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When Norwich signed Robbie Brady from Hull City for £7 million in the summer it marked the end of a long-running saga. Canaries’ manager Alex Neil admitted he had been after the winger for some time and after finally getting his man he is now seeing himself being rewarded for the patience and persistence he showed in the chase for the Irishman.
Brady had experience of playing in the Premier League 43 times over the previous two seasons but after suffering relegation with Hull, he was offered a route back into the top-flight with Norwich who were taken up via the play-offs by the 34-year old Neil who had only joined the club from Hamilton Academical six months before.
Despite having no previous experience of managing in England, Neil had no trouble translating his abilities south of the border as Norwich lost just three of his first 25 games, culminating in the play-off victory over Middlesbrough that returned the Canaries to the Premier League after a season away.
This summer saw Neil tasked with creating a squad capable of remaining in the top-flight and after recouping £6 million for the sale of Bradley Johnson to Derby County, Norwich were cautious in recruitment, bringing in seven players and spending cash on only two of them; West Bromwich Albion’s Graham Dorrans and Brady from Hull.
Matt Jarvis, who joined initially on loan from West Ham, has since had his move made permanent in January but having made only five appearances has found it difficult to earn a regular role in Neil’s first-team, similarly to his fellow summer recruits who have featured only sporadically as the manager stays loyal to the core of players that earned him promotion.
Ever-present and impressive
Apart from Brady, that is. The Irish midfielder has played in all 20 of Norwich’s games so far, missing only 11 minutes and only centre-half Sebastien Bassong, who has yet to miss a single minute, has recorded more game time for the Canaries.
Nine of those appearances have come on the left of the attacking trio in a 4-2-3-1, from where he got his first goal for Norwich against West Ham and the assist for Lewis Grabban’s equaliser against Arsenal, but Neil’s acknowledgement of Brady’s quality in all areas of the left-flank have seen deployed more regularly as a left-back, from where he has started 10 games, allowing the manager to fit another midfielder, Nathan Redmond or Jarvis for example, in ahead of him.
Despite being used in a deeper role it hasn’t managed to curtail Brady’s attacking intent, the Irishman has created 32 chances so far, the most in Norwich’s squad and to put into further context, as many as David Silva, Xherdhan Shaqiri and more than Juan Mata.
In terms of crosses, no Norwich player has averaged more than his 1.8 crosses per game and in the division only Mesut Ozil, Dmitri Payet, James Milner, Kevin De Bruyne and Dusan Tadic are more regular crossers of the ball. He is also Norwich’s best dribbler with 34 successful dribbles from 50 attempted, highlighting his willingness to continue carrying the ball forward to join attacks.
Not that his attacking instincts have compromised his abilities at the back however, as only Stoke’s Erik Pieters, with 103, has made more tackles as a defender than Brady’s 87 and in the Norwich squad nobody has made more blocks (32) than the committed 23 year old, whereas only Alexander Tettey and Bassong, both with 36, have made more interceptions than Brady’s 36.
Charged with galloping up Norwich’s left-flank to enhance attacking threat, Brady has also proved himself a valuable asset when performing defensive duties. The continuation of his form will be extremely important to Neil’s hopes of keeping his team in the Premier League.
Battle with Olsson
Though Brady has settled and adapted well to his role as a full-back, it is a position he has had to share with Martin Olsson who came in for the recent defeats at Watford and Tottenham, the draw with Everton and the victory at Manchester United.
For the last two games however Olsson found himself omitted and Brady’s now typically solid displays as Norwich picked-up back-to-back clean sheets and home wins over Aston Villa and Southampton should now see the Irishman secure a regular run back at full-back.
A sustained run of games in a regular position for his club will also help Brady, who so far has 18 caps, to ensure his place in the Republic of Ireland side in time for next summer’s European Championships, with his international manager also harbouring no concerns about the winger’s versatility.
“We asked him to go and play as a full-back getting forward and there’s always a concern about one’s defensive abilities if that’s the case, but I never saw adjusting to those roles being a problem for us; it was just about how quickly he could adjust that was going to be the issue” said Martin O’Neill who has cause to be grateful to Brady for the midfielder’s pivotal role in the qualifying play-off with Bosnia, where he netted Ireland’s crucial away goal in the first leg before delivering the raking free-kick from which Jon Walters scored his second in the return leg.
Making up for lost time
If he does go to France with Ireland he is likely to be in his newly found role of left-back, testament to his ability to adapt and learn.
It was Gary Neville, a former teammate of Brady’s as the Irishman was a trainee at Manchester United, who said the youngster did not have the necessary focus to make the cut at Old Trafford, an opinion the 23 year old agrees with when looking back.
At Norwich and with Ireland, Brady is more than making up for any lost time.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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