Norwich novice Neil shows nous with Mulumbu move from Baggies
Only Watford are more fancied for relegation than Norwich City, with Coral making the Norfolk outfit that bounced straight back into the Premier League by winning the Championship play-offs 11/10 for the drop.
Rookie Canaries coach Alex Neil has captured DR Congo defensive midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu on a Bosman from West Bromwich Albion, handing him a two-year deal. Poaching a player, admittedly for nothing, from relegation rivals is something of a coup, because of his top-flight experience.
“The fact that we’ve been able to pick Youssouf up on a free transfer is a fantastic piece of business,” Neil told Norwich’s official website. “His arrival will add to the competition for places.
“We have a strong squad with a lot of players that have done well in the Premier League and Youssouf will bring that competition to the squad. He has vast experience of the Premier League but he’s still at a good age.
“You generally say that a player comes into their peak between 27 and 32,” Neil continued of new signing Mulumbu. “He’s right in the middle of that. He’s another fantastic player to add to an already-strong squad going into the Premier League.”
Once it was the Baggies that were renowned for their ‘bouncebackability’, a phrase coined a decade or so ago, but now Norwich have shown resolve under manager Neil, who is yet to complete his UEFA A coaching licence.
During the Canaries’ relegation campaign, predominantly with Chris Hughton at the helm but finished with Neil’s predecessor Neil Adams in charge, there was no real backup for Norway international Alexander Tettey in the anchorman role.
Creating a sense of competition for places, something identified in the above quotes, is a smart move from Neil, who will be the youngest Premier League boss at 33 next season. Tettey’s dirty work at the base of midfield allowed former Leeds United pair Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson to get back to their box-to-box best, and this was a major factor in the Carrow Road club enjoying immediate promotion.
All that notwithstanding, Mulumbu’s Norwich move means there is a seasoned professional proven at Premier League level ready to step in if being faithful to tough-tackling Tettey doesn’t work out. Again, Neil had notably picked up on this.
Mulumbu, 28, has had four full seasons of Premier League football under his belt and should pass 150 English top-flight appearances some time this term.
Natural width down the left-hand side is now something to look at. Canaries player of the season Johnson did a decent job there toward the end of the campaign, but will find top-flight full backs too astute to his tucking in from that flank.
Also to be assessed are a number of Norwich names loaned out or on the fringes. The likes of Northern Ireland international frontman Kyle Lafferty and Dutch counterpart Ricky van Wolfswinkel could be coming back to Carrow Road with the slate wiped clean.
Neil needs to decide whether to make squad space for the fruits of the Canaries’ own nest to come through too. Left back Harry Toffolo showed some promise at beaten League One play-off finalists Swindon Town, but the Murphy brothers, Jacob and Josh, may need to move on.
Norwich open their Premier League campaign with a home game against Crystal Palace, and the Eagles’ approach of building a platform of stability to push on from survival scraps into mid-table is a blueprint Neil needs to follow. The Canaries are 6/4 shouts to send Alan Pardew’s side back to London with nothing.