The brightest spark of Norwich’s season so far, Todd Cantwell, has become one of the first names on Daniel Farke’s team sheet. This is something which would have been unthinkable less than a year ago. Many fans were writing off the lad from Dereham after some forgettable displays in the Championship, and it was expected that a loan to the Championship would be on the cards for the 2019/20 season. Instead, Cantwell has been thrown into the team on the left wing in Onel Hernandez’s absence and he has made the position his own. He’s earned an England U21 call up and looks set to play a key role in Norwich’s fight for survival in the Premier League.
The Rise of the Dereham Deco
Cantwell made his Canaries debut back in January 2018 in an FA Cup third-round replay at Stamford Bridge. There was a keen sense of intrigue as the travelling Norwich fans got to see a local lad try he luck against a Chelsea team full of international stars. This was, however, all the Canaries faithful saw of him for the remainder of the season as he went on loan to the Netherlands with Fortuna Sittard. Dutch football has been a great learning curve for many top British talents as they try to develop their game and Cantwell jumped at the chance to play more regular football. He made ten appearances during his time overseas, scoring two goals and making three assists for Fortuna as they clinched promotion to the Eredivisie.
Cantwell’s Dutch adventure was curtailed there, however, and he returned to Norfolk assured that he would get more of a chance for the 2018/19 season. His first league start of the season came in mid-September, playing the full 90 minutes away to Reading and setting up Teemu Pukki for the first goal. He held down the left-wing berth until the end of January, often struggling to directly contribute in games – only scoring one goal against Rotherham. Fans weren’t convinced with Cantwell’s performances, questioning his decision making and strength as poor areas of his game. Farke didn’t trust him in the season-deciding win away to Leeds, leaving him on the bench at Elland Road. He went on to only play 161 minutes in the league between February and the end of the season. Despite this lack of action, it was clear how much the club’s success meant to the local lad, celebrating widely on the pitch once promotion was assured at home to Blackburn in April.
The 2018/19 Norwich season had been unbelievable. Norwich had won the Championship out of nowhere after such a disappointing season the year before. With their thin squad, a lot of commentators noted that perhaps this success had come too quickly for such a young team. Cantwell, often used as the scapegoat during poor Championship performances, seemed much more likely to be returning to the Football League on loan than taking to the pitch against European champions Liverpool come the start of August. Patrick Roberts was brought in on loan from Manchester City as further competition for Cantwell in the left-wing position, seemingly pushing him further down the pecking order.
It was pre-season when the Norwich faithful got a glimpse of the rejuvenated Todd Cantwell. His passing in a 5-1 victory at Luton Town showed vast improvements from the previous season before he coolly netted against Champions League debutants Atalanta a few days later. Serious work had been put in over break and he was looking a new player. This great pre-season form was rewarded with a start at Anfield on matchday 1. He looked spirited, interchanging well with Stiepermann and Buendia, creating real problems for Liverpool’s much-praised defence. Cantwell was helped further the following week with the freak injury suffered by Onel Hernandez, his main rival for the left-wing. This guaranteed the Dereham Deco more game time, and he took his chance with both hands. He grabbed two assists, setting up Pukki for his second and third goals against Newcastle and then he opened his Premier League goalscoring account the following week at home to Chelsea. His great August form was recognised by England U21s, making his debut September 9th against Kosovo.
Aside from an unbelievable win over Man City in which Todd tapped in Norwich’s second, their form as a whole has slipped. Three successive 2-0 away losses followed by a 5-1 drubbing at home to Crystal Palace has left them 19th in the league and staring down the barrel of an immediate return to the second division. Despite this, the Dereham Deco has been a glimmering light of hope and he is only going to enhance his stock further by regularly getting minutes in the Premier League.