Norwich City report card: Zimbo appreciation – a leader comes of age
In our latest report card from Norwich City’s supreme season, MICHAEL BAILEY hails Christoph Zimmermann – a young leader who truly came of Championship age.
It has been a season full of defining moments. Historic achievements tend to deliver those at a rapid rate.
Some were more subtle than others - and the most subtle tended to form from Norwich City's big number six.
The pure joy written all over Christoph Zmmermann's face as he answered questions following promotion-winning victory over Blackburn at Carrow Road, was a picture in itself.
He knew his side deserved it - but there was no way he had processed what the Premier League would mean for him; for a man who had been preparing to give up on his football dream and choose a life beyond the bubble, until he "won the lottery" with his initial move to Norwich.
Other moments had already emerged over the second half of the campaign: the 26-year-old wrestling with some of his team-mates, shoving them into place, clipping them round the ear, having a word in their face, consoling their disappointments, leading. By the end of an incredible season, one man was pinning together so much of City's work and attitude - and he was a 6ft 4in centre-back that deservedly finished second in the club's player of the season voting.
His season had a slow start, playing second fiddle to captain Grant Hanley and Swiss international Timm Klose. Since arriving with Daniel Farke as a free agent from Borussia Dortmund II, Zimmermann has been used to being the underdog.
He's also made a habit of turning such preconceptions on their head.
Zimmermann played just 16 minutes of the opening six Championship games. Those were the last 16 minutes of the visit from Preston, when the score was goalless. City went on to win 2-0 -their only victory in that sticky first period of the campaign.
After the first international break of the campaign, Zimmermann played every minute of every fixture bar two: the final 30 minutes at Bristol City as he picked up a knock, and an injury in the warm-up that prevented him featured in the dramatic 3-3 Boxing Day home draw with Nottingham Forest.
In the final 14 games he had a pair of assists and goals, his long passes proving an underrated attacking weapon - much like his head - and a reliable generator of the Carrow Rood 'Oooooo'.
What's more, only Alex Tettey's return to the XI in defeat at Preston took the armband off Zimmermann's shoulder. Far from any sort of issue for the German either, no doubt.
Two further points stick out in terms of Zimmermann's season.
I remember his face as he listed the games he was still disappointed with in his first year. The ones where experienced Championship forwards gave him something of a going over.
He vowed he would work to ensure those didn't happen in his second season at Norwich - perhaps a season I envisaged would be a difficult one, given his remarkable progress to that point. Follow-ups are always hard to produce, especially if the side around you improves.
I've now learned never to underestimate him. Zimmermann's follow-up has been nothing short of impeccable.
It's also been a pattern of play for Norwich since sporting director Stuart Webber and head coach Daniel Farke walked through the door: that when they talk about doing something, they stick to their word and - altogether trickier to achieve - actually make it happen.
Zimmermann did the same: providing the character that enhances team spirit, tactical knowledge to help turn Farke's game plan into a reality on the pitch, defensive resolve to be admired and beyond the game, a role model for others look up to - echoing the words spoken as Zimmermann arrived in sunny Norwich as a fourth-choice centre-back option.
The sort of option City's academy is pointed at providing in future, once it hits its straps.
In this case however, let's be thankful Zimmermann and Norwich got to find each other.
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