A win, clean sheet and five points shy of the play-offs but it’s events off the pitch that take centre stageSun 19 Mar 17 by Gary Gowers
The feeling inside and outside the the old place before, during and after the game screamed ’season over’. So too the lack of intensity on the pitch, which for long spells was more pre-season friendly than Championship humdinger.
But there’s no denying that for those for whom the glass remains half full there is still a faint glimmer of play-off hope.
It’s a long shot of course and there’s the small matter of Fulham to tackle before we even think about sixth place but from a mathematical perspective the season isn’t quite over yet.
At least it isn’t until you throw City’s away form into the equation and then take it a step further by examining who we still have to play away. Then it becomes clear why some bookies rate our chances of promotion at 33/1.
While home games against Reading, Fulham, Brighton and QPR could conceivably yield several points it’s nigh impossible given the wretched away form to see us returning home from Villa, Huddersfield, Preston and Leeds with anything other red faces and furrowed brows.
And then of course there is the inability to take points from those above us. But… who knows.
It’s a very long shot. Let’s just leave it there.
For the second consecutive Saturday it was what was unraveling in Carrow Road’s corridors of power that was arguably more interesting than anything that was happening on the pitch.
A week ago the talk was of Alex Neil’s demise, yesterday it was of the brave new Norwich City world that was revealed in the hours leading up to kick-off.
As it transpired the whispers and mutterings of a Director of Football were almost right but instead said person will be entitled Sporting Director and, logically enough, will oversee the footballing side of the operation.
Sitting parallel in the structure with the yet to be announced SD (two-letter acronyms – go me) will be Steve Stone in a Managing Director role, who will oversee the business side of the operation.
Certainly from the business side this appears to make a lot of sense. Stone has, for the second time, filled the CEO boots with the minimum of fuss and appears to quickly earn the respect of those who cross his path, but without the menace of his two predecessors. Essentially he’ll be in charge of the part of the operation of which he has expertise.
Ditto the SD; neither expected to dabble in areas outside of their area of comfort.
So that, to me at least, seems a decent start.
The part of the announcement that read, ‘The new Head Coach, Technical Director Ricky Martin and Academy Manager Richard Money will all report into the Sporting Director in a revamped footballing structure’, left me asking the usual question about Mr Martin’s role and/or credentials but he’s clearly rated by those that matter, so it’s perhaps another one to leave alone for now.
(Richard Money on the other hand ticks all the boxes. He’s from Lowestoft, I worked with his sister, currently work with one of his mates and he’s a nice chap. That’s good enough for shallow, fickle old me.)
Where it starts to get interesting of course is when considering the vacant Head Coach position: the key one.
All of the above looks nice, neat, tidy and, yes, modern (not a word you’d normally associate with Delia and Michael) but its success, or otherwise, will only be judged by events on the pitch. It’s stating the obvious, but when it comes to a football club even the most efficient, streamlined, functional structure will be worthless if the first XI is not winning football matches.
And so the whole caboodle will be completely underpinned by the personnel contained within it, with the Sporting Director and Head Coach at its core.
That Roy Hodgson is not to be part of it has come as something of a relief; not because of his age or ability to manage, which despite his England tenure is pretty damn impressive at club level, but because of his proximity to the club’s owners. With him in situ I fear the current unrest would not be afforded the opportunity to subside.
That the process to appoint the SD is at an advanced stage is promising [Celtic's David Moss appears favourite], and the sooner the better. Crucial then will be his role in finding the new HC because, as highlighted by Alan Irvine in his post-match interview, their working relationship is a vital component.
What they have done however – and I’m sure Ed Balls and co appreciate this – is as a consequence of limiting the scope of the HC they have also limited their options in terms of who they can appoint. There’ll be some old school managers out there now, some of whom are probably in the bookies’ favourites for the job, who’ll scoff at the prospect of having someone sitting betwixt them and board.
And if that rules out the vast majority of the front runners, then good.
I should confess I did briefly fall into the Pardew trap – his name, aura and short-term record being something that temporarily appealed – but the new structure is no fit for a Pardew, Pearce or Pearson. This cries out for someone young and on an upward curve and who, preferably, would be au fait with working in a similar set-up.
Names that perhaps should be in the frame, have been mentioned by those I respect, and who have whetted my appetite, include Ralf Rangnick, Roger Schmidt, Markus Babbel and Jens Keller; all German, all regarded as progressive and all of whom would slot comfortably into a structure that sees them reporting directly to a director responsible for footballing matters..
Whether Delia and Michael are ready to take that gargantuan leap to the continent is another matter altogether but one name that could find favour and leaps out among a whole host of dross is that of New Zealand head coach, Anthony Hudson – a highly rated Englishman who’s made no secret of his desire to manage in the old country.
All of which is entirely moot at the moment of course and is a conversation for another day – once the SD has been appointed.
So, all we can really do is await the next plume of white smoke. And until then, dream of what it would be like to win and away game and re-ignite our play-off dream.
“On the Ball City…”