December 1, 2023

Will Jennings and the memories of Norwich’s Moroccan star Youssef Sefri

But nearly two decades ago, it was a Moroccan midfield general whose exploits in yellow and green captured the hearts of the Canaries and led to a catchy rendition of the 1977 hit Statico Co.

“Save is better than Juninho” was the rallying cry from 2005’s ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’ when the African import from Norwich City became a cult figure – with a little help from a certain miracle strike along the way.

As I wander the streets of Marrakesh as I write this column, it is no surprise that Youssef Sefri has become a popular player both in Norfolk circles and in his national homeland, a nation culturally polarized to the United Kingdom, but ultimately united in its love of beauty. Game.

T-shirts of Sofiane Amrabat, Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech adorn the tsunami of markets that dominate the Old Medina’s medina, particularly in the wake of Morocco’s impressive and memorable run to the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar last year.

But Safari, now 46, was a star of the previous generation who blazed a trail for his compatriots to follow, starting his career in the Premier League where he produced perhaps one of the finest knocks Carrow Road has ever seen.

Naturally, we will all remember the Moroccan maestro for that long-range lightning bolt that ricocheted off the crossbar under the Wednesday night lights and helped City secure a memorable Championship victory against Graeme Souness’ Newcastle.

But more broadly, Savery played as a solid midfielder and, despite continuing to play in a somewhat disappointing late period under Nigel Worthington and Peter Grant, he ended up leaving a largely positive legacy in the NR1 side.

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How could City benefit from a player like Savery at the moment, who admittedly isn’t quite as influential as the likes of Alex Tite or Oliver Skipp, but equally, he has a reliable defensive structure in midfield that currently looks very flimsy and easy to get past.

Norwich Evening News: Kenny McLeanKenny McLean (Photo: Paul Chesterton/Fox Images Ltd)

Kenny McLean has – as usual – been one of City’s best and most consistent players this season, and despite a slight dip in Gabriel Sara’s form over the past few weeks, there is clearly no doubting the Brazilian’s brilliance on and off the ball.

But at the same time, neither midfielder inherently possesses the depth which has left City worryingly exposed under David Wagner’s high-pressing, all-encompassing style.

The club has many problems at the moment, but the absence of a strong protective shield – a fragile back four – is undoubtedly one of them, exacerbated by the recent ineptitude of Shane Duffy and – to a lesser extent – the other defenders around him.

The combination of this defensive weakness, profligacy of possession, and a fundamental lack of cutting-edge technique in the final third will always be a recipe for disaster. Despite the dramatic win in Cardiff last weekend, the fact remains that Wagner’s race at Carrow Road looks run.

Yes, we have the return of Ashley Barnes after the international break, Josh Sargent back in the new year and, most immediately, the long-awaited arrival of Ben Napper as sporting director.

But the memories of that Blackburn disgrace and the capitulation of Leeds and Sunderland – sandwiched either side of Middlesbrough’s midweek no-show – remain impossible to erase.

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Based on Neal Adams’ quotes at this week’s fan forum event in Great Yarmouth, the club appear prepared to stick with Wagner during the international break.

But this turns QPR’s upcoming fixture into a virtual must-win scenario if the powers that be are to avoid a repeat of what they and Wagner faced throughout the Sunday lunchtime match brought about by Sammy Smodecs earlier this month.

Now Knapper is finally in the building and knows he has all sorts of problems to solve, many of them more pressing before the pivotal holiday period.

But in the long term, he must look to decisively correct the huge gap in City’s midfield, and a player with the composure, toughness and steel of Savery may be the answer.