For even the most talented players in teams battling relegation, it can be difficult to stand out.
In the case of Norwich City, there hasn’t been much momentum behind their fight, with boss Daniel Farke admitting he hasn’t had the resources to make the Canaries are a competitive outfit. But they have won plenty of plaudits for their style of play this season, and someone who has caught the eye is young attacking midfielder Todd Cantwell.
Arguably the most impressive thing about the 22-year-old’s rise is that he wasn’t playing regularly for the first team last season. As Norwich unexpectedly stormed to the Championship title in 2018-19, Cantwell featured just 24 times, making 18 starts and six appearances as a substitute. It was far from obvious that he would be a breakout star in the top flight, especially as he had scored just twice and registered one assist throughout the campaign. Compare that to six goals and two assists this year; his career is proof that predictions and expert opinions aren’t everything. Farke deserves credit for spotting something in the youngster, who in turn should be praised for taking his opportunity.
Though Norwich have stuck to their principles tactically, they are extremely likely to be relegated. Selling Cantwell may be unavoidable as a result, but the way the club works suggests they may actively be planning to get the best deal. The queue for his signature would be a long one, and he has already been linked with a switch to champions-elect Liverpool. Whether the speculation has anything in it remains to be seen, but in terms of style it would make sense given the similar philosophies between Farke and Jurgen Klopp, who both made their names in differing roles at Borussia Dortmund.
But Cantwell plays off the left at Carrow Road, and would have very little luck in usurping Sadio Mane, who appears to have become even more vital than before to the Reds’ attack. If Anfield were to be his new home, he would most likely be a squad player, but he has the rounded ability to be both defensively structured and an attacking threat, something Klopp looks for in any midfield player. He averages only 1.7 tackles per 90 minutes, but wins 1.2 of them, while also winning 6.5 duels per game, a success rate of over half. Aerially, he is much weaker, winning just 0.7 of a 2.2 average per 90 minutes; but because Liverpool rarely cross the ball above the ground, that wouldn’t be much of an issue.
Because of a slim physique and small stature, weighing just 70kg and standing at 1.77 metres, Cantwell would only suit a certain type of team. Norwich are something of a rare breed in that they play expansively despite being at the bottom of the league. More physical sides would need to look elsewhere, for quicker and taller players. Cantwell is very intelligent on the pitch; a number of his goals this season have been down to the timing of his runs. One big chance per game is created by him on average, with 15 of almost 40 passes being played in the final third of the pitch.
The physical aspects of his game, which are really crucial for Klopp, could mean he isn’t perfect for the Reds. But his natural fitness is very good, too. It is far from certain where he’ll go, but teams like Leicester, Wolves and Everton, who look to play in a progressive, attacking manner, could all benefit from signing someone as effective at both linking up the midfield and attack, while also making decisive contributions in the opposition box.
There have been comparisons made between Cantwell and Dele Alli, with a key difference being their starting positions. The Norwich man works well drifting in from wide, whereas Alli is better at timing runs centrally, but the way they play the game has similarities. Cantwell is young enough to be able to stay at Norwich in the event of an expected relegation, and it wouldn’t be the worst idea if Farke does too. But, long-term, he has the potential to be playing high up in the Premier League, and his talents should be rewarded.