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Connor Southwell: Why Kenny McLean is Norwich City’s Hogg alternative

For the praise that characters like Aaron Mooy, Elias Kachunga or others within that phenomenal story received – Hogg was always cast as the unsung hero by Wagner and the club’s supporters. 

Kenny McLean is absorbing the Hogg role at Norwich City. Whilst others grab headlines – he is happy to go under the radar and facilitate the success of his colleagues within their set-up. 

“His tenacity on the pitch is a great example to any player, his fitness is second-to-none and he is a good character as well. I believe the identity we have brought to the team since November suits his abilities and I expect him to be an important player in the coming season.”

That is Wagner speaking about Hogg when he signed a new contract at Huddersfield back in 2016. Swap November for January, and you could easily pass those words as ones used by the German to describe McLean’s importance to this group. 

There were eyebrows raised when Wagner sought to play him in a deeper midfield role after his appointment as City boss in January. 

But City’s boss saw his qualities and felt he could extract them. The early performances under Wagner proved his assessment to be correct. 

McLean has become a more considered footballer in the process. His energy and intensity are being harnessed in a way that has made him fundamental to City’s set-up in and out of possession. 

For the Scot, his relationship with Wagner has been a match made in heaven. The City boss has imparted wisdom to him, such as when to accelerate and decelerate the game. Positionally and tactically, he looks reformed. 

McLean epitomises hard work, endeavour, fight, loyalty and an innate sense of humility. Those are all characteristics that Wagner has been desperate to instil in his group – it is why the Scot has remained as a key cog despite a summer recruitment drive. 

But it isn’t all intangibles. McLean has footballing nous and quality. He is quickly becoming as pivotal to Norwich’s machine under Wagner as Hogg was during his time at Huddersfield. 

For all the glamour that Gabby Sara has brought to this Norwich midfield, McLean is the glue that holds it all together. For all the talk of the importance that characters like Shane Duffy and Ashley Barnes have had, the 30-year-old has grown in influence in training and made his voice heard in equal measure. 

Just like Hogg at Huddersfield, McLean has worn the armband since the start of the new campaign. That’s a reflection of his status behind the scenes, even if it is only temporary in Grant Hanley’s absence. 

That is why, under Wagner’s watch, there was never going to be a conversation when Leeds came calling for his services. McLean was not for sale. No ifs or buts.  

Norwich Evening News: Kenny McLean is filling the Jonathan Hogg role at Norwich City for David Wagner. Kenny McLean is filling the Jonathan Hogg role at Norwich City for David Wagner. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

Hogg played a key role in Huddersfield’s system. He was the deeper-lying midfielder but regarded as one of the most important. He allowed others to flourish. That is what McLean has done since Wagner came in. 

That is why all three head coaches during McLean’s reign have placed him at the front of their plans – he is an adaptable and durable player. Daniel Farke once described him as ‘irreplaceable’. 

There are few signs of flash and magic – but he is a constant. That is how he earns the trust of his coaches and his peers. 

Sara is a better player for him alongside him. Norwich are a better team with him in it. 

That was the case for Hogg at Huddersfield. In that Championship play-off winning campaign under Wagner, Huddersfield had a win ratio of 61% when he started in comparison to just 47% when he was unavailable.

McLean is ever present this season – but in Wagner’s tenure to date, Norwich have lost just four times from 17 with the Scot in the side, two of those defeats came against sides who achieved automatic promotion in Sheffield United and Burnley. Sunderland, who were in the play-offs, and Bristol City were the others. 

Norwich then won just one of the final seven that McLean was absent for at the end of last season. 

Some might argue that Hogg has struggled to recapture the performances he achieved under Wagner since his departure. Some of that is natural, but the 34-year-old is still key to Neil Warnock’s plans. 

McLean is having a similar understated impact at City – whilst praise might be getting deflected to others at present, his impact hasn’t been lost on Wagner or those in his coaching team. 

Norwich Evening News: Jonathan Hogg was a key cog in David Wagner's Huddersfield Town promotion winning side. Jonathan Hogg was a key cog in David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town promotion winning side. (Image: PA Images)

Whether it is dropping between central defenders to create a back three to help Norwich build in possession, forming part of an intelligent press or leading his teammates through Championship matches – McLean is making quite the impact. 

In terms of consistency, few will better what McLean has done in the opening four games. 

He is flourishing under Wagner. Norwich are reaping the benefits of McLean’s performances. 

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