OLIVER NORWOOD has never forgotten Sir Alex Ferguson’s parting words at Old Trafford.
“You’re not going to make it at Manchester United,” said the Scot as the Burnley-born midfielder moved to Huddersfield Town during the summer of 2012. “But I believe one day you will play in the Premier League.”
Ferguson is right on most things and he was spot on in this regard, albeit probably a few years out with Norwood having to wait until last Saturday to make his top flight bow.
“Every young boy’s dream is to play in the Premier League,” said the 28-year-old. “Since I started playing football and from being in the Academy at Manchester United at six-years-old, it was all I ever wanted to do.
“It has taken me a bit longer than I would have liked, but it was still a dream come true to finally play at the level everyone in the world wants to play at. A real proud moment for me and my family.”
Norwood’s pride at not only playing in the Premier League but captaining the Blades at Bournemouth on the opening day is understandable.
It has taken me a bit longer than I would have liked, but it was still a dream come true to finally play at the level everyone in the world wants to play at.Oliver Norwood
So, too, is his sense of satisfaction at finally making it to the top level at the third time of asking.
Last season made it a hat-trick of taking clubs up after also helping Brighton & Hove Albion and Fulham into the big time.
On each of those previous successes, Norwood had been hoping to get his chance only to be jettisoned over the summer.
Chris Wilder, in the immediate aftermath of United clinching runners-up spot, promised not to do the same.
“I didn’t know if he meant it,” laughs Norwood when asked by The Yorkshire Post about that post-promotion pledge. “We had all had a drink! No, the gaffer has been fantastic since I walked in the door.
“He has put a lot of confidence in me. Even last weekend, to give me the captain’s armband with Billy (Sharp) on the bench was a very proud moment.
“To lead a club of this stature in the Premier League for the first time in 12 years was a special moment. That is the trust the gaffer has in me. I have to be thankful for that.”
As for Ferguson’s prophetic words on selling Norwood to Huddersfield, the midfielder added with a smile: “Whether he meant it, I don’t know. But they were very kind words from a man of that stature.
“There were definitely some times when I thought it would not happen. There were some long hard days.
“After being promoted at Brighton, I went to Fulham and after the second time it happened I maybe thought, ‘This is not meant to be’.
“But I never accepted that I was not going to get there. I was determined and all the hard work has paid off, in the end. Anyway, it is ticked off now and now I just want to enjoy the rest of the season.”
Also ticked off is United’s first point and goal back in the Premier League, Billy Sharp’s late leveller ensuring justice was done on the south coast.
With back-to-back home games coming up against Crystal Palace tomorrow and Leicester City a week today, the challenge is to build on that promising start. Central to that will be capitalising on Bramall Lane and its famed atmosphere.
“People do not enjoy coming here,” said Norwood. “Everyone sees northern towns as grim. Northern cities, the same.
“It is grim up north, that does play on people’s minds. Bramall Lane is not the easiest place to come to. I came here with Fulham for the 5-4 (win over United in November 2017) but that was a one-off.
“This is an old school football ground, the fans are quick to let you know you will not enjoy being here. We play on that a little bit.
“The atmosphere with fans being close to the pitch makes it intimidating. We try to play on that, too.”
Palace, enjoying their seventh consecutive season at this level, will fancy their chances of storming what United readily accept must be a fortress this term.
Roy Hodgson’s men won seven of their last 10 away league assignments last season, a run that helped keep the south London club well clear of relegation trouble.
Having rebuffed several huge summer offers for Wilfried Zaha, the Eagles will be looking to the Ivory Coast international to cause problems for the newly promoted side.
Norwood, as likely captain and midfield organiser, will have to keep a close eye on not only Zaha but also an array of attacking talent that includes Andros Townsend, Christian Benteke, Jordan Ayew and Connor Wickham.
All are Premier League regulars of several years standing, underlining the size of the task facing the Blades.
In Norwood, however, United could have the perfect foil with his years patrolling the Northern Ireland midfield having given him plenty of experience as to how to snuff out the threat of the bigger teams.
“I have that experience,” he said. “Over 50 odd caps. Experience of playing in big games against big players. I am going to have to use all my experience this year of playing against those players to impose myself on the games coming up.
“As for us, the perception is we are not supposed to be here. It was said last season and again this time, even though we have only played one game.
“It is what it is. They are entitled to their opinions. We just keep chipping away and keep proving people wrong.