It is fast approaching a year since Tim Krul made two shootout saves at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, leading him to hurtle from his goalline to the other end, where 9,000 delirious Norwich fans revelled in the drama. Such scenes feel a lifetime ago and, while Krul was the hero, his water bottle, scribbled with homework on the Spurs penalty takers, became the unlikely lasting image. “I sent the kit man out straight after the game to get it but it had disappeared so somebody has got that,” he says. “If it’s a Tottenham fan I don’t think they’re going to be happy to keep looking at it …”
In the absence of the original, the fansite Along Come Norwich sold replicas, adding Krul’s name and the words “penalty killer”. Krul’s greatest day to date came at the 2014 World Cup when, brought on with a minute of extra time to play, he dabbled in mind games before saving two spot-kicks against Costa Rica to help the Netherlands to the semi-finals.
Krul has been arguably Norwich’s most consistent performer since joining two and a half years ago and the 32-year-old is targeting the No 1 spot at this summer’s European Championship – the country’s first major tournament since Brazil – after being recalled last March following a five-year hiatus. “I got injured playing for them five years ago so it will make the circle fully round if I’m able to play in the summer. The shirt is there. I’m fighting every day to be a part of it. The best thing is that the way we play at Norwich is similar to Holland.”
Total football, then? “Definitely. At Newcastle we never really played out as we do at Norwich. People in Holland always had this perception that I could only kick it long. It helps a lot because it’s one of the major things: to be a No 1 for Holland you need to be able to play,” he says, acknowledging goalkeeping has transformed since he arrived on Tyneside from Den Haag as a 17-year-old. “Our job description has definitely widened.”
Krul left Newcastle for Brighton four years ago, initially on loan, after being frozen out by Rafael Benítez, who took over when the goalkeeper was rehabilitating from a ruptured cruciate ligament. “It was a big hit in the face because probably just before the injury I would have signed another five-year contract and then a new manager comes in and I was kind of shown outside via the back door. That was hard to take but maybe it was meant to be.”
Such experiences helped shape him. “I’m so much more reflective now and I’m enjoying the games so much more than I used to. Even last weekend at Barnsley [a 1-0 defeat], the pitch was horrific, it was cold, there were no fans but in the warmup walking out I was thinking: ‘I’m privileged to even be here,’” says Krul, speaking on a day off in between home-schooling his seven-year-old daughter, Sophie. “Yesterday we had to make a PowerPoint. She had to do a presentation about up north, about where she was born. At the end of the season, you are allowed to take your family on the pitch … so it was a little conversation about that, how fun it was, and how her daddy played for Newcastle.”
Reuniting with Chris Hughton at Brighton helped, he says, rediscover his love for football but Mat Ryan proved an obstacle to regular games. “The moment I walked into the door he was the man of the match basically every game,” Krul smiles. “The goalie coach [Ben Roberts] and Chris Hughton said: ‘Listen, you’re not a No 2, go and show people you’re back.’ That was when I decided to step back to kind of go two steps forward again.
“It can go both ways but I was willing to take the risk and Norwich gave me an amazing opportunity. We won the Championship and to then be back in the Premier League, it was rewarding because a lot of people had written me off after that injury. I know we went down but personally it was nice to get the demons out and show: ‘Right, I’m back and I’m not going anywhere.’”
Krul thought he had seen it all from 12 yards but the last time Norwich duelled with Middlesbrough, who visit on Saturday, Marcus Tavernier had a penalty disallowed after slipping and scoring via both feet. “It was a really weird one,” he says.
Norwich struggled to adjust to the top flight after surging to promotion 12 months on from a mid-table finish but after eight wins from their past 10 league games they are poised to return to the Premier League at the first attempt. Daniel Farke’s side topped the Championship at Christmas and 11 of the past 12 teams to do so have clinched promotion. Krul recently missed two games with the coronavirus – “it shows health is wealth and nothing else matters” – but, with Todd Cantwell, Emi Buendía and Max Aarons, all of whom the goalkeeper believes “will go on to bigger things one day”, he has been central to Norwich’s resurgence.
“We have unfinished business,” Krul says. “We had so many young players last season. I remember the first game of the season, Liverpool away at Anfield and I looked around and I saw the young lads literally going: ‘My word, what’s going on here,’ looking [star struck] at Salah and Mané, and so you’re already 1-0 down, really. And that’s normal because I was like that when I started. There are lots of hurdles to overcome in the next 21 games but if we manage to achieve [promotion], I think we will be a better force next season.”