Lewis Grabban’s goal against Arsenal could prove to be a turning point in his and Norwich’s season. So why do some fans still want him sidelined? Dan Brigham says it’s time for everyone to forgive and forget
It is three months since something rather strange happened. On August 25, a grown male adult absconded from his hotel room and disappeared into the night.
Lewis Grabban was supposed to be playing football. Or watching football from a bench, at least. Instead… well we don’t know what he was doing. Was he heading towards Bournemouth to try and force through a transfer? Was he angry about something we don’t know about? Had he fallen out with someone? Had he left his fridge door open? Had he forgotten to record Homeland? Or maybe he was just desperate to leave Rotherham (have you been? I’d get the hell out of the place too. The town has a lot to answer for: the Chuckle Brothers, William Hague, David Seaman’s ponytail and giving Jeremy Clarkson his first break in journalism).
We don’t know what really happened that night. Not unless you’re in a very small circle of those close to the incident. Otherwise you’re relying on bullshit, conspiracies, rumours, and bullshit conspiracy rumours.
However, whatever the truth, a footballer shouldn’t bugger off a couple of hours before he and his team-mates are due to play. And it's not because he's paid well, or because he should be some sort of role model – both of those things are nonsense. It's because he was letting down his team-mates and manager. He was letting down the club that helped him become a Premier League player. In The Big Book Of Idiot Footballers he wasn't anywhere close to, say, racially abusing someone while drunk in a casino – but he was being a dick.
So he was right to be punished. He was fined, he was dropped. And he’s been made to prove his worth all over again. Alex Neil handled the situation brilliantly. No public tantrums, no over-the-top bans, no freezing out. Just a mature, sensible reaction to one of his players being an idiot.
Everyone moved on.
Except, judging by social media, forums and message boards at 15.15pm on Sunday, everyone didn’t.
When Norwich’s line-up was announced, you could almost feel the wave of indignation at Grabban’s inclusion in the starting XI.
Some fans were united in despair: teenagers and adults, men and women, sensible and foolish, came together in an inelegant froth of hatred because a man who did something silly three months ago had been picked to try and score goals for a team struggling to score goals. Had Neil been possessed? Perhaps it was witchcraft or sorcery?
Even after the match, even after Grabban played well and scored the equaliser, there are still fans who are adamant they don’t want him anywhere near the Norwich team. It’s like he’s killed the family dog, kidnapped the kids, left a giant poo in the toilet, put the cat in a bin and set fire to Kyle Lafferty’s hair: those still frothing about it suddenly seem a little neurotic, a lot obsessive.
There are, of course, legitimate issues of trust with Grabban. Can we really rule out him trying to do something similar again? Even at Bournemouth he pissed off some supporters when his agent tried to get him a move to Brighton. But if he’s earned Neil’s trust then perhaps some of the more sanctimonious fans – those saints who have clearly never been dicks at any point in their lifetime or ever done anything they’ve regretted – should start trusting him too.
For Grabban is an asset. He may not be quite as quick as Cameron Jerome or possess the size and poaching instinct of Dieumerci Mbokani (or the ability to score against terrible teams for Northern Ireland), he may not say the right things on twitter or charge around the pitch like someone’s taken a lighter to one of his farts, but he has got the one thing that is absolutely vital in the Premier League: an excellent first touch. After the Arsenal game Neil said he picked Grabban for his “ball retention”, and it’s baffling why some fans don’t recognise Grabban’s technical ability.
As Neil has often said – and let’s not forget Grabban was his preferred striker last season before his hillbilly sending off at Rotherham – he’s excellent in tight spaces and turns defenders well. Both are vital ingredients for a lone forward.
He started poorly against Arsenal – his touch was loose, his passing almost as cringeworthy as Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s infamous Ghost Pass – but after his well-taken goal his confidence returned. We saw glimpses of the same player who was vital to Norwich’s promotion, starting in six of Neil’s first eight wins and scoring five goals in the process until his injury (and remember how we struggled to break down Wigan immediately after he was sidelined?). His touch was good, his movement astute and his link-up play unfussy.
How can some fans find it within themselves to still moan after that? Sure, he always looks like he doesn't really care, but that's his default expression – like Ryan Bennett always looks as if he's struggling with a maths formula and Alex Tettey looks like he's just found a Haribo shop, Grabban's face is always set to Maximum Nonchalance. It's just the way he is.
You don’t have to have him round for tea, you don't have to snuggle down to a box-set with him, you don’t have to like him. If it makes you feel better, you can even start calling him Kyle Lafferty.
So can we please all finally forgive and forget? An in-form Grabban would improve Norwich and, really, that's all that matters.
You can follow Dan Brigham on Twitter at @dan_brigham
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