await the new man’s goalkeeping options. Declan Rudd will only return from Charlton in the summer if there’s an option to secure him, while John Ruddy is in the same boat – and his is the most intriguing situation.
From what he’s said, Ruddy would be happy to stay – but could City afford to pay his wages for another year? Should they take their option up, to prevent him leaving for free and run that risk? Or move on and almost certainly accept Michael McGovern will be their number one next season.
The answer here will say much about where City are heading.
That leaves Kyle Lafferty and Youssouf Mulumbu. The former will surely have spend his period of inaction working out where he’ll play next term, while Mulumbu seems unlikely to hang around. Both departures would help ease City’s wage burden; both would need well-researched replacements.
But then, nothing is straightforward. A freshly promoted Leeds may fancy bringing a certain former captain home. The Murphys could attract some serious bids. Brighton might fancy finally completing Alex Pritchard’s M25 journey.
City’s new boss cannot assume all his decisions will be on their terms, which is why whatever anyone’s best laid plans are from here, they are going to need everything they have got to make sure it all works out in their and Norwich City’s favour.