Nathan Redmond’s departure from Norwich to join Southampton was fully expected, but Dan Brigham says it’s a sad tale of missed opportunities from both the player and the club
Nearly every day, I see Nathan Redmond's goal at Wembley.
It hangs there, in my hallway. A depiction of the one-touch move which led to his instinctive, true finish; a goal as memorable as any in Norwich's history. Redmond was the one who fired the bullet past Dimitrios Konstantopoulos after the stylish gun-slinging build-up; Redmond was the trigger for the eruption of unrestrained mad-joy in the heaving Norwich half of Wembley that day.
Sometimes I can walk past the print in my hall without thinking of that moment. Then, sometimes, it comes back: the roar, the absolute lose-your-shit roar of Norwich fans celebrating, the hugging, the bouncing, the disbelieving, the what-the-actual-fucking, the green and yellow mass of animal noises, the little kid standing on the seat behind me with a face happier than any face I have ever seen. It will never be forgotten, and Nathan Redmond's place in Norwich's history is watertight.
Now he has gone. Gone to make memories for other supporters, in a different part of the country, in a different league. For Norwich fans, he is past tense; he is ‘what if’, not ‘what will’. It has been a while since we watched one of our own head off into the sunset with a sense of what could have been. Grant Holt and Bradley Johnson: recent heroes whose departures felt like a natural end to their stories at Carrow Road, when their capacity had been fully explored and there was nothing left for them to give to Norwich.
Not so with Redmond. Between the exasperation, we’d seen patches of brilliance, a young player with natural talent in search of a coach to properly mould him. His tale is still being etched, but Norwich fans will have to watch it unfold from afar. He is now Southampton's joy, and Southampton's frustration.
His story has been very much Norwich's story over the last three seasons: capable of sustained excellence, but prone to drifting and occasional moments of calamity. Mostly though, it is a story of missed opportunity. While Norwich's relegation under Chris Hughton was entirely avoidable and last season’s drop felt like a waste of the Wembley gift, during that time Redmond’s career hasn’t caught alight as it should have. He’s been driving around the same roundabout for three years, unable to take an exit which would lead to the next level.
The blame for this has to be shared. His hair-yanking reluctance to track back would often leave the defence exposed, and left Alex Neil with little choice but to regularly leave him on the bench in the Premier League. On the flip-side, a bit more trust in Redmond’s attacking instincts would surely have led to more goals last season. Norwich were always a more dynamic, and more real, threat when Redmond was on the pitch.
A fizzing, in-form Redmond could send excited ripples through the crowd like few other Norwich players have managed over the past 20 years. When he was at his very best, he had the rare ability to make you feel more alive in the stands – the hair standing on end, the eyes a little wider, the neck craning, the heart a little faster. Only the best footballers have that affect on people. The key, though, was doing it consistently, and Redmond kept dropping the key when he looked close to the lock.
But, like all wide players, fans judged him differently to players in any other position. If wingers aren’t constantly hurtling past full-backs with a flurry of river-dancing step-overs, whipping in pin-point crosses, smoking a cigar and saving the girl, they're getting moaned at (as if full-backs are just traffic cones to run around). So if Redmond checked inside rather than trying to beat his man – even if there was no Norwich player further advanced for him to cross to – there would be groans. If he tried an intricate, clever pass that didn't come off, there would be groans. If he drilled a shot wide from outside the box, there would be groans. To be a winger is to be misunderstood.
We're going to miss him now he has gone. His close control, his swerving runs, his confidence to shoot, his ability to pick a pass, his unpredictably: we will miss all of this. Some who don't rate him often argued that a better club than Norwich would have signed him if he was really all that good. Well, a better club has signed him now. A club with a reputation for turning good players into excellent players; a club which has finished in the top eight of the Premier League for the past three seasons. It is where he belongs.
Redmond should become a better, more all-round player at Southampton. If they can find a way to sustain his electric bursts of form and improve his play through the middle, then international recognition will surely follow. All he needs is a little prodding and shaping – and for it to finally sink in that defensive duties are a requirement not a luxury.
If he does play for England, there will be mixed emotions. He should have been ours, but instead he will be the one we let get away. But the mind will always drift back to Wembley, to that first touch, to the drilled shot, to the net rippling, to that roar.
You can follow Dan Brigham on Twitter at @dan_brigham