In 2011 Norwich City have been blessed with a triumvirate of tricky 5’6″ers, and while Wes Hoolahan and Dani Pacheco have been garnering all the plaudits there is a third diminutive wizard who gives City a whole different dimension.

Anthony McNamee signed from Swindon Town under the emergency loan system towards the end of 2009 and despite only two brief substitute appearances became one of Paul Lambert’s first permanent signings when the transfer window opened in January 2010.

Prior to this McNamee had been earning plaudits at Watford, where he started his professional career, and Swindon Town, where then Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp was among his admirers.

Some footballers have made their name coming off the bench to harangue tired opposing defences – Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer for Manchester United, Peter Crouch for England – and even at these previous clubs McNamee has always been ‘that guy’.  Much loved at Watford for his touchline trickery – he received a rapturous reception even this April, three years and two clubs after he left – yet still over half his appearances were from the bench.  It’s often conjectured that it is McNamee’s Asthma preventing the pacey winger from maintaining his blistering speed over a full 90 minutes.

Here at Carrow Road, he has again served primarily as an impact player, employed to give the infamously narrow diamond formation some width either on the left or right, and stretch lagging defences in the small minutes of the game and help lend credence to Norwich’s reputation as late goal monsters.  Indeed despite joining on loan at the beginning of December 2009, his first start didn’t come until the end of February the following year when he provided both goals for fellow young newcomer and be-afroed striker Oli Johnson, when City once again came back late on to snatch victory in the last minute of a 2-1 defeat of Southend.

Little Tony Mac’s only goal that season came against Stockport, where he deftly chipped the keeper from the edge of the box after only three minutes, but he showed on numerous occasions that his pace and skill could change a game at that level.

So what impact has he had at Championship level this season? With the influx of outstanding midfielders into the City squad in summer 2010 McNamee’s chances were always going to be limited.  This is especially true as Lambert has bought in players who will slot perfectly into the by-now ever present diamond formation, leaving little room for out and out wingers such as our undersized hero. Andrew Crofts on the right and even the relatively lightweight Andrew Surman on the left offer far more in the way of necessary cover for the forward surges of the fullbacks and, in Henri Lansbury, Lambert has had a more versatile option from the bench.

That’s not to say the CEO of McNamee Entertainment hasn’t had his chances, with a total of 20 first team appearances in 2010/11, 16 of those coming from the bench he has had some game time, particularly early on in the season.  However it all seemed to fall apart for Anthony when he was handed a start at Carrow Road against Leyton Orient at the beginning of January. The whole team underperformed woefully, seemingly still struggling after a busy Christmas Period and McNamee shouldered much of the blame for the 0-1 defeat.

The nature of McNamee’s game is such that when he isn’t playing well it’s painfully obvious, for all his running he doesn’t seem to get anywhere and the end product seems to disappear completely, with him time and again leading the team into dead ends by the corner flag. After bearing the brunt of the fans disgruntlement at this weary display McNamee seemed to disappear from the ranks for a while, with many positing that he’d been handed his chance with that start and blown it, and even that we’d seen the last of him in a City shirt.

Away from the limelight McNamee quietly went about his business, putting in some notable performances in the Norfolk cup.  While some other players treated the local competition as practice matches, the winger was as industrious ever earning a man of the match award, and scoring the only goal for Norwich as we exited the competition in the semi finals at the hands of Dereham Town

McNamee did make a further two first team appearances though, coming off the bench against Millwall and to great effect against Watford.  In the latter match despite the horrendous playing surface both him and Simeon Jackson came on and turned a flagging Norwich side on their head, with McNamee causing havoc amongst the Watford defence and looking 100% like the player we know he’s capable of being.

Unfortunately just as it looked like he could hit his stride, much the same as Jackson, he was denied any further action, and has remained unused on the bench till the end of the season.

Next year the premiership beckons, and it will certainly be an enormous ask for McNamee to make the step up.  Consistency seems to be his main problem, alongside the question mark over his ability to perform over the 90 minutes and taking into account Lambert’s reliance on the diamond, many are assuming he will be leaving for more fertile pastures for a player of his ilk.  With all that considered, rumours do still persist of a move for Elliot Bennett and the image of the Brighton youngster and our own wing commander running at opposing fullbacks and providing ammunition for Holt in the centre is certainly a tantalising prospect if, ultimately, an unlikely one.

AntMac himself has been philosophical about the pressures of making it into the team, he appears to appreciate the role he has to play and has said “…when you’re training every day and you’ve got a good team spirit it isn’t as bad as people think it might be”.  One thing is certain when the season starts in August, whether McNamee’s future lies with Norwich or elsewhere, I for one will be following his career with a great interest befitting his oft underappreciated skill.

by Rob Boyce