DAVID SMITH - Friday, January 8, 2010
Norwich City FC has won the race for defender Zak Whitbread's services, further strengthening a roster which is currently on pace for promotion to the Championship at season's end.
The Texas-born central defender had been the subject of much attention during the last two transfer periods, with the Norfolk-based club finally confirming the signing on Friday afternoon.
"Zak is now a Norwich City player as we speak," Norwich City press officer Joe Ferrari confirmed. "It's a 2.5 year deal for an undisclosed fee."
While Norwich's Saturday afternoon game against Exeter is one of the two League One games still expected to take place amongst a spate of weather cancellations, Whitbread's debut with the Canaries will come at a later date due to eligibility and fitness issues.
"I don't believe Zak is eligible to play in tomorrow's game scheduled against Exeter due to the time at which the signing was completed," Ferrari continues, adding "but he will be available from games thereafter."
The former Liverpool academy member must also contend with working his way back into shape after hip surgery in August shelved him for the season's entire first half, a factor which likely delayed his rumored departure from longtime club Millwall.
The team assured that he is fully recovered from his earlier injury, however, with the only remaining obstacle being a return to sharpness after his long layoff from any competitive action.
"He's had and passed a medical with us, which will have taken into account the exact nature of Zak's injury record since he started as a pro, including his time out of the game recently," Ferrari clarifies.
"My understanding is that he's working back towards full fitness which he might be lacking due to not having played many matches recently. However I believe he's over his injury and it's just a question of getting back to full 100% match fitness."
The move immediately puts the 25 year-old defender in prime position to showcase his talents on a higher stage next season, as Norwich are considered amongst the favorites to gain automatic promotion back into England's second tier following their relegation at the end of a disappointing 2008-09 campaign.
"We are out of all of the cups, so we're in the happy position of concentrating on our league form," Ferrari explains. "We are currently second place in League One in the second of the two automatic promotion positions behind Leeds United and ahead of Charlton Athletic."
Even though his former team Millwall are also challenging for the chance to make the jump, their hopes are likely hanging on the always-tricky route through the four-team post-season playoff as they are in seventh place, 12 points back from the automatic promotion places. Whitbread has already experienced first-hand the pitfalls of the playoff, as the team barely missed out on promotion in losing last season's final in Wembley to Scunthorpe United.
As he has made no secret of his national team aspirations, the midseason move to the strong Canaries team which is currently leading the division in scoring and also amongst the best defensively should be a boost to both Whitbread's as well as Norwich's causes.