Walker rewrites history

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The Independent Online
It Is in the nature of football that not many managers are given the chance - or would even want - to have a crack at a club a second time, and when they do the experience is often a fraught one. Malcolm Allison had made Crystal Palace famous, but his return was a flop; Howard Kendall could not reproduce the glory days at Everton; the Watford Graham Taylor transformed a decade earlier was resistant to his powers when he turned up at Vicarage Road again last season.

On this evidence, Mike Walker should have looked back at all he achieved at Norwich City between 1992 and 1994 and left it at that. To do otherwise was surely asking for trouble. In Walker's case, though, perhaps not. Since he returned to Carrow Road in the summer, the Norwich team who in his absence had slipped from sixth in the Premiership to 16th in the First Division have undergone a revival. With Friday night's exhilarating 3- 1 win over Ipswich Town they briefly went to the top of the table, and although the season is young, it looks as if succeeding twice at the same club is a trick Walker might just pull off.

Walker left Norwich in circumstances that were acrimonious even by football standards. Without, he felt, being given enough support by his then chairman, Robert Chase, he accepted an offer from Everton in a move which resulted in the club being found guilty of making an illegal approach. Norwich supporters, who had just seen Walker take their team to the heights of the third round of the Uefa Cup after a famous victory over Bayern Munich, were appalled.

The whole episode was a mess, and somehow the effects seem to linger at Goodison, where Walker spent 10 unhappy months before he was sacked, almost exactly two years ago. That was followed by another eight months of wrangling over his contract, and then Walker was left to hope for an opportunity to get back into management which enabled his pride to remain intact.

"To begin with it was a nice break in many ways," Walker said last week. "It gave me a chance to re-evaluate things and get myself sorted out. But then I started to get itchy feet. When last season began I realised how much I wanted to be involved. OK, there are pressures, but there are pats on the back too and I was missing that. I was missing the day-to- day involvement."

Walker refused to contemplate returning at a level lower than the First Division, and the jobs he did go for - at Leicester City, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland - came to nothing. An ailing Norwich looked an obvious route back. Walker was still living in the area, where he had gone into a skip-hire business. But as long as Chase was running the club, that was impossible. Then, last season, Chase left, and in June, out of the blue, Walker got a call from one of the directors, Martin Armstrong. Could they have a chat?

"My immediate reaction was, what was the point? Not because it meant going back, but just the circumstances surrounding the club. The club I'd left had been in Europe and was a genuine threat to Manchester United and the like. Now they were struggling in the First Division and pounds 7m in debt. The best players were all going. I'd turned down other jobs, so I wasn't going to jump back into something that was going nowhere."

Armstrong, however, quickly persuaded Walker otherwise. "I did concede that he'd interested me on certain points. He didn't beat about the bush. It was his manner and what he thought I could do for the club that impressed me." Walker was also assured that, unlike in the Chase era, when players were continually sold off to pay for stadium improvements, any transfer profits would go back into the team. In any case, the younger talent was not for sale.

Norwich certainly have that in two outstanding under-21 internationals, the Irish winger Keith O'Neill and the English midfielder Darren Eadie, who are part of a team who have rediscovered the art of passing football that Walker sets such store by. Rob Newman and John Polston, survivors from Walker's first spell at the club, form a ball-playing central defensive partnership; the 31-year-old Robert Fleck is playing as well as ever up front; and men like Mike Milligan and Carl Bradshaw, who arrived while Walker was gone, have quickly adapted to his way of doing things.

"Getting back into the Premiership has got to be the challenge," Walker said. "It's the only place to be as far as I'm concerned. We may need this season just to steady ourselves, but then I haven't seen too much so far to frighten us so long as we carry on doing the job properly. It would be nice to bring a bit of respectability back to the club."

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