MFW have been granted coversations with Sporting Director Stuart Webber and Managing Director Steve Stone. In this first instalment, Stuart talks to Stewart Lewis about his football philosophy, how he’ll work with the new Head Coach, and the kind of players we can expect to see arriving at Carrow Road this summer.
Stuart, the new structure is unfamiliar territory to many of us. What do you see as its main benefits?
‘It allows the Head Coach to coach. The most important thing for him is to prepare the team, to make the players better and the team better. A manager can get lost in less important stuff – if we’re signing a player, the Head Coach shouldn’t be taking time away from coaching the team to deal with an agent.
‘It’s also healthy to have people who can challenge the Head Coach. He has the final say, but not the only say. I think managers have got the sack by being put in a position of making every decision, and making too many mistakes because they don’t have anyone to support them.
‘I’ll be gobsmacked if in ten years 95 per cent of clubs don’t have this.’
What are the qualities you’re looking for in the new Head Coach?
‘You need someone who has a strong and defined way of playing which is suitable for the club – something our supporters want to watch, which wins games but in a way that we can build as our footballing philosophy.
‘He needs to be open to developing players, whether they’re 21 or 28, because we haven’t got the finance to go and buy the finished article. It’s really important the Head Coach has an open mind to new players – like the 20-year-old who’s never played a senior game but we think has the talent.
‘You want him to be dynamic, a risk-taker.’
You always talk about improving the quality of players at Huddersfield. Many Norwich fans would say we’ve had enough quality here this season, but they haven’t performed. What’s your view?
‘I agree they haven’t performed – everyone can see that and the players themselves have acknowledged it. It’s something we’ll be addressing.
It’s about getting a group of players who are desperate to achieve. That might be someone who’s previously achieved the aim of getting the Premier League and staying there – but it might not be.
You need a clear identity and good players – players who were desperate to come and play in England, to step up from the lower leagues, or to get their first loan move.’
Alex Neil was reluctant to use the loan market for our team, for understandable reasons, but you seem to have used it to good effect at Huddersfield?
‘You have to be open to it, because you can get a player that ordinarily you couldn’t. At Huddersfield it gave us a chance to have a better team than we could really afford.
‘You shouldn’t have too many, but you can be smart about it. If we have an 18-year-old at Norwich who isn’t quite ready for the first team, we can either buy a different player – blocking his progress – or bring in a loan to plug the gap while we send our player out to get the experience he needs.’
Conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t bring in too many players in a single window because it’s hard for them to gel. What’s your view?
‘I think that’s a myth. If you’ve got the right coach, you sign the right mentality of player and get them in early, it gives you six weeks for them to gel. Because our identity and the way we played was so nailed at Huddersfield, it was easy from a tactical point of view for people to settle in.
‘We know exactly what we want: a left back in our system has to look like this. We won’t ask him to do something he doesn’t know how to do.’
So, having a clear playing style is important?
‘100 per cent. Changing style depending on the opposition is a very English thing. At Huddersfield we worried about us – it’s about the philosophy. If we brought our style and identity to the pitch, and if we were true to it, we thought we could beat anybody.
‘Every day you work on your identity and with a certain mentality. How can you change that on a Friday to adapt to the opposition? Whether we’re playing Burton Albion or Manchester City, we’ll back our philosophy against theirs and go toe-to-toe with them.
‘There’ll be times the way we play won’t come off. But the fans will know what we believe and what we’re trying to do.’
Communication with the fans is an important part of your job too?
‘Absolutely. We need to be honest and open, and not be dreamers. You can disagree with us, but you’ll know what we’re trying to do, why we’ve made the decisions we have.’
You want to develop players and establish something sustainable here. But with parachute payments, next year is our best chance to go up. How do you balance those things?
‘We need to go for it next year; we want to be in the Premier League. We also need to think ‘what if we don’t go up?’ We have to be smart in our planning and our work. And explain to supporters why it’s not a quick fix – we won’t pull the wool over people’s eyes.’
A lot of this season has been disappointing for the fans. What can we look forward to next season?
‘The good thing is we know what the problems are – everyone can see it.
‘What we try won’t always work for us. But one thing we’ll never do – one thing I can promise – is you’ll never see a Norwich team go somewhere and give up.’
In the next instalment, Steve Stone talks about why change had to be made, his relationship with Stuart Webber, and finances next year and beyond.