My wife and I agree about much in life. Being natural debaters though we’re usually drawn back to the things we disagree on.
Those things range from Brexit to playing two up front (she’s for both, I’m against). We spar, each being influenced by the other’s arguments but rarely admitting it.
Ironically, one of the things we disagree about is negotiation. For her, negotiation has connotations of unsavory horse-trading and unprincipled fudge. For me, it’s about finding solutions acceptable to both sides in situations where at first glance that seemed unlikely or impossible.
Negotiation hasn’t always been successful, for sure. Sometimes it’s only papered over cracks or produced illusory, short-term fixes. It can also count spectacular successes, though, from the peaceful transfer of power in South Africa to City’s signing of Darren Huckerby.
Somewhere in the middle, for thirty years, was the annual discussion of my salary and bonus.
It’s quite possible that our difference in view reflects our backgrounds. I’m English, steeped in a tradition of muddling through and finding practical solutions that avoid full-on, bloody conflict. My wife’s American, with the strongly imbued idea that only a civil war can properly resolve a clash of ideas.
(Yes, I know we had one too – but that was 200 years earlier and uncharacteristic of our way of doing things.)
The problem with negotiation, as I suspect we’ll see over the next couple of years, is that it takes patience to reach a successful outcome. In life generally, and especially in football, that’s a commodity in ever-diminishing supply.
Take City’s purchase of Robbie Brady in summer 2015. Hull wanted £15m; we bid a little over £2m. A long negotiation followed, to the mounting impatience of our fans: “just pay what they want!”
If we were Bournemouth, that may have been right. But with City’s resources, paying over the odds would have seriously hampered our chance of making other important signings. (In the event we failed with those signings, but at least we were able to make big bids having secured Brady for £6-7m.)
Of course, you have to know what you’re prepared to lose out on. In negotiation, there’s a concept called BATNA – the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. It means the best you can get if the other party won’t negotiate with you.
Being clear about your BATNA is critical if you’re negotiating: it tells you when an offer from the other side is worth accepting, and when it’s right to walk away.
I trust our political leaders are thinking it through, hard and dispassionately, about Brexit.
Meanwhile, Norwich City have been in negotiation to get Stuart Webber from Huddersfield as our new Sporting Director.
Evidence suggests the hold-up was not on our part. We triggered a clause in his contract, and wanted him as soon as possible. Huddersfield played hardball, though; they couldn’t stop him leaving, but they could stop him joining us immediately by making him serve his notice on ‘gardening leave’.
There’s almost always a solution to this, usually through offering more money. Obviously, we needed any extra spend to be within reason. However, it seems Webber was clearly our first choice and our BATNA therefore wasn’t very attractive; I’m not surprised we negotiated a way to break the impasse.
Interesting as the new Sporting Director (and for some of us, the process of getting him) is, the real excitement will come with the appointment of a Head Coach. And given Webber’s track record, it should be exciting even if we’ve never heard of him.
That appointment will bring to life the issue of which players stay and go in the summer.
It’ll be a window of major turnover, of course. A number of senior players such as Bassong and Lafferty reach the end of their contracts; it’s hard to imagine any incoming manager wanting to block their departures. The wages saved will be a welcome boost to the war-chest for recruiting younger, hungrier talent.
On the other hand, I’m not convinced the turnover will be wholesale. In obvious and understandable frustration, some fans have called for a complete cull of City’s goalkeepers and defenders.
We should remember, though, that every manager (with his coaches) inspires different performances from his players. With only one addition to what he inherited, for instance, Sam Allardyce has transformed Palace’s defensive competence and results.
An issue we haven’t discussed much this season is taking loan players from the Premier League. Alex Neil was clearly against it, with fair reason. Other Championship clubs have made effective use of the system, though – not least Huddersfield.
It’ll be an interesting summer for us all to negotiate.