In a game full of characters it's finding one who fits: Andreu, Lafferty, Becchio... Oliveira
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I'd guess that when Alex Neil left Hamilton for Norwich City back in January, 2015, few people had actually ever heard of him.
The Football Manager generation may have had his stats at their fingertips, but the man himself was something of an unknown. As was the assistant he brought down with him, Frankie McAvoy.
As was Tony Andreu, a French midfielder/striker, who quickly joined his Accies boss at Carrow Road. And then, after a few sightings, all but disappeared from view.
Andreu’s employment as a Norwich City player was ended on Thursday after 41 starts – all for other teams. In two and a half years, Andreu did not start a league game. He played a total of 75 minutes in six appearances as a sub. As an aside, in those six games, City won four, lost one and drew one as they headed for play-off glory. Those appearances were at the end of that 2014-15 season - after that he didn’t feature, playing only for the under 23s or on loan at Rotherham or Dundee United. He will now start a new life as a Coventry City player, and good luck to him.
Andreu, as far as I am aware, never bemoaned his lot.
But how could Alex Neil bring him down within a month of his own arrival, give him six games as a sub, never start him, and then realise he wasn’t good enough... even though he’d hardly had any time to prove or disprove that particular theory?
There was a similarly bizarre situation with Luciano Becchio, unwanted by Chris Hughton and rarely seen in public, despite having a good scoring record for previous club Leeds. Likewise, Becchio never really moaned, although he was entitled to question what had happened to his career.
Andreu and Becchio deserve credit for the way they kept their own counsel: Kyle Lafferty was never quite as shy and retiring and always made it clear that he was not a happy bunny. Such talk is probably made in all honesty: put yourself into the size nines of any of the aforementioned players and you’d probably have wanted a moan. It’s just that some players go about these things in different ways and their words can be disruptive.
Which leads us on to Nelson Oliveira. He is a better player than Andreu and Becchio and Lafferty, and knows it as well. His reaction to scoring a fine equaliser at Fulham last weekend should have been to immediately acknowledge Wes Hoolahan’s marvellous pass which created the opportunity, but instead he headed to coach Daniel Farke, his shirt by now in his hands, pointing to his name on the back. He made his point several times over.
One would assume Farke knew what he was doing when he started Cameron Jerome with Oliveira coming off the bench to earn a point: those bemoaners who think Jerome is a donkey and Oliveira the dog’s bits ought perhaps to understand the concept of horses for courses. Jerome works so much harder than Oliveira and, away at one of the best teams in the division, was a much more sensible and effective selection.
Jerome is another who keeps quiet, although has every reason to voice disquiet at the treatment he gets from some supporters. He appears to be unable to do much right.
There are many different characters within the game of football, and they react in as many different ways, some more acceptable than others.
Had Jerome come on as a sub and scored the equaliser last weekend I suspect we would have got the usual fairly low-key celebration; not a headline-catching demonstration of frustration.
Oliveira was either being disrespectful or showing immense pride and commitment to the cause – the lovers and the haters will choose accordingly.
And for those who believe further discussion on the matter is closed, just because Farke doesn’t want to hear more of it: you’re wrong.
Oliveira’s actions are worthy of debate until he either leaves because of them or he stays and assumes the role that Farke chooses for him. I saw one comment saying the media was stirring things up. Had we written nothing we would have been accused of sweeping it under the carpet. Sometimes you just can’t win.
And winning is at the crux of this.
Oliveira is a good player, no doubt, but none of us knows what he is like day in day out in training and within the group. We’re not privvy to that.
It is imperative that Farke and Stuart Webber have the right type of character at Norwich City – as we’ve seen in the past.
Life in the old dog yet
We may never know whether or not Daniel Farke will disprove the theories of some of his predecessors when it comes to Wes Hoolahan.
Wes is (supposed to be) in the twilight his career and therefore we can’t expect to see him play every minute of every game: it would be counter-productive and would bring a premature end to his playing days – although that particular point doesn’t show many signs of appearing any time soon.
Previous bosses simply couldn’t work him out. So they dropped him. One or two of them will probably go and sit in a corner of a darkened room, heads in hands, when they reflect on their wastefulness.
Hoolahan’s pass for Nelson Oliveira’s equaliser at Fulham was genius, absolute genius, sadly lost by some in the euphoria of the goal and the ridiculous ‘celebration’.
His quick feet in the Carabao Cup win over Swindon in midweek were a joy to watch – lads like James Maddison will learn shedloads from Hoolahan.
You reap what you sow
I’ve always admitted I can’t tip water out of a bucket, but I was happy to predict Usain Bolt would fail to win 100m gold in his career grand finale at the World Athletics Championships.
I suspected Bolt’s career had gone on a little longer than necessary: the I Am Bolt documentary (superb by the way) was evidence enough that he struggled with motivation.
We could have coped with his defeat had the winner not been Justin Gatlin whose name was prefixed on all the news report by the words “two-time drug cheat”. Gatlin was booed as the shock set in that Bolt was not invincible.
Some will say Gatlin served his time, but the truth is he will never be truly accepted because he cheated – even if it is the sport’s governing body which is to blame because they didn’t punish him severely enough.
Gatlin should be serving a life ban. He knows it too. Instead, in victory he has tainted his sport again.
In a way, athletics got what it deserved when he won.