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Dublin: 6°C Sunday 28 February 2021

'Let's be havin you' - Norwich the latest all-star cast in one of football's most romantic leagues

Canaries’ rise to the Championship summit entails hallmarks of Wolves, Bournemouth and Huddersfield promotion campaigns.

Norwich City's top-scorer Teemu Pukki.
Norwich City's top-scorer Teemu Pukki.
Image: Dave Howarth

AS IF FOLLOWING an exclusive Championship-winning tradition, Norwich City’s rise to the summit of English football’s second tier has entailed entertainment aplenty, along with a distinct sense of deja vu.

Last season’s kingpins, Wolverhampton Wanderers, were widely acclaimed as the greatest team ever to emerge from one of the game’s most unpredictable, and yet romantic, leagues.

Hyperbole? Well, backed by millions, their renaissance has continued, their expansive methods once again flourishing in the Premier League.

A couple of seasons earlier, Bournemouth’s rise on a shoestring budget was emphatic, arguably an achievement beyond that of Wolves given the mitigating factors. Indeed, Eddie Howe’s team has maintained their fine playing ways while steadily consolidating in the top-flight.

The point: form a hybrid of Wolves and Bournemouth from those respective promotion campaigns and you get a cocktail of elements similar to Norwich in its present form.

Norwich City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Carrow Road Norwich City players celebrate during Wednesday night's draw with Reading at Carrow Road. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Bond Wolves’ progressive style and the Cherries’ financial constraints and, arguably, you’ve got Daniel Farke’s side in a nutshell: slick, rampageous, record-breakers, easy on the eye and built with little recent financial outlay.

And then there is a Huddersfield resemblance. While just four of the Terriers’ 2017 play-off champions were from Germany, off the pitch there was a firm ‘Deutsche’ feel to the club’s running. Manager David Wagner, a disciple of Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, introduced a structure and way of playing that earned them the most unlikely of promotions in the second year of his project.

He was helped, of course, by a shrewd head of football operations in Stuart Webber — the man who currently fills the sporting director’s void at Norwich, and who was key to the appointment of another Borussia Dortmund coaching graduate, Daniel Farke, at Carrow Road in 2017.

Rumour also has it that he was vital to the German retaining his position when the heat came on during an underwhelming 2017/18 effort, where Norwich finished in their lowest league position in eight years: 14th, two places below their East Anglian rivals, Ipswich.

Norwich City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Carrow Road City manager Daniel Farke. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Yet, not even a full year later, the Canaries, ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, are perched at the division’s summit, six points clear of second place Leeds and with the 100-point mark in sight. Ipswich, meanwhile, sit on the verge of demotion.

Their turnaround has been spectacular and is underlined by a consistency which David Freezer, a Norwich City writer for the Eastern Daily Press, refers to as “remarkable”.

City play relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic on Sunday looking to extend a run which has put them on course for a third Premier League promotion in a decade. Not since mid-February have they lost a league game — their only domestic defeat in a 2019 which has so far seen them amass 37 points from 48 available, including 25 of the last 27.

“If they go on to seal the title, in terms of second tier campaigns, it would almost certainly go down as the biggest achievement in the club’s history,” Freezer adds, while alluding to their previous second-tier wins of 1986 and 2004.

“There’s no prima donnas in the squad and the fans really feel a part of this journey because the club had to cut back so much financially.

“To then re-emerge out the other side with such style, everyone’s just so over the moon with how Daniel Farke has managed to bring it all together.”

Of course, the budget cuts stemmed from City’s failure to get back to the Premier League in the season which preceded Farke’s arrival, previous manager Alex Neil having paid the price for their poor form.

Bolton Wanderers v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - University of Bolton Stadium Emi Buendia scores against Bolton in February. Source: Dave Howarth

The squad has, as such, been the subject of a major overhaul in the 23 months since the current managerial regime’s engagement. Even last season’s twin strike force, Josh Murphy and Portugal international Nélson Oliveira, were moved on for varying reasons over the summer.

It has, however, allowed the Canaries to alter their side, recruiting several from the manager’s homeland, alongside another standout duo.

Twenty-eight goal Teemu Pukki arrived from Brondby on a free transfer, while they batted off interest from Leeds and Swansea for 22-year-old Argentine Emiliano Buendía, who, alongside academy graduate and England underage star Max Aarons, has provided the type of creativity and dynamism that Farke’s charges have become synonymous for.

Especially Buendía, a former Real Madrid youngster, who Norwich plucked from the Spanish second tier.

“Wes Hoolahan is obviously talked about in the highest regard around here. After 10 years, he really is a club legend and a lot of the fans’ favourite-ever player,” Freezer added.

“But already people are saying Buendía could go higher than Wes. He’s a similar player, but is more ruthless, better defensively and more athletic.

At the moment, it’s just about enjoying him while he’s here and hoping that he’ll stick around and try and reproduce it in the Premier League.”

On Wednesday night, Norwich lost their eight-game winning run when Reading rescued a last-gasp draw in their clash. The Canaries had five fully-fledged internationals on the bench, two of which never saw game-time, while Moritz Leitner, another with a watching brief, has Champions League experience.

A win over Wigan would move them on to 88 points with 12 still to play for as they seek to become the first team to reach the century since Leicester in 2014.

All points which strengthen their credentials for classification among the Championship’s pantheon of elite — soon to be — winners.

Norwich. Premier League. “Let’s be havin’ you…”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Bernard Jackman to discuss Izzy Folau’s impending sacking by Australia and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

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