Hurst tried to sign Norwood during his ill-fated Ipswich summer... but the fact it never happened means everyone’s a winner
- Credit: Archant
If things had worked out differently, James Norwood would already be one full season into his Ipswich Town career.
The striker has been an instant hit since his arrival from Tranmere Rovers this summer, following a season in which he netted 32 times to help lead the men from The Wirral to the second of back-to-back promotions.
But all that wouldn't have happened had he departed Tranmere in the summer of 2018, hot on the heels of firing his side into League Two with a Wembley winner in the National League Play-Off Final.
The 24 goals he netted in 2017/18 brought attention from higher up the pyramid, notably from Paul Hurst and Ipswich Town.
Hurst was looking for fresh blood during a summer in which more than a dozen senior players and the goals of Martyn Waghorn, David McGoldrick, Joe Garner and Bersant Celina ultimately departed.
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Kayden Jackson and Ellis Harrison were brought in from the lower leagues while Norwood was a target too. At that point he had a year left on his contract and there was a real belief at Portman Road that he could be bought for a fee of around £150,000.
A move would certainly have appealed to Norwood at the time, given he'd played almost his entire career in the non-league game, but it didn't get that far.
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The move wasn't sanctioned by Ipswich owner Marcus Evans and Norwood remained at Prenton Park where he, of course, went on to lead English football's scoring charts alongside Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and earned a second-successive promotion last season.
His campaign could not have been in further contrast to the nightmare one Ipswich Town endured. Hurst was sacked by the end of October and Paul Lambert was unable to rescue a sinking ship.
We'll never know whether Norwood could have made the difference for Hurst and Ipswich but it's now plain to see too many players were asked to make the jump to the Championship at the same time.
Norwood, remember, would have been leaping from non-league football to the second tier. That's three divisions compared to the one he's moved up this summer.
While he's hit double figures in each of his last seven seasons, the fact they had all previously come in non-league would have removed the hype and expectation-levels he's thrived under in Suffolk. He would surely have been regarded as something of a gamble, a punt and a shot to nothing. Jordan Roberts was described as a 'project' by Hurst. Norwood could easily have been referred to in the same way.
It may have taken an extra year and a miserable relegation in order to obtain him, but this summer he's arrived as a breath of fresh air, bullish and full of confidence that he can succeed in the EFL. He surely felt 10-feet tall following last season's exploits.
He's been an instant hit both on and off the pitch and, make no mistake about it, he's had a real positive impact on an Ipswich Town dressing room in need of an injection of character and leadership.
Luke Chambers has described him as 'someone we've been crying out for' because he brings a different voice to the dressing room. While it's clear Norwood has always been an infectious, popular, member of the dressing room's he's been in, it's hard to imagine the skipper saying the same of him in the immediate aftermath of Mick McCarthy's departure.
In so many ways he's arrived at a time when the team and the club need him most.
Hurst's brief reign at Portman Road will go down in history as a disaster, with recruitment a major part of why his stay ended so quickly.
The likes of Jackson, Harrison, Jon Nolan, Toto Nsiala and Gwion Edwards were asked to shoulder too much collective responsibility last summer but are now (Harrison aside) key components of an Ipswich squad winning games and topping the table. Hurst was also the man who handed Jack Lankester a first professional contract and guided the youngster into the first-team picture.
That group are the silver-lining to the dark cloud that was Hurst's Portman Road premiership.
For Norwood, this weekend's visit of Tranmere will bring a reunion with close friends and a reminder of past successes which will live with him forever.
Rovers wouldn't be in the third tier were it not for his goals, Norwood wouldn't be the player or man he is today without that final season at Prenton Park and Ipswich would not be reaping the benefits of a striker full of confidence, looking to win a third-successive promotion.
So, really, everyone's a winner.