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Todd Cantwell's time at Fortuna Sittard sparked his Norwich rise
Todd Cantwell is Norwich born and bred but struggles and success in Holland that helped to shape him too, writes Adam Bate
Last Updated: 30/11/19 3:06pm
It was Todd Cantwell's driving run and composed finish that brought the breakthrough goal for Norwich in their 2-0 win at Everton on Saturday. The victory ended a seven-game winless run for Daniel Farke's side, lifting the Canaries off the foot of the Premier League table.
The 21-year-old midfielder has been a revelation this season. There have been good games and bad, but he has already trebled his goal tally from the Championship campaign. His current coach is delighted but there was a message too from his former one after the game.
"I spoke to him afterwards on Saturday and told him that he did a good job but there is still a long way to go," Kevin Hofland tells Sky Sports. "He believes, that's the important thing. He always believes."
Hofland, the former PSV, Feyenoord and Netherlands international defender, played a brief but pivotal role in Cantwell's development when he was appointed as assistant coach at Fortuna Sittard in February of last year.
At the time, Cantwell's loan move to Dutch football's second tier was not going well. He had not started a game under departing coach Sunday Oliseh and was understandably frustrated that a bold decision designed to earn him important game time appeared to have backfired.
It didn't take Hofland long to spot the talent.
He arrived on the Thursday. Cantwell made his full professional debut on the Friday.
"I cannot say anything about what happened before but I remember watching on television when he came on as a substitute against Volendam and immediately I saw that he has this certain way with the ball," recalls Hofland.
"Quick handling, one touch and two touch all the time. Decision making. Recognising the situation. I didn't know the player but his quality with the ball was immediately obvious.
"When I came in I saw it in training too. I am a coach who wants to play a lot of possession games in small spaces and that requires quick thinking. That is what you see with him.
"We immediately put him in the team."
His first away start against NEC Nijmegen brought his first goal. His second in Eindhoven produced his second. It was a learning process but the progress was swift.
"It is normal that if you play games at a certain level then you will grow," says Hofland. "That is what I saw every week. If you see him now, two years on, you are seeing a more experienced player, but he was growing then. In games and in training.
"I had to push him to do a little bit more without the ball. He was a little bit lazy. He was also a bit irritated by the artificial grass where we trained. I told him that he had to handle it and he had to get used to it. Focus on the games. That is the most important thing.
"It was not easy for him. As a young player coming to Holland for six months, if you are not playing in the beginning then you are struggling with yourself. In part because of your age but also because you are asking yourself whether you have made the right step.
"But he is a smart guy and he has a kind of fighting spirit. He had to keep faith in himself. Of course, success is always important but it is also important for a young player to experience some negative things in their life. That is when the real player will stand up.
"We changed a lot with the team. The mentality off the pitch. I told them that you only have one chance and you have to seize it every day. I tried to change that attitude in the minds of the players. He was one who immediately had that attitude. He made the turn."
A strong finish to the season brought celebrations - Fortuna were promoted to the Eredivisie after 16 years of trying. Cantwell's promotion with hometown club Norwich last season was a dream but his success in the yellow and green of Fortuna was special too.
"When we were promoted, he was crazy," laughs Hofland. "He was injured in the last game but he still played a very big part afterwards. He's a funny guy. He knew when it was training it was the time to be fully focused but he was a guy who was fully involved with everything."
Hofland wanted to keep him at the club.
"He had made a good step with our club and I tried to bring him back last season but he wanted to take his chance with Norwich," he explains. "I fully agree with his decision. I understood it and now you can see two years later where he is."
Has Cantwell's impact surprised him?
"It is surprising because of the level of the Premier League. But on the other hand, it doesn't surprise me. I worked with him for three months so I already saw that he had the quality. I hope for him. There is a long way to go because he is still young but he is on a good path."
As for Fortuna, their Eredivisie adventure continues.
Having just survived the drop last season they sit outside of the relegation zone once more and are continuing to provide opportunities for young British players. Brighton's George Cox and Swansea's Cian Harries are currently impressing on loan at the club.
"These guys are getting experience at the highest level so it is good for them to come here," adds Hofland. "It is difficult for these young players to get their chance in England. Here, we don't have the money to buy players so we will play the young players instead.
"They succeed or they don't succeed, it depends on the player. But they have their chance. Todd took his."
Now he's doing the same thing in the Premier League.