“The closer he looked, the less he could make out, the deeper everything sank into the twilight”
Kafka, The Castle
Two murky themes to address today, with some odd similarities: Norwich City’s squad and Brexit.
We continue to be bombarded with varying versions of the impact of Brexit, how we should manage it, and even – now somewhat academically – whether it should happen at all.
Similarly with City’s post-window squad: a continuing stream of views on the impact of our summer business, how should we deal with the players now at our disposal, and even whether we should ditch those in charge.
There’s another similarity. We speculate on the impact of these events for the future of our country/club (delete as appropriate) – but none of us actually has much idea.
In predicting football, at least, it doesn’t much matter that experts are out of vogue. There simply isn’t much expertise.
Some of us try to be a bit better armed – studying history, reading Accounts and talking to people who understand the business of running clubs. But in truth we’re no better equipped to make predictions than anyone else.
If I need a reminder, all it takes is a quick look at my predictions of a year ago (Leicester to go down) or just last month (Huddersfield to go down).
So, by any objective standard we’re not experts – but in our own minds, of course, most of us are. Modesty might be the appropriate tone for our pronouncements – on City matters, just as on Brexit – but instead they’re characterised by a level of conviction Margaret Thatcher would be proud of.
That’s perhaps not the best preface for my two-penneth on the City squad, but here goes.
With the one well-publicised exception, there’s good competition and options in most areas of our squad. We have a better back four than two years ago, and two genuine goalkeeping options. Perhaps most strikingly, we have outstanding midfield creativity.
Though he knows the value of options, judging by his previous approach in the Championship I’d expect Alex Neil to be looking for a pretty settled team. What will it be? When Martin Olsson is fit, does Robbie Brady have an automatic place further forward? Does Graham Dorrans’ passing keep him in the side? Where does Jonny Howson play?
Wes or Pritchard? Or both? There’s certainly a case for trying to integrate both – if players are good enough they’ll generally find a way to play together – plus at least one Murphy, while Howson is most effective with a licence to attack and Sergi Canos is an exciting talent. But five into three won’t go.
And that’s not mentioning Steven Naismith, who showed his ability at Blackburn and could be a big help to the young players if his head’s right.
I just hope the person leaving in front of me on Saturday and muttering about Jacob Murphy is in a small minority. We’ll need different ways to break down opponents this season, and the Murphys have a special ability to take on defenders which Alex has told them to express.
It won’t work every time. I know it’s repeating Gary (Gowers) here, but if I have one plea to City fans, it’s to encourage the twins. They’re confidence players: their success rate will increase if they’re encouraged, it’ll go down if we get on their backs.
It’s a bonus that they’re home-grown; the main thing is they’re shining young players clearly committed to City. Perhaps we can switch some of the love that seems to be reserved for Kyle Lafferty to the deserving Jacob and Josh.
There’s one more Norwich-Brexit similarity, I think: we can be misled by social media. Reading Twitter, one could conclude that Leave voters are angry, insular and narrow-minded, while Remainers are arrogant, haughty and bad losers.
Similarly, one could decide that City fans divide into two camps, shouting at each other across the divide “Miserable Moaners!”, “Happy Clappers!”
I hope and believe it’s not quite like that. However they voted, I reckon the majority of the public want to get on with – or allow Theresa May to get on with – leaving the EU on the best terms for us.
And the vast majority of City will get on with supporting the team. They won’t pretend to be thrilled by the transfer window, but they have far too much sense to join protests and the like.
That’s why I remain optimistic. Yes, it’s down to the team – inspired by the manager – to lift our spirits. But a slogan from another referendum can come into play here. Almost everyone recognises that, in the Norwich City community, we’re Better Together.