Michael Bailey: It's time to find a light to shine on next season for Norwich City, and there's no doubting how important Alex Pritchard is going to be in putting things right
PUBLISHED: 18:04 27 April 2017 | UPDATED: 18:19 27 April 2017
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Given people have finally stopped sending in emails about how Alex Neil's name should be pronounced, it's nice the same discussion doesn't have to come up with Alex Pritchard.
The City forward has undoubtedly been in his best form, once Alan Irvine was handed responsibility for the first team following Neil’s sacking.
Likewise Irvine has started the forward in every game he has picked the side for – an interesting dynamic given Irvine was first-team coach under Neil, who seemed to make Pritchard his fall guy if things didn’t work out.
The defeat at Barnsley stands out – when Pritchard was removed at half-time, yet his lack of service and space was as much about the players around him.
“It was Barnsley,” was Neil’s reply to my question over whether the team framework around Pritchard should have been altered from the success he was having at Carrow Road. Three words that said much more.
It probably comes across in my interview on Friday, but I like chatting to Pritchard. He is efficient with his words and there is an edge to him – but alongside that shines a hunger to succeed.
City should consider themselves very lucky to have him – and consider any bid that might be forthcoming this summer very carefully. It’s not easy to replace a lot of what Alex Pritchard has, and not just in terms of talent with the ball at his feet.
And that includes if you think a sizeable incoming fee could bring a better, more widespread rebuild.
You can never have enough strikers, they say. City have showed just that in the past – in 2003-04 for example. Yet Norwich have been more inclined to disregard that thinking in recent years. Most had probably forgotten Kyle Lafferty was still here until he chirped up saying he was off.
Not many fans will cry over at least two centre-backs leaving the building this summer. Some probably want it to be four or five.
There are also the five senior goalkeepers currently on City’s books. What Norwich do with John Ruddy, Declan Rudd and their options is only half the issue.
But it’s the number 10 glut that has actually managed a remarkable feat – bringing in so much talent it’s almost impossible to avoid disappointment.
Clearly Pritchard is an example of where City have got an individual recruitment decision right – some would say he was a free hit, given what he had already proven. He was miles ahead of James Maddison, who had already been loaned out for six months and had no hope of featuring at City. Sergi Canos was sold to Brentford within six months.
None of those three yet have the leadership and experience of Steven Naismith, while Wes Hoolahan is a City hero.
The only way to bring some balance to the be squad, would have been to knock those five players and their qualities into two – and I don’t think we’re quite there with sports science yet.
“I look at some glaring holes. This is a club where we don’t own a left-back at first-team level. We’ve got a number of number 10s – but we don’t own a left-back. That’s not me speaking out of turn or criticising anyone.”
That is Stuart Webber hitting the nail on the head – as he did a number of times, in his interviews with a couple of fans’ sites this week. He has said as much to me since coming in.
Having largely predicted City’s mess this term since the end of last, it’s been a pretty dark place to inhabit. That is exactly why Webber felt compelled to criticise the atmosphere at Carrow Road this season – a year that’s not been good enough from either side of the chicken and egg debate.
If any fan read Webber’s comments on how that dynamic should work, and still wants to turn up and boo the captain while jeering Jacob Murphy when his shot hits the corner flag, then you’re venturing away from supporter territory.
The fact is, through Pritchard’s wonderful performances – even when the other 10 around him have failed to match his level, such as at Huddersfield – and now Webber’s edicts that cut right to the bone of City’s two years of failure, there is a glint of light being shone on the future.
And that alone is what will ensure everyone turns up for the first game of next season, hopeful the light grows stronger and the support grows louder – all things, in truth, we never looked like getting this time around.
• One more quick word for the Norwich City Fans Social Club, who once again put on an excellent night for canaries supporters – one free to attend too.
Those who got along not only had the chance to chat away to Delia Smith, Michael Wynn Jones, Tom Smith, managing director Steve Stone and sporting director Stuart Webber – they would have also had the chance to take in the world’s greatest game of Jeronimo! (Jenga, but with four blocks on a row)
A big well done to Diane and all the social club’s volunteers, who not only put on great nights – they have also raised a significant amount of money for City’s Community Sports Foundation. Here’s to more of the same next season.