“One or two of the players that I have got in mind will become new heroes for our supporters.” – Glenn Roeder, May 9, 2008
Let’s face it, not much of Norwich City’s 34th permanent manager’s oratory is worth repeating. A fellow described as being ‘not a very nice man’ by Darren Huckerby, Manager 34’s team of loanees and misfits ended the 08/09 season relegated to League One. Manager 34 out of work, never to manage again. Huckerby – himself the hero Norwich released the season previous – winning the MLS Newcomer of the Year Award.
Roeder did get one thing right though. And that was the signing of 26-year-old Wes Hoolahan. The left-footed Blackpool midfield maestro who had tormented the Canaries at both Bloomfield and Carrow Roads in his first Championship season.
Arriving on June 26, 2008, Wesley Patrick Cantona Hoolahan was signed for a quarter of a million pounds. Or one-sixteenth of the £15 million Spurs paid for David Bentley that same year…
He would go on to play 352 times for the Canaries, scoring 54 goals and creating countless more.
Described by Russell Martin as one of ‘Norwich City’s greatest ever players’; Grant Holt as ‘probably the greatest player that Norwich City will ever see’, Hoolahan has impressed all around him.
Players. Coaches. Supporters.
All love Wes Hoolahan.
But things did not start well for the man we’d come to know as the ‘Irish Messi, or ‘Wessi’ for short.
Signing for a club with promotion aspirations, he ended the campaign relegated.
Worse, the last six weeks were spent on the treatment table, Wes unable to help the Canaries beat the drop due to ankle ligament damage.
If that first season in Norfolk was a low point, there were to be plenty of highs over the subsequent nine.
Three promotions. Four Seasons in the Premier League. International Honours. A star turn at Euro 2016. Induction to the Norwich Hall of Fame. Member of the Championship Team of the Decade. Norwich Player of the Season 2017.
How would Wes sum up his decade at the club? Very entertaining.
He’s not wrong.
Shine bright like a diamond
When you play in a position like Wes, you need the full backing of your manager in order to be successful. In Paul Lambert, he found the perfect leader. One that would later attempt to poach him for the claret and blue of Aston Villa. (But we won’t dwell on that affair.)
It was Scotsman’s decision, first to recall an ‘overweight’ Wes, then play him at the tip of a midfield diamond that was to change his and his team’s futures.
Given licence to roam, Wes flourished. Unshackled from a wide berth, he was, quite literally, central to everything good about Norwich City.
Twisting, turning, feinting, shooting. Identifying and completing passes ex-pros armed with an interactive tactics table and a pause button would be unable to spot.
Wes at his peak was a thing to behold.
Always looking for the ball. Constantly probing. Even tracking back. For a luxury player he sure got through a lot of graft.
11 league goals flowed in that League One winning season. 10 more as promotion to the Premier League followed the following campaign.
8 goals in three Premier League seasons (four coming in his first) was more a reflection on Chris Hughton’s footballing philosophies than Hoolahan’s ability. He played just 16 times – including 6 appearances from the bench – in City’s relegation season.
A chronic oversight that did nothing to enhance their survival chances.
‘It’s Wes Hoolahaaaaaaaaaaaaan!’
Back in the Championship, Wes was a major figure in City’s immediate return to the big time. His penalty goal against ‘them down the road’ in the Play-Off semi-final a moment that stands out for many.
‘It’s Wes Hoolahaaaaaaaaaaaaan!’ one of Chris Goreham’s finest moments of commentary.
‘It’s gone all the way through, chaaaaaaance, blocked on the line but it’s gonna go in’, bettering it, but failing to mention our Wes’s delightful near post flick that diverted Lansbury’s corner to Russell Martin.
A key player under Alex Neil in the Championship and Premier League, it is only this season that his powers have started to wane. Replaced by his heir apparent James Maddison.
Honoured to have been able to play with such a great footballer but more importantly a great man. I have learnt so much off you Maestro, you are the definition of a legend. Been a pleasure to watch you sit defenders on their 🍑 time after time. Wish you all the best in your next Chapter Wesley. #Wessi 💛💚
I wish I was a little bit taller
Yes, Wesley’s not infallible. If he were, he’d have played for Arsenal. Hell, even Barcelona.
A couple more inches and a bit more pace and he could have been one of the greatest wingers ever. With a right foot to match that wand of a left, he could have played at the very top.
He had a trial at Ipswich back in 2006. He was deemed too small. And reportedly too good at playing actual football to fit in at Portman Road. He’d come back to haunt them.
10 games against the scum. 7 wins; 3 draws; 0 defeats. Starring roles in both parts of the 9-2.
Wes the artist
To watch Wes is to appreciate fine art; enjoy the opera; savour a fine wine.
But of course, art is subjective. For all his admirers. There is still a small minority (including the man who sits in front of me) who believe he takes too many touches. Gets nowhere. Gives it away too easily.
Then again, there are those that probably complain that Tosca is in Italian.
‘Fans’ who whine that he keeps the ball too long forget the speed at which intricate one-twos are played. The constant desire to take a quick free, a short corner to keep the game moving apace. If his teammates are good enough, on the same wavelength, then the ball flows freely.
When Wes hasn’t played a pass, it’s because it simply wasn’t there to be played in the first place.
Watch any highlights of Norwich over the past 10 years and see how many goals Wes has been involved in, directly and indirectly. You’ll see he’s always there. Even when he’s having a rare off day, he’ll always ask for the ball.
Against Leeds, his last game in yellow and green, he lost the ball early in the first half. A few seconds later he’d won it back and was setting up another attack. Lesser players hide. In 10 years, Wes never has.
Wes Hoolahan: More than a few magical moments
After this, his final game, Rob Butler asked the Canary Callers to name their favourite Wes moment. Most cited the Ipswich semi-fianl.
But to define Wes by one-off moments is churlish. As good as the goals against Leicester, Ipswich, Rotherham are, it’s the everyday things that stand Wes apart. The things that seem normal to him. That other players pull off once or twice in their careers.
A shimmy against Colchester as impressive as a pass with the outside of his boot against Arsenal. A one-two at Rotherham, a turn at Old Trafford.
Nutmegs. Defenders on their arse. Goals. Assists. That Rabona at Chelsea. 100% pass completion at Wembley.
Like a fine wine the Dublin vintage of Wes has matured with age.
Whether he follows the route paved by Huckerby and finishes his career in America. Or whether he stays in this country, the game against Leeds proves Wes has still got a couple of years in him yet. Then he can return to Norfolk. As a fan. A coach. Whatever he wants. He deserves it.
All we can do now is enjoy the memories.
And what memories.
As Stuart Webber said. If you like football, then you like Wes Hoolahan.
Thanks for everything Wes.
See you again soon.