Norwich's faith in youth could reap a rich Premier League dividend

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Ricky van Wolfswinkel has scored 22 goals in 44 starts for Sporting since signing from FC UtrechtGettyImages

Ricky van Wolfswinkel is not just Norwich City's club-record signing. He is also a fresh statement of intent regarding the Canaries' long-term strategy.

City appear to have recruited one of the hottest young talents in Europe, given his pedigree and his goalscoring prowess. And it is that youth which perhaps is the least heralded dimension surrounding a multi-million pound move that will be officially sealed on July 1.

At 24-years-old, Van Wolfswinkel is many years from his peak. The Dutch international is still in the impressionable phase of a career that appears to be arcing in a positive direction. Maturity and greater experience allied to sustained exposure in the competitive world of the Premier League are all factors which should contribute to Van Wolfswinkel's development in Norwich colours.

The Canaries know a debut impact in English football along the lines of Aston Villa's 19-goal Belgian Christian Benteke is likely to bring unwanted side effects in the shape of admiring glances from more illustrious domestic rivals later down the line. But Norwich's encouraging commitment to nurturing youth can only boost the club's corporate aim to achieve self-sustainable Premier League longevity.

Chris Hughton and his squad will embark on a third consecutive season in the top flight over the coming months and that continued membership of the most exclusive club in football owes much to the efforts of a seam of young men who have all shown tantalising glimpses of maturity.

Jonny Howson, Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington are all in their early 20s and produced when the heat was at its most intense over a fraught final run-in last season before survival was assured. Ryan Bennett is another from the same generation who compensated admirably for the potentially debilitating injury loss of the influential Michael Turner in the closing weeks. Behind them, albeit absent for five months following thigh surgery, England international goalkeeper John Ruddy is yet to realise his full potential in a position on the field where men like Edwin van der Saar, Mark Schwarzer and Brad Friedel all maintained the highest of Premier League standards into their fifth decade.

The Dutchman's acquisition should not be viewed as a break with tradition or even a signal Norwich seek to move in a radically different direction - it is part of the same evolutionary process.

Look at the players Hughton continues to be linked with. Birmingham's Nathan Redmond, Tottenham's Jake Livermore and many others all fit the template. The Norwich manager is methodically arming his club with a youthful outlook that in the right conditions can help underpin further growth.

The Canaries retain plenty of experience in men like Turner, Sebastian Bassong, Russell Martin and captain Grant Holt, but the Canaries are striving to strike the right balance. City's trading patterns over the remaining months of the current window will provide fresh evidence regarding which direction Hughton feels he needs to tilt further.

There can be little dispute Van Wolfswinkel's pending arrival merely embellishes a talent base of young, hungry, aspiring footballers capable of further collective improvement.

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