Sic transit gloria mundi, as we say in the City Stand.
How fleeting is worldly glory.
As a pollster, I’m wary these days of making predictions. But I’ll offer one. Stuart Webber is in a honeymoon period at Norwich which won’t last – and I think he’s smart enough to know it. Among at least some sections of the City faithful, he’s going to lose the unquestioning adulation he currently enjoys.
We know the reason, though we may not have quite realized its implications. The release of seven senior players announced last week, plus five younger ones, is a step on the path we know SW is pursuing. But it’s only one step, and the easiest one.
Apart from some who wish John Ruddy had been retained, and a smaller number hankering to keep Ryan Bennett, the decision to let seven contracts run out was uncontroversial. It certainly helps address the issue of the wage bill.
However, it’s the beginning rather than the end of that process. By Championship standards, City’s wage bill is enormous and much of it goes to ageing players. If we’re to bring in a group of good younger players with the appetite and desire that’s been so clearly lacking this season, significantly more room has to be created in the wage bucket.
That means we’ll be selling – or at least trying to sell – some players who are loved by sections of our fans. Because the wage bill is such an issue, it may seem that we’re asking only modest amounts for them in terms of headline transfer fees. It’ll spark some unhappiness and questioning whether SW knows what he’s doing.
A disclaimer at this point. When I interviewed Stuart Webber we talked about his general aims for the playing squad; we didn’t go into detail of particular players currently at Norwich. Anything I’m going to say about individuals is therefore pure speculation on my part.
One more word of preface. My unscientific guess about transfer rumours is this: around four out of five are baseless. Whoever said there’s no smoke without fire clearly hadn’t observed a football transfer window.
So let’s try to bear in mind that much of what we see in the media during the next few weeks is likely to be flawed, misrepresented – or simply made up.
An early example may be the rumours last week about Jonny Howson. A number of sources reported City are looking to sell him; one, at least, that we’re ready to give him away.
Now, I’m not ‘in the know’. I don’t know which of three possible scenarios is true:
- This is completely fake news
- Someone was asked if any player might be sold if the offer was big enough, and answered (reasonably enough) ‘of course’
- We really are looking to get rid of Jonny, with money not much of an object
I’ll just say I reckon the third scenario is by far the least likely.
While there’ll no doubt be a major turnover of players at Norwich this summer, it would be absolutely wrong to describe it as a ‘fire sale’ – that is, a situation in which you’re looking to sell any asset you possibly can to raise money. We are not QPR of a couple of years ago.
Howson and Klose are probably our two most saleable assets. Whether or not they’re sold, though, will depend on the judgement of SW and his Head Coach about their contributions in the season past and potential contribution next season. On that basis, I think I know which one is more likely to be with us come August.
There may be larger question marks over a number of other established, and in some quarters affectionately-viewed, first teamers.
Russell Martin, Alex Tettey, Graham Dorrans, Cameron Jerome, Steven Naismith, Wes Hoolahan. All have made a contribution, in some cases a massive one; all still have something to offer; all have their own fan clubs. All have a case for being retained – but not all of them will be.
Their playing contribution will be considered, of course. As will, I’d guess, their potential to help the young players who’ll be given a bigger role next year. Alex Neil’s dad – a figure much like Alex, but with hair – once told me this was part of the reason for signing Steven Naismith. Russell Martin, you’d imagine, will also score high on that criterion.
On the other hand – Wes. No-one has enjoyed watching his magic more than I have; his legendary status is ensured and deserved. There are still times when he can turn a game.
And yet, his presence would hold back the careers of Pritchard and Maddison. Given the talent of those two, already blossoming in Pritchard’s case, I’m not sure I could justify keeping Wes.
Whatever he decides, there’s surely an argument to trust Webber at this point. His knowledge of players, both City’s and others’, is extensive (another senior person described it to me as ‘encyclopaedic’). He brings an unsentimental approach to Norwich’s squad – something we know is necessary at this juncture, even if the sentiment is ours.
So let’s take a deep breath and give him our confidence.
As long as he doesn’t try to get rid of Jonny, of course….