I don’t know any Norwich fans that don’t love the little fella.
At 35 years of age and now in his testimonial year at the club, Wes has given us some of the most magical and skilful moments that we are ever likely to see from a player in a yellow and green shirt.
Those moments are endless and numerous. One of my personal favourites was a small moment in a match that ultimately meant nothing as it wasn’t a crucial moment that led to anything in particular but it was awesome and stuck in my mind.
Norwich were playing Manchester United at Carrow Road and the ball had been hoofed high up into the sky by someone or other, I can’t remember, anyway, as the ball dropped straight down, Wes was under it and he had Michael Carrick for company.
The ball was going to fall to Wes and as he took it down he flicked it away from Carrick, immediately getting it under control, leaving Carrick looking bemused as Wes set off with the ball.
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That was it. Nothing more than that, but I once saw Zinedine Zidane do something similar and it is played in ZZ’s YouTube highlights clips endlessly. Wes Hoolahan’s ball control was equally as good.
Now, I’m not saying that Hoolahan is as good as Zidane was, merely that Wes is a technically fantastic player – definitely the best I’ve ever seen in a Norwich shirt.
There have been various managers in the last ten years that have seen Wes in a variety of guises and roles, since Glenn Roeder ‘stole’ him from Blackpool for a paltry £250k buy out fee.
Chris Hughton struggled to understand Wes’ ability and influence on the team, after Paul Lambert had embraced him and given him the freedom to support a Grant Holt in his pomp.
Hughton was only interested in big, physical midfield players (like Alex Tettey) and that saw Hoolahan warming the bench for long periods of time. That prompted Hoolahan to become a target for Lambert at Aston Villa but the City board refuse to sell him.
The wounds were still raw and open between Lambert and David McNally and I suspect had anyone else have wanted him other than Lambert, he might’ve been sold at that time.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen and Wes has gone on to give us many more wonderful memories. The goals he scored against Nottingham Forest and Rotherham, particularly Rotherham, at Carrow Road last season were unlikely to have been possible to score for any other player.
You can watch that goal here
The issue with managers’ opinions of Wes has blighted his international career with ‘only’ 40 odd caps coming his way as a result of Giovanni Trappattoni ignoring him for more ‘physical’ players rather than creative ones – a familiar story.
Martin O’Neill has played him more often for the Republic of Ireland but continues to attract the ire of RTE pundit Eamonn Dunphy for not playing Wes more often, or even in every game.
After the Republic’s 1-1 poor draw with Georgia at the weekend Dunphy said the following on RTE
‘These guys (Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane) have their mind made up about Wes. They don’t respect him.
‘He’s a terrific player. They don’t want him because… I don’t know they’re mystery men.
‘I would not blame the players. There isn’t a single player I’d blame. They all did their best.’
‘I don’t know what Keane does to be honest. He gives good press conferences.
‘Keane is a pretty intimidating character to have around players, young players in particular.
‘Glenn Whelan gives us nothing and Wes gives us an awful lot. You only have to look back to our best away result in Vienna against Austria. Wes delivered a beautiful pass to James McClean who put it in the back of the net. The significance of Whelan is he went off injured after 25 minutes and we improved as a side.
‘It would be nice if Wes Hoolahan started tomorrow night but I think that train has left the station.’
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Dunphy is well known as Hoolahan’s most ardent fan in the Republic and the problem that various Norwich managers have wrestled with continues to vex O’Neill.
Can Wes be trusted in those tough games, those away games, the games you cannot afford to lose?
Of course he can because he keeps the ball, he protects the ball and is able to put his foot on it and pass it wherever he likes.
At 35 now though, Daniel Farke will be wary of wearing him out, although he is a very fit player considering his age. Once described by O’Neill as ‘the youngest 34 year old I’ve ever met.’
At a time when City’s possession based game has struggled to break down the opposition, Hoolahan is needed yet again by the Canaries. With Alex Pritchard injured and James Maddison currently playing a deeper role, Wes is the only key to unlock the door of those stubborn defences we will face this season.
He can’t keep doing it forever but he is still capable in bursts. Sure, he’s not going to be able to play 90 minutes in every single game but I’d be looking to start him more often than not for the first 70 minutes of every home game at least.
The coach will have his own ideas but if Wes’ body is up to it then I’d play him as often as he feels able. Old Father Time is the only adversary that none of us can overcome and Alex Pritchard is the great man’s successor in waiting but there’s life in the old dog yet.
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‘We’ll miss him when he’s gone’ is a phrase I’ve heard more often of late and that is exactly right. Enjoy him while you can and like me, relish in his incredible skills, flicks and tricks.
I’ve been watching Norwich for over 30 years, you might be watching a long time before another player as good as Wes Hoolahan comes along.