Paddy Davitt: The case for the defence at Norwich City still includes John Ruddy
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Chief Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt assesses what the future now holds for long-serving keeper John Ruddy, in the first part of a summer series.
"Ruddy knew the questions and the clamour over his position were reaching a crescendo but one of City’s longest-serving performers went on the offensive."
John Ruddy’s best performance for Norwich City came off the park last season.
It was in a searingly honest, almost brutal piece of self-analysis, played out in front of the assembled media at Colney, prior to November’s 1-1 Premier League home draw against Arsenal.
Ruddy knew the questions and the clamour over his position were reaching a crescendo but one of City’s longest-serving performers went on the offensive.
There was no attempt at deflection or to downplay the claims of back-up Declan Rudd, after a promising start to the campaign threatened to unravel in a series of costly errors.
“If I was to come out of the team I’m sure there would be quite a few people happy with that,” said the 29-year-old. “After the Manchester City game and the mistake for the second goal of course you question whether you will stay in the team. Any criticism that is aimed at me has not already gone through my mind. I am always negative on myself and that is what drives me on to be a better keeper. I know on the pitch when I have made a mistake. With social media and forums people can spout their opinions, but I have yet to have anyone come up to my face and tell me I am rubbish.
“I have not been terrible all season but this is my sixth year here at the club and they bought me for £250,000 so I feel I have proved value for money over the years. I have been in this game 11 years as a professional. It is not the first time I have been criticised and probably won’t be the last. I think I am mentally strong enough to take the rough with the smooth. I go home, I have a wife and two children so there is nothing better than switching off and playing with the family.”
It was a stirring defence from a keeper who has experienced the highs and lows buffeting Norwich in recent seasons. It was also prophetic as Rudd would replace him for a five-week stint that punctuated his dominant position between the sticks since arriving at Carrow Road. But those who believed it marked a watershed, a changing of the guard were wide of the mark. Ruddy returned for the run-in and looked a far more secure presence in front of a settled backline before Timm Klose’s untimely season-ending injury signalled the start of a terminal decline.
Ruddy, however, finished the season as he started it - as Norwich’s undisputed number one. His longevity at the club brings with the a danger he is taken for granted. Ruddy’s decline earlier in the season felt more marked because he will always be compared unfavourably with the keeper who forced his way into the England squad and but for a cruel training injury would have gone to the last European Championships.
Some feel a second relegation in three seasons requires an overhaul to Alex Neil’s squad; to inject a degree of freshness and sense of renewal. Ruddy is part of a core group who could feel vulnerable in such a climate but it is hard to think of any rival in the Championship you would rather have between the sticks than the St Ives man.
Norwich’s commitment to bounce straight back will be sorely tested in the Football League. They need quality and experience and Ruddy retains both in abundance.