Owls offer Gary Hooper a lifeline

by Paul Murphy

Gary Hooper’s Norwich City hell has finally come to an end with a permanent move to Sheffield Wednesday, three years on from facing Juventus in the Champions League last-16 with Celtic.

Hooper’s career has gone into an improbable decline since, after three successful years in the Scottish Premier League (SPL), he decided that the time was right for a move to England’s top flight.

 

Unfortunately, it seems that Hooper’s choice of club was the wrong one.  Norwich were destined for a season of toil and struggle and they were eventually relegated.

He did score 20 goals in 69 games for the Canaries, but this was not the return expected of the man who had scored more than a goal every two games with Celtic.

Hooper generally failed to shine, aside from a tantalising few weeks in the autumn of 2013 when he became the first Norwich City player to score in four consecutive English Premier League games at Carrow Road.

Down in the Championship, he fell out of favour and failed to rediscover the clinical form that earned him a move to Celtic in 2010.

Back then, 22-year-old Hooper had just banged in 19 goals in 35 games for Scunthorpe United in the Championship – a fine return for a struggling side.

Hooper was an instant hit with Celtic. His strength, skill, pace and explosive shooting ability saw him quickly establish himself as the SPL’s top striker. He also proved a man for the big occasion, scoring twice in a 3-0 victory over Rangers that kick-started an ultimately unsuccessful title bid in 2010-11.

But the striker would score more goals against Rangers the following season as the Hoops took the 2011-12 title, setting the stage for a thrilling Champions League campaign.

Hooper had already proved his ability score on the European stage by netting twice in five Europa League games the previous season, including a goal in Udinese that almost helped Celtic through to the knockout stage.

He continued that form in the Champions League qualifiers in August 2012, scoring twice in the victories over HJK Helsinki and Helsingborg that took the Hoops through to the group stage.

Hooper then proved he could score in the Champions League proper. His opener in Russia set Celtic on their way to a 3-2 victory over Spartak Moscow as the Bhoys finally won an away tie in the group stage.

A spectacular victory over Barcelona at Parkhead was followed by defeat at Benfica, leaving Celtic faced with a must-win game over Spartak to reach the knockout round.

Hooper rose the occasion again and fired Celtic into a first-half lead before Spartak levelled. Kris Commons’ late penalty then sparked wild celebrations as the Hoops progressed.

The last-16 clash with Juventus in February 2013 was a huge anti-climax as an Efe Ambrose error gifted the Italians an early opener in the first leg at Parkhead.

Two more clinical strikes followed in a fairly even encounter, leaving Celtic 3-0 down. The enduring image of the game from a Celtic point of view is Hooper being persistently manhandled by Juve defenders but receiving no protection from the referee.

 

The 2-0 defeat in Turin was academic but Hooper had done enough to suggest he could cut it at the top level and was not simply a flat-track bully in the SPL.

He ended the season with another SPL winner’s medal and added a Scottish Cup medal to his collection, netting twice in a 3-0 victory over Hibs in the final.

This would be his final act in a Celtic jersey. With just a year left on his contract, the club’s directors were as keen to cash in as Hooper was to try his luck elsewhere and he eventually opted for Norwich for a reported fee of about 5million pounds.

Celtic fans were dismayed by the fact that a relatively small club like Norwich could take one of their most prized assets. With Victor Wanyama also moving on, the stars of Celtic’s Champions League team of 2012-13 were aiming for better things in England.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster and midfielder Joe Ledley would soon follow, to Southampton and Crystal Palace respectively.

While Wanyama has slowly established himself as a mainstay of Southampton’s midfield and Forster and Ledley have been successful, Hooper’s career has gone into reverse.

Unwanted at Norwich, who were promoted back into the top tier in 2015, Hooper was sent for a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday in October. A run of six goals in six games hinted at a return to Hooper’s form of old but, at 28 years old, time is running out for him to prove that he is still capable of mixing it with the best.

The Owls have now made the deal permanent and Hooper duly scored in his first game as a Sheffield Wednesday player. The club will now look to him as a key man in their bid for promotion.

A fit and hungry Hooper could certainly be an asset for the club after two largely lost years at the peak of his career.

Hooper should perhaps took to Jamie Vardy for inspiration. Like Vardy, Hooper made his first steps in non-league football after being released as a youth. Southend United picked him up from Grays Athletic as an 18-year-old before he got his big break with Scunthorpe.

Vardy had to wait much longer to get into the big leagues but is having the season of his life at the ripe old age of 29.

There is still time for Hooper to prove he has what it takes at the top level. The next few months with Sheffield Wednesday will provide the stage on which he has to begin to demonstrate the form of his days at Celtic.

3 Responses

  1. David Bowen says:

    That’s very poor research, Norwich spent THREE years in the Premiership before relegation then bounced straight back giving us 4 of the last 5 seasons in the Prem. Gary has an eye for goal but also an eye for pies, always comes back to pre season in an unfit condition!

  2. Glen brooke says:

    What a very lazy piece of research Norwich spent 3 years in the premier before going down then straight up again !!! Please check your facts before writing this stuff, in my opinion hooper is now playing at his level that’s the championship !!!

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