Astute Worthington can be trusted with spending money
Feature by Rick Lamb
Updated Sunday, 29th January 2006
With his record in the transfer market under intense scrutiny, it is time for a defence of Nigel Worthington's buying record, and blame to be apportioned elsewhere.Inevitably after the loss of a big player for big money, a club’s fans look to the Board and the manager for a statement of intent. At this particular moment in time, Nigel Worthington is coming under more pressure than ever to justify the faith the club have shown in him.
Having put together a run of five successive victories over Christmas when able to field something like a first choice line-up, the long-serving gaffer managed to quash doubts about his ability that had surfaced for pretty much the first time in his five-year tenure.
It is off the pitch and in the so-called January sales that the Ulsterman is now being judged. Spending over £10million in transfer fees since taking over from Bryan Hamilton sounds excessive for a club who have had a single season in the top flight in that time.
Yes, £500,000 for the likes of Neil Emblen and Mark Rivers seems ridiculous with hindsight. This, however, was before the implosion of ITV Digital forced belts to tighten. Other additions for similar amounts may appear chequered, but Youssef Safri and Andy Hughes will provide value for money, Leon McKenzie was a snip and Adam Drury a steal.
Of more expensive acquisitions, Darren Huckerby and Gary Doherty respectively have proved and will prove their worth, while Matthias Jonsson was sold for as much as we paid. We all know about Dean Ashton. City’s longest serving manager since Ken Brown, in general, cannot be seen as profligate.
For a start, the way in which Worthington has secured his own position at the club and a degree of continuity relatively early in his reign was impressive. When a vacancy arose at Sheffield Wednesday, having his name linked to the position forced the Canaries Board to show some commitment to their man.
The former Owls defender’s actions in this episode were a sign that he was not the unassuming doormat of a manager he might initially have appeared to be. He was certainly a stark contrast to compatriots Martin O’Neill and Hamilton, but his refusal to be the star of the show has always kept a healthy amount of pressure on his players to perform.
More latterly, the signing of Dean Ashton showed a number of strings to Worthington’s bow. One of the most crucial was the ability to sell Norwich City, a side few gave at cat-in-hell’s chance of survival at the time, to one of the brightest lights in the game.
If we are to attract a Robert Earnshaw, Greg Halford or Cameron Jerome to Carrow Road, here is a man with a track record of doing just that. His name may now be a cuss word in Norfolk, but Damien Francis was a sought-after player in his time, and was tempted to City when he could have held out for a better offer. Darren Huckerby falls into the same bracket, and one gets the impression that Peter Crouch would have, erm, jumped at the chance to join permanently if we could have found the cash.
Just as important in the Ashton transfer was the sense from all sides that Norwich could in no way afford to bring in someone of his calibre. Worthington had stated after the defeat to Fulham in early December that he would be seeking to add new faces in January but on a very limited budget. Increasing the club’s transfer record by 200% can hardly be called limited, but the idea that City couldn’t may have allowed the bid to progress unmolested by interest from bigger clubs.
Contrast the situation twelve months ago to now, and Worthington’s role remains the same, but has been hopelessly undermined. Chief Executive Neil Doncaster has apparently begun to enjoy seeing his name in the press justifying his every action and extolling the virtues of being economical with the facts for the good of the club. Worthington must want to punch him.
The situation the City boss now finds himself in is that he is backed by a Board whose mouthpiece has lost the trust of the fans. Telling anybody who will listen exactly how much every party involved in the Ashton deal received may be an admirable principle, but in terms of naivety ranks alongside the kid in Narnia thinking he’s getting his Turkish Delight for free.
Now the man who usually does the talking, and has developed a good line in saying nothing but revealing much, is left in a quandary. West Bromwich Albion would almost certainly accept a couple of million plus add-ons for Robert Earnshaw if it had been Leeds United or Crystal Palace on the other end of the phone. I’ve no idea how much either of these clubs have to spend or how much of a priority a striker would be.
Norwich, on the other hand, just received £7million, less around £1.5million owed to Crewe and Ashton. They are desperate for a goalscorer. And there are a matter of hours to go before they have to keep what they’ve got until the end of the season. Additionally, Earnshaw can expect to sort himself out a deal that will net him a hefty ransom when he leaves, like everyone now knows Dean Ashton did. Well done Mr Doncaster.