Thanks, Wes - it's been a joy to see you in City colours
PUBLISHED: 12:41 23 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:32 23 April 2018
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Norwich City have revealed what was perhaps inevitable news, that Wes Hoolahan is leaving the club, Chris Lakey looks back at the great man's Carrow Road career.
Wes Hoolahan isn’t just a footballer. To those who have followed his every jink, trick, turn and pirouette, he is a way of life.
Shy off the pitch - certainly with the media - Hoolahan was able to express himself to an audience on the football pitch. And while we journalists might like to have heard more from him, well, in the world of football-speak it was perhaps more entertaining to see what he could do with a ball at his feet.
There are those for whom Hoolahan has been a luxury item: the beauty and grace is fine until he loses possession after one move too many. But for those who don’t necessarily want their football formulaic and are happy to expect the unexpected, Hoolahan was the centrepiece of many a Norwich City team. The fulcrum, the ideas hub. The main man.
Not all managers felt that way: when danger lurks in the shape of dodgy form, luxury items are expendable. Not one of the seven permanent managers he played under at City played him without fear. Famously, Paul Lambert was prepared to let him leave, until Wes proved he was not just all tippy-tappy football (to coin a phrase used by an earlier manager) and that he could roll; his sleeves up and work. Football has seen many a flawed genius whose skills haven’t lasted the distance. Hoolahan isn’t flawed.
Is he a throwback to a different time, an era when football was more risky, a bit more gung-ho? Perhaps. Today, football managers can’t afford to take risks, which is why you look at a team like Manchester United and wonder why their manager keep the chains on them.
Hoolahan was brought to Carrow Road by Glenn Roeder, who prised him out of Blackpool in 2008.
The Irishman had already been on trial at Millwall, Sunderland and Ipswich before he was 16. Too small, appears to have been the verdict as he headed back home.
He headed away again at the age of 23, for Livingston only to see Lambert, the man who signed him and alongside whom he played, sacked.
A few months later he went to Blackpool on loan – only it wasn’t, it was a trial. He passed, and helped Blackpool to promotion via a Wembley play-off final. But his time with Blackpool saw him in the midst of a dispute between Livingston and Blackpool, where he had signed a permanent deal. Fifa ruled against Livingston, but it wasn’t long before Norwich knocked on Blackpool’s door, and in June, 2008, he moved to Carrow Road, goalkeeper Matty Gilks moving in the opposite direction.
Hoolahan missed the end of his first season with injury, as City slipped into League One, and in the summer of 2009 was reunited with Lambert, who took over from the axed Bryan Gunn.
Lambert moved Hoolahan to the tip of his diamond formation and the shining star shone brightly.
There was controversy in January 2014 when, with Lambert at the helm, Aston Villa tried to sign Hoolahan, with a reported £1m bid rejected. Hoolahan put in a transfer request (rejected) and was said to be far from happy, as was seemingly illustrated by some unfortunate publicity when, in a private response to a TV reporter, he uttered some words not fit for family consumption, describing the club in less than complimentary fashion. It went public when it really should have stayed private, but took a while to live down.
Then, in March, he scored against Villa and celebrated less than enthusiastically. It split opinion but, such is Hoolahan’s appeal, he was soon back in the good books.
At the beginning of the next season he signed a new deal – and we haven’t really looked back.
His appearances have dwindled as his age has increased, but with more than 350 under his belt he is comfortably in the top 20 appearance makers in the club’s history, and his 53 goals make him the club’s joint 21st highest goalscorer, behind a clutch of mainly strikers.
But next season a new era begins.
At this point we usually point out that someone will come in and fill his boots; a James Maddison maybe. But in 2018, top quality footballers don’t hang around Championship clubs for too long. If Hoolahan Mk II does appear, don’t expect 10 years of service out of him.
Just be thankful you saw the best of Wes Hoolahan in a Norwich City shirt.