Maddison, Toffolo, Godfrey, Cantwell, Murphy Exhibit A and Murphy Exhibit B: Norwich City are simmering with youthful potential, and Seb Ward says it’s time to start trusting the Canary kids
Britt. Norman. McFadden. Toffolo. Wyatt. McGeehan. Randall. King. J Murphy. J Murphy. Morris.
That was the starting XI when Norwich City’s under-18s dispatched Chelsea to lift the FA Youth Cup. The achievement admirable, the spectacle rare. City fans watched on enthralled, encouraged and entertained, as McGeehan kissed the badge, and Neil Adams marked another chapter in his Norwich story. To many it feels like only yesterday, but that unlikely triumph was over three years ago.
So where are they now? On to bigger and better things? Not exactly.
Since: Six released, one sold, four loaned. Just 23 senior appearances between them, of which Josh Murphy is to account for 22. One went to Ipswich – Ben Wyatt – and found it so abhorrent that he took a trip (got released) to the seventh tier of English football just to get away, to the little known club of Maldon & Tiptree, who despite their red and blue striped kit, are no Barca. In March he joined Colchester. Elsewhere, Henry Randall now lights up the stage of Bishop's Stortford’s ProKit UK Stadium, while Kyle Callan-McFadden is plying his trade (sunning himself) in Florida, having been an ever-present figure in Orlando City’s B team so far this season. Either that or he’s whizzing down rides at Disney World. Probably the latter.
Word has it that Britt, Norman and King have founded their own medieval re-enactment society. Meanwhile, Adel Gafaiti is playing in Algeria, but more surprisingly he is still 21, which is the age I have imagined him to be at for about five consecutive seasons now. Anyway, none of this matters because they’ve all been usurped by the right honourable Ebou Adams.
Alas, such shortcomings are to be expected. The jump from reserve to senior football is a sizeable leap. Many will never make the cut. They know that. The coaches know that. It’s the same all over the country, at every club, in every team, in every league.
For many of those triumphant young Yellows, the highlight of their careers will forever be playing in front of 20,000 Norwich fans at Carrow Road. For many nothing will compare to the feeling as Reece Hall-Johnson scuffed his penalty past the 'keeper to win the shootout. Or the thrill of winning away at the Bridge. Or the taste and smell of cascading Champagne at full-time. And can we blame them? As we sit in our office chairs at our office computers in our office jobs, the mere thought of stepping out on the hallowed turf is one of unparalleled excitement, even just for one night. Unobtainable for us, unforgettable for them.
Some of those players who won’t make it may go on to office jobs, in office chairs, at office computers. Those here now will hope they won’t have to. Norwich's disappointing drop back down to the Championship means there is a rare opportunity for players hoping to make that leap. It's one we should actively seek to take, where possible. In the Premier League, the risk is often too great, the price often too costly.
For those who remain from that supposed golden age, and for those now waiting for a precious chance; their time is now. Now or not at all.
Redmond’s departure only strengthens the claim of Murphy A and Murphy B. Generally Josh has always been perceived as the better of the two. But, six loan spells, 16 goals and a sobering snapchat scandal later and it seems likely that Jacob has matured somewhat too. Both have thrived in their most recent spells away; Josh winning MK Dons’ Players’ Player and Jacob being a huge factor in Coventry’s attempted, though stalled, promotion push. They shone in 2013; now is their chance, if it is ever going to come, to shine again in yellow.
Harry Toffolo is another who can’t be too far off-olo (sorry). Robbie Brady is expected to go and despite Martin Olsson’s appearance in the kit promotion, I wouldn’t be surprised if bids are lodged before the summer’s end. Should that prove the case our replacement may already be waiting in the wings, having gained vital experience since lifting the FA Youth Cup, notably with Swindon and England’s U20s, and Rotherham and Peterborough last season: at the very least, he should be the understudy this time around. And, along with Todd Cantwell, we could find ourselves having a Toff and a Todd in the Norwich side. Can you name any other footballers with those names? Thought not. Surely that's reason enough.
All reports so far of Mr Maddison have been very complimentary too. I say all reports but I really mean my History tutor last year, a Coventry fan, who described him as “absolute quality”. Forget your experts, forget your pundits. My history teacher has spoken. That is assuming he was talking of Norwich’s most recent signing, and not the US Founding Father… I guess we’ll find out.
While Maddison may well make first-team appearances next season, the plan for Adams, Ben Godfrey and Louis Thompson is more blurry. The whole ‘buy them and loan them back’ thing is a bit Chelsea-esque –and we’re no Chelsea – but then maybe it’s an important part of the transition process. There does come a point where we have to stop saying that they're too inexperienced and give them that experience ourselves. It’s in moments like that where players can thrive. Offer an element of unpredictability. A spark.
To deny them the chance at this crossroads in their career would be to make the wrong turn. It's a two-way street: experienced players are kept on their toes by the youngsters (as Marcus Rashford has proven at Manchester United) and those who do breakthrough can inspire others further down the ladder. Murphy to Cantwell, for example.
The model of Southampton is regularly elevated to a position of great admiration. For good reason too. The ability to consistently produce a wealth of young talent goes a long way to ensuring a degree of success, be that on the pitch, or financially. It's one Norwich should hope to emulate in the future.
For now though I’m not trying to say let’s play the youth squad. That would be VERY, VERY silly. You don’t win anything with kids, and this season will prove to be a long, hard, tough, slow slog. What I am saying is this: let’s give those kids, who are ready to be men, a chance. Otherwise someone else will.
You can follow Seb Ward on Twitter at @Seb_Ward