It is quite common that a young player at an elite club tries his hardest to break into the first team and become a regular, but instead is forced to try his luck elsewhere to really prove himself. It wasn’t until Daniel Sturridge went on loan to Bolton in 2011 that we saw consistent signs of what he could do, while among the most impressive midfielders in this season’s Premier League is Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City, who started off at Manchester United but had to drop down the divisions before finally becoming a top flight footballer.
Another member of the Old Trafford alumni has been earning rave reviews at the other end of the league table – Robbie Brady of Norwich City. The Irishman was very well regarded from a young age in his home country, but his Man United first-team career lasted just several minutes as a late substitute in a Capital One Cup tie in 2012. It was during two loan spells at Hull City, whom he later joined permanently, that the left-sided player received his regular fix of first-team action, helping them to promotion in 2013 and the following year’s FA Cup final. Despite the Tigers’ relegation last campaign, Brady was one of their stand-out performers, diligently giving all he had for the cause, unlike some of Steve Bruce’s much more expensive overseas acquisitions. Although The Tigers dropped to the Championship, the 23 year old did not join them. He was on his way to newly-promoted Norwich, linking up with fellow countryman Wes Hoolahan for the princely sum of £7 million.
Since the summer, Brady has become a key man not just for the Canaries, but also for the Republic of Ireland national team. Although left midfield is his strongest position, Martin O’Neill has selected him at left-back, with mixed success. Brady’s best performances in a green shirt have come from the midfield position, particularly during the latter stages of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. He was outstanding in the landmark wins over Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina, while also scoring one of the strangest goals of recent times in incredibly dense fog during the first leg of the play-off against the Bosnians. A peripheral figure in the national team at the beginning of 2015, Brady is now assured of his place on the plane to France, barring a dramatic and most unexpected slump in form, or a hugely unfortunate injury.
At Carrow Road, he has taken very little time at all to become a hit with the Norwich supporters. An astute passer and crosser of the ball, he has shown his versatility to good effect in both defensive and attacking roles. He gave a man of the match display in the recent draw against Arsenal, outshining the likes of Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez on the day. While it would be preposterous to suggest that he is at the same technical level as either the Spaniard or Chilean, it proved Brady’s capabilities when he is on his best form. Also, it was no flash in the pan, as he has been impressive all season. Despite lying 16th in the Premier League, Norwich certainly appear to have enough about them to survive with a bit to spare, particularly if the Irishman continues to deliver on the potential he showed as a teenager. This is the season when Brady is really coming of age, and at 23 he has ample time to improve even further from his current level.
Some footballers fail to make a grade at a top level club at the outset of their career and fall into obscurity. Thankfully for Martin O’Neill and Alex Neil, that is definitely not the case with Robbie Brady. 2016 could be quite a year for the Irishman.
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