Michael Bailey: The change has come and credit to Norwich City for making a prompt start - all of which will help it feel like a fresh beginning in August
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
Every year around this time, Darren Huckerby comes to mind. A man who proved season upon season, to be the difference at Carrow Road.
He split opinions at times over what happened on the pitch, but never over the big one: Norwich City fans loved him. They still do.
And yet for various reasons, Glenn Roeder only opted to confirm Huckerby’s release after the season had finished and the forward never got a farewell.
Both sides tried once or twice to instigate something that would make up for the omission, once a bit of time had passed. But it never matched what should’ve been a proper chance to say thank you, while drunk on the end of season fumes.
Football lavishes rewards on those who are successful, but the price can often be cruel. Doors being closed, your voice being ignored, support withdrawn or your talents wasted.
For anyone, they are difficult circumstances to navigate.
However, this time Norwich City got it right and they should be commended for that.
The fact John Ruddy will get the chance to wrap up his Canaries career with a proper goodbye at Carrow Road, is fitting for his seven years at the club.
The keeper will pick up appearance 243 against Queens Park Rangers, taking him joint-44th in City’s all-time list alongside Colin Suggett and Noel Kinsey. He enjoyed four seasons of top-flight football and form that took him all the way to England.
Ruddy remained the best goalkeeper currently at Norwich. One City didn’t feel they could commit to his wages for another year. How they deal between now and the start of August with the hole he leaves, is one of the bigger issues for Stuart Webber and his head coach to resolve – it is almost more surprising Declan Rudd has been given an opportunity to prove he could be an answer.
Much and harshly maligned, I personally hope we get to see Steven Whittaker on the pitch come Sunday too.
It’s hard not to think the bizarre mix of short-termism and squad stagnation at City in recent years, have done the Scot few favours. That and one stint in central midfield against Brentford.
Certainly his technical ability seemed all too quickly dismissed by too many. Like Rudd, Harry Toffolo will return next season hoping to at least suggest he can replace Whittaker’s knack of offering ad hoc left-back cover.
None of this is to lament their departures, by the way. That would be hypocritical given the season we’ve all just witnessed and the content of my column inches over the same period.
But given both Whittaker and Ruddy have put in good service at a club they’ve enjoyed calling home, and both wanted to be involved right until the very end – even when they already knew what would happen next – deserves some respect from the City faithful inside and outside Carrow Road.
From here though, it does get a bit stickier.
I’ve enjoyed many good chats with Sebastien Bassong and always felt he came across well – certainly he had his moments of great contribution to the club. Likewise to a lesser extent, Michael Turner.
Ryan Bennett has looked the part at some point in each of his five and a half seasons at City – yet there were far more times when he didn’t, and his struggle to really progress as a player is something that really grates.
Rounding off the seven, Kyle Lafferty and Youssouf Mulumbu arguably proved to be the players they looked before arriving: inconsistent and lacking either the drive, hunger or quality to persuade their manager they should play more games.
I now can’t work out which says more. Is it ridiculous City would actually offer those players an early getaway, given they are still being paid? Or is it damning those players couldn’t be bothered to hang around a little longer with their team-mates?
Fortunately, it’s nothing more than chasing the last word in an argument – and entirely futile.
What does hit home is that any success next season will be built on a far deeper, stronger rapport between the City squad, the club and the supporters than anything we’ve seen this season.
Russell Martin effectively questioned whether that was ever going to be the case this season – and the answer is probably not. The same manager, the same faces – nothing offered a clean break from the feelings brought on by Premier League relegation.
But likewise, next season will offer only renewal – from the face in the dug-out, the refreshed squad, the new playing style and hopefully a renewed energy.
So say your goodbyes, but then make sure you’re ready to say hello.