I love Wes Hoolahan.
I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the little Irishman unpick defences and mesmerise supporters with moments of technical brilliance season upon season. Hoolahan is a luxury player. A footballer capable of moments of excellence which rekindles the reason football supporters obsess with the game. All superlatives has been used to describe him.
His status at this club is unquestionable, his ability undeniable and his mentality unwavering. Hoolahan is a Norwich City legend. However, at the age of 35 and in his testimonial season, Hoolahan’s stock is declining.
Shoehorned onto either flank isn’t aiding this decline, but the proliferation of James Maddison and the convalescence of Alex Pritchard mean Hoolahan’s role has become bit part.
Sure, he is an excellent operator from the bench, but Hoolahan’s long term place in the starting eleven seems tarnished. Age and length of recovery time in the aftermath of games is mitigating factors to this diminished role, but Hoolahan has declined this season. In complete and brutal honesty, Hoolahan has been off the pace this campaign. Admittedly, the pass against Fulham was exquisite, his performance against QPR wonderful, but these are becoming rarer flashes.
His movement is slower, his influence lesser and his intensity lower. This is not the Hoolahan we have adhered ourselves too, this is an ageing player who days are numbering, maybe not in the not so near future, but within the next couple of seasons, probably sooner. Proclaims of his inclusion alongside Harrison Reed, Alex Tettey or Tom Trybull are pure fantasy.
He is not built to be a central midfielder. If he isn’t your number ten, he shouldn’t play.
His part is still vital though, from the bench or in rotation with Maddison, this man can be an apt and viable replacement for the number 10 role should the former become unfit, unavailable or sold. He is a man who must play in the offensive midfield position. He unpicks defences like a pickpocket, but supporters have seen these performances become an infrequent but golden thing.
Hoolahan is not, and never will be, an effective option in the wide area. Farke’s precursors have tried and failed to master this. He is neither good enough protection for Ivo Pinto, nor is he good enough in the defensive shape whilst operating out wide. He is not a capable ball winner in his defensive third and he cannot combine this with constant chance creation.
With no league goals since last term and two assists in ten games, Hoolahan has become an understudy to the starlet Maddison. Perhaps the young midfielder is his heir but he has surpassed him onto the teamsheet; development of Maddison is key to aid the financial implications of parachute payments concluding. Simple reality.
With no re sale value and only a decline to come, Hoolahan’s best days are behind him. Sure, we may witness some vintage Hoolahan performances here and there, but these won’t happen regularly. With Maddison occupying his position and Farke reverting to cramming into the side, Hoolahan’s best before date is looming.
Is Hoolahan suited to games against those Norwich are expecting to overcome at Carrow Road? Are his days numbered?
His skill set still makes him both a commodity and a useful operator in this division. He is a useful benefactor and mentor for Maddison’s development. He is not, however, a regular starter.
It’s difficult not to be clouded by sentiment when discussing a legend of a football club. However, honestly and objectivity, this is a shadow of the man whom Paul Lambert built his side around and developed a tactic to reap the rewards of his produce. That’s expected though, the man is 35 years of age.
So what’s the solution?
Hoolahan owes Norwich nothing. Despite his antics during Aston Villa’s firm and unwanted attentiveness to his situation, his contribution to the cause has been undeniable, his bond with supporters unbreakable. Hoolahan will leave a legacy at Carrow Road. Generations in the future will usher his name in the same awe as they mention Grant Holt, Paul Lambert and he personifies that era.
Hard working, ambitious and technical.
He isn’t what he once was, and supporters mustn’t expect the consistent standards and constant moments of quality we are use to expecting from the veteran, they will become sparser.
Cherish every second, touch and pass for he is wilting.
He is a legend, and I adore him.