Todd Cantwell: How Norwich star took confidence from getting kicked and going Dutch

By Shamoon HafezBBC Sport
Todd Cantwell
Cantwell has been almost ever-present for Norwich this season
Norwich City v Manchester United - FA Cup quarter-final
Kick-off: 17:30 BST, Saturday 27 June Venue: Carrow Road
Coverage: Live on BBC One from 17:10 BST and highlights on BBC One from 23:00 BST on Sunday, 28 June. Live text coverage on the BBC Sport website and commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live from 17:30 BST.

When Todd Cantwell stepped up to take a penalty in the FA Cup last-16 tie at Tottenham, he wasn't going to miss.

With the pressure of a packed crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium watching on, Cantwell nonchalantly approached the penalty spot by doing kick-ups, plonked the ball down and smashed it into the top corner.

It helped Norwich on their way to the quarter-finals of the competition, setting up a meeting with 12-time winners Manchester United at Carrow Road, which is live on BBC One on Saturday (kick-off 17:30 BST).

Cantwell, 22, has stood out with impressive performances for the Canaries this season but his confident demeanour took some time to develop.

In fact, he grew up quite a shy lad, so how did his coaches help to turn his approach around?

"What we did in training was to get players to kick him on purpose all the time," Norwich hall of famer and academy coach Darren Huckerby tells BBC Sport.

"I think over the two or three-year period in the academy, he grew and changed his whole mentality. He was a flair player, he had to realise that if he was going to play in this position then people were going to kick him.

"He stood up to the fight and his progression over the past five or six years has been superb. When he was younger he tended not to take a kick too well but he has come on leaps and bounds and is a man now."

A rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone"

That education in the Norwich youth team stood him in good stead for a loan move away and when Dutch side Fortuna Sittard were promoted back to the Eredivisie in 2017-18, few Norwich fans could have foreseen Cantwell leading the celebrations that took place afterwards.

The midfielder had been given his first-team debut for the Canaries that season but he spent the second half of the campaign on loan in the Netherlands.

Despite being in unfamiliar surroundings, alone in a foreign country without any family or friends around him, Cantwell made an unforgettable impact both on and off the pitch.

In his 10 appearances, he scored twice and it was his assist that led to the winning goal that confirmed Fortuna's return to the top flight for the first time in 16 years

Todd Cantwell
Cantwell celebrated Fortuna Sittard's promotion on crutches after suffering an injury

In the joyous scenes that followed in the city's square, Cantwell - hobbling on crutches after being injured in the last game - grabbed the microphone off a team-mate on stage and led a rendition of the club's anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" in front of thousands of fans.

"That move was massive for Todd," former Norwich midfielder and academy coach Adrian Forbes tells BBC Sport. "He didn't just go to another club where he did not know the players, but took the chance to go abroad and play. You don't get any more out of your comfort zone than that.

"What was key for him in his development was the injury that he suffered. He came back after his loan period and to go through rehabilitation, missing training and games, is all part of his journey."

Cantwell was a regular in the Championship title triumph last season and has become a fixture in Daniel Farke's side this campaign, missing just one Premier League game for a side described asexternal-link "the best ever team who have been bottom of the table".

Though they are six points adrift of safety with seven games remaining, Farke has stuck to his principles and continued to deploy the same tactics that worked so successfully last term, playing out from the back with an easy-on-the-eye approach.

Sporting director Stuart Webber, who helped appoint Farke in 2017, has been praised for "breaking the glass ceiling" which has allowed academy graduates, including Cantwell, Max Aarons and Jamaal Lewis, to progress into the first team.

How far can the 'Dereham Deco' go?

The 'Dereham Deco' - nicknamed after the former Portugal international for his creativity and passing ability - has been a consistent performer with six goals and two assists this season. Only striker Teemu Pukki with 14 goal involvements has more for the club.

But Cantwell has not always been universally popular with Canaries supporters and he addressed this in a tweet in Decemberexternal-link saying: "I'm on my way to the top and no-one is going to stop me."

Having won one England Under-21 cap, he may count himself unlucky to emerge amid a generation of attacking midfielders that includes James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden.

Huckerby says: "I believe he can get to the top. Unless you are playing well, nobody is going to talk about you. Whether that is in a top-six team you don't know, but if you are scoring goals and creating chances in the Premier League then it shows you are a good player.

"You don't just get to the Premier League, you have to work your way to get there and now it is about staying there. He has a had a great start to his Premier League career."

Forbes says Cantwell's £30m link to clubs including Liverpool, Tottenham and this weekend's opponents United has not been "achieved by fluke" but through the player's "passion and desire".

He adds: "Not only have coaches created a well-rounded, humble individual both off the pitch and on the pitch, people might not know but he is a genuinely nice guy, whether that is the charities he helps out or doing things in his local town of Dereham. He is a good, humble guy.

"He really is a person who has the world at his feet."

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