Lack of top-flight quality was painfully clear yet again for Norwich City

PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 May 2016

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Darren Huckerby battles with a 20-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo during Norwich City's 2-0 win over Manchester United at Carrow Road in April 2005. Picture: Archant Library

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Darren Huckerby battles with a 20-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo during Norwich City's 2-0 win over Manchester United at Carrow Road in April 2005. Picture: Archant Library


Gutsy, spirited, committed: All of those words unquestionably apply to City's performance at the Emirates last week but unfortunately so does the phrase "ultimately not quite good enough".

Hardly surprising perhaps when one considers that nine of City’s starting line-up were Championship players last season.

Of course, if injury hadn’t robbed Alex Neil of Timm Klose or had Dieumerci Mbokani been given the nod over Cameron Jerome that figure would have dropped but nevertheless the failure to significantly revamp the squad looks increasingly likely to cost the club its Premier League place.

While the announcement of the pairing of Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong at centre-back immediately generated doom laden predictions on social media they actually did a pretty good job of containing Arsenal.

But it just needed one error, in which both were complicit, to settle the game, and therein lies the crux of City’s problems.

Given one sight of goal after both centre-backs failed to get tight enough to their men Danny Welbeck unerringly found the corner of the net, while at the other end City had a number of chances to extend Petr Cech yet produced nothing more than two shots from promising positions blasted straight at him, and it’s this lack of real Premier League quality at both ends of the pitch that sees City staring relegation in the face.

If the club go down much attention will inevitably be given to the failure to bring in more players last summer but I would suggest that the current problem started three seasons ago.

If we go back to the last year of City’s previous spell in the Premier League significant sums were spent on Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer and Gary Hooper with relatively little return.

As it turned out Van Wolfswinkel proved unsuited to both the physical and mental demands of English football. Fer, while clearly talented, generally played as if he was mainlining Valium and Hooper struggled to fit into Chris Hughton’s system. Of the major signings that year only Nathan Redmond and Martin Olsson remain in the squad.

The Championship season saw the arrivals of Lewis Grabban, Cameron Jerome, Vadis Odidja-Ofoe and Kyle Lafferty, all good acquisitions for that level, but, with the exception of Jerome, untried above it and then finally came this year’s frustrating summer which saw targets slip away and only Robbie Brady and the on-loan Mbokani looking like upgrades.

Of the 11 players mentioned above only six remain in the squad and only two have started more than 20 games this season. City simply don’t have the resources to be able to afford too many failures in the transfer market yet how many fans really believe that the squad that started this season was fundamentally better than the one which went down two years ago?

I don’t think the real issue is how much, or little, the club has spent, but rather what it has to show for it, particularly when we see the cohesiveness and spirit of a Leicester squad built with a similar outlay over the same period. The real art of recruitment is not just acquiring players, but acquiring players who will drive the club forward.

Isn’t it rather ironic that the City player who is currently most sung about is a 32-year-old journeyman signed as a free agent? Yet Gary O’Neil epitomises what a good signing can bring to a club in terms of leadership, commitment and the sort of passion that gets the fans involved. Ultimately it’s not about economics, it’s about chemistry.

As Leicester have just proven you don’t have to spend a fortune to be competitive, but you do need to find the right players. City simply haven’t done that often enough.

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