Norwich City Report Card: It may be time to concede the pitch war has been lost
PUBLISHED: 11:55 16 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:54 17 May 2018
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As we assess the performances of Daniel Farke’s Norwich City squad, MICHAEL BAILEY reviews a year of extremes for their sole senior right-back.
There will be few players in Norwich City’s set-up that can say their own season was as erratic as the Canaries’ collective efforts, quite as authoritatively as Ivo Pinto.
From a white mask of Zorro to the captain’s armband, senior linchpin and social media #PitchWarYellowArmy manager (Copyright Ivo Pinto 2016) to being out of the side and replaced by a makeshift right-back only on loan at the club – it’s unlikely the 2017-18 campaign went how City’s former Portugal Under-21 international imagined, when it all kicked off in August.
That said, it did start and finish in the same way: as a substitute. James Maddison’s 11th-minute withdrawal at Hillsborough did at least ensure Pinto was more than simply unused, as happened at Craven Cottage.
City’s Millwall thrashing redrawing the season’s battle lines, by which time Pinto was where he would have expected. Held up as a key senior cog in a squad getting ever younger, Pinto was often the leader of the pack, looking assured and setting an excellent example.
There was even a broken nose sustained in a rather bruising home Halloween encounter with the runaway Championship leaders Wolves – yet Pinto didn’t miss a heartbeat of league action until long into January. And then, it was down to a tweak of his knee when getting out of a car – an injury deserving the title ‘freak’.
That twist of fate followed some excellent form while helping City push Chelsea all the way in the FA Cup, while Pinto also scored his first goal of the season – and only his second for the club and in his career – as he tried to lead a Carrow Road comeback against Sheffield United.
Surprisingly, Pinto started just six more games before the season closed – albeit adding another goal with a desperate last-gasp equaliser at doomed Sunderland, to propel his campaign into prolific territory.
Pinto may not have managed his highest performance levels every week but his desire, effort and commitment to the cause could never be questioned.
And yet, the way the season ended and the prospect of what lies beyond a complex summer appears to leave far more questions than answers.
Last summer Pinto seemed a player lacking competition or protection – and especially once Russell Martin found himself on the outside of Daniel Farke’s thinking. By January, I’ll admit to questioning City’s confidence in relying on an on-loan midfielder to cover Pinto’s availability for the rest of the campaign.
Of course, Harrison Reed proved an able deputy more often than I expected he would. At the same time however, for this correspondent Reed was never really a better full-time option in the position than his senior team-mate. When both are fit, Pinto would get the nod from here.
So with Ivo left to admire from the sidelines as the season drifted to its conclusion, there are some pretty hefty question marks hanging over the 28-year-old’s Canaries future.
Like any senior player signed by City before last summer, Pinto will be one of the costly options. One too expensive for a self-funded club without parachute payments. One that won’t stay if Championship clubs come calling with a couple of million quid – and believe me, they will.
By the same token, Pinto was signed while City were a Premier League club. He left a Dinamo Zagreb side playing Champions League football to come to Carrow Road – at the time proudly declaring that he told his dad it would be like playing in Europe’s premier club competition every week. It seems unlikely the Championship has cut it as a Europa League equivalent.
With that backdrop, perhaps more was expected of Pinto and the impact he could make in the second tier.
In truth however, such shortcomings should be pinned on other players who lacked the desire, consistency of effort or commitment to dig in.
The pitch war may not have been won but Pinto has claimed a few scalps, during a season in which he spent months leading City into battle as transition raged around him.
With one year remaining on his current deal, the fact City’s January pursuit of fresh full-back blood failed to deliver makes it only more likely to feature at the top of the current recruitment list.
And if this is the end of the City road for Pinto, he can certainly hold his head high.
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