At the start of the season, few could have predicted Todd Cantwell’s name to be the one on everyone’s lips.
The 21-year-old made his Norwich breakthrough during their Championship-winning campaign last season but even so, still managed just one goal and two assists in 24 league appearances. There were some impressive cameo performances, but it definitely wasn’t a statement as such.
But this season, Cantwell has been a key component in a Norwich side that, despite struggling for form, has remained competitive and played some seriously dazzling football. Will they have enough to stay up? Who knows but, regardless, Cantwell looks to be one of a number of players who will significantly enhance their respective reputations this term.
The England Under-21 international has particularly caught the eye in his last two performances, slotting home Norwich’s second goal in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal in fine fashion on Sunday, having already coolly given his side the lead the previous week during their 2-0 win at Everton – Daniel Farke’s first away victory as a Premier League manager.
This adds those two clubs to an already impressive list of Cantwell’s victims which also includes Manchester City and Chelsea, while no Norwich player has completed more dribbles during the last two games than Cantwell and only Onel Hernandez (10) has had more touches in the opposition box than his total of eight.
Throughout this season, the Canaries have lost just one of the five games in which he has been directly involved in a goal, winning three and drawing one of the other four.
According to talkSPORT‘s Adrian Durham, Cantwell is the player “Mesut Ozil dreams of being” and the German international should be watching DVDs of him “on loop”.
OK, that’s a rather sensationalist claim to make given that the German is a World Cup and La Liga winner but you cannot deny the two players looked to be at opposite ends of the confidence and ability spectrums during Sunday’s clash at Carrow Road.
Todd Cantwell's four Premier League goals this season:
⚽️ vs. Chelsea
⚽️ vs. Man City
⚽️ vs. Everton
⚽️ vs. Arsenal
No wonder he's dancing. 🕺 pic.twitter.com/WcPBjMbaL6
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 1, 2019
Still, it feels like a smart move from Farke to try and cool the talk surrounding Cantwell. If the youngster keeps this form up, lofty transfer links and suggestions of an England call-up are sure to come and that can often weigh down on a player of his age if poorly advised.
“Prove it over months, prove it over half a season, prove it over a full season and then you can speak about quality,” Farke said of the midfielder after the draw with Arsenal.
“He is on the best way and if he goes on with these performances then we have some nice days ahead with him and he has a great future, but it is up to him to deliver. Work each and every day with the right mentality.
“He is a great character but even great characters need some leadership and trust and support and perhaps some demands from me.
“You have to find the right balance between being there for them and developing them. He is playing a great season but don’t be satisfied with that.
“We want young players to improve to bring them to a different level, and in this respect, he is a role model for our way. He has been fantastic but I am far away from labelling him a quality player, because that takes more than 10 or 14 games.”
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For his part, Cantwell has been keeping his head down and focusing on enjoying playing in the Premier League for his boyhood club.
“I’ve been at Norwich for more than 10 years and it’s pretty surreal to say I’m playing in the Premier League with them now,” he said earlier this season.
“To be in the first team at this time is extra special. It’s a really good group, it’s full of young lads, we all get on and that makes it extra special for me.”
With the likes of James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain among the contenders for England’s creative spots, and players like Dele Alli enjoying a resurgence under Jose Mourinho, Gareth Southgate is certainly stacked in this area of the pitch. So, despite his impressive exploits, a senior call-up for the Three Lions still feels a long way off just now for Cantwell.
But there are positives to be gleaned from Cantwell being a small fish in a crowded talent pool full of monsters: an extended period with England’s Under-21s will allow him to adjust to the travel and squad demands of international football without the pressure of having to deliver under the scrutiny which comes with wearing a senior England shirt.
If Cantwell can fire Norwich to safety, or even simply keep playing such a vital role in giving them a chance of survival, “bigger” clubs are bound to come knocking.
Right now, though, taking an under-the-radar approach and following the advice given to him by Farke feels like the best thing for the development of a player working his way into the Premier League’s consciousness.