With his long blonde locks, questionable dance moves, and forthright opinions on Twitter, Todd Cantwell is exactly the kind of footballer your dad loves to hate. His cheeky-chappie persona and playing style, along with those body-popping celebrations make him the enemy of ‘proper football men’ everywhere.
But say what they will, Cantwell has been a shining light in a Norwich City side that has been generally cast in that particular darkness which enshrouds any club in a relegation battle. Every struggling team needs that beacon around which to rally, and Cantwell has taken to the Premier League with significant aplomb, scoring his fair share of goals and becoming a key creative influence which star striker Teemu Pukki can feed off.
His form has brought an England U21 debut, and throughout the January transfer window, there have been reports linking Cantwell to bigger and better things. But as the Premier League relegation battle intensifies, you feel that Cantwell has eyes only on helping Norwich escape the dreaded drop. The Canaries sit at the foot of the table at the time of writing, six points from safety, but while results have not quite been up to scratch the manner in which Daniel Farke’s side have played has been exemplary.
Norwich may be favourites for the drop in the Premier League relegation odds from Betfair, but throughout the team, there is a collective sense of spirit and belief in the manager’s ideals. Ahead of Norwich’s first match of the season – a daunting away fixture against Liverpool – Farke insisted that his team would not abandon the free-flowing football that won them the Championship title in such style last season.
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Some would say this represented naivety, but there is a beautiful kind of bravery to Norwich’s approach under Farke. This is personified in the form of Cantwell, a footballer whose playing style is as fluid and free-form as the wavy blonde hair on his head. He possesses the kind of premium skill and trickery required to make an impact at Premier League level – his eye for a pass and a quality finish the perfect garnish to this recipe for footballing sumptuousness.
Cantwell has shown he can do it in the big games. Among his six goals the midfielder counts strikes against Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal – proof that he is not frightened to stand up to the Premier League’s big boys. He’s a player who is difficult to pin down to one position, instead he drifts around the pitch like a wasp at a picnic, floating into gaps on either wing or through the middle from where he can deal the most damage. There is a restlessness to him – a desire to find those extra few yards or execute the low-percentage tricks that raise the oohs and aahs from the crowd.
The Canaries face an almighty challenge to remain in the Premier League, and it may prove a step too far for this game yet inexperienced squad. But, to a man, Norwich’s players can hold their heads high. They have stuck to their guns when the easy option would have been to abandon their attacking principles in favour of increased defensive solidity. The reward for it all may not be Premier League survival, but they can take pride in having done things their way. Who knows, there may yet be a surge towards survival which would fully justify Farke’s style and philosophy.
For Cantwell, no matter what position Norwich finish in at the end of the season, his future remains bright, be it at Carrow Road or at one of the Premier League’s giants. His kind of youthfulness and bravery on the ball is in high demand at elite level – if his attitude could be bottled it would be worth its weight in gold. There are still rough edges to Cantwell’s game, as you would expect, but thanks to Farke’s trust in his players and belief in the system, we may just be watching one of the Premier League’s best young talents take his first steps on the road to superstardom.