Despite all the aspirations and the levels of expectation, season 2016/17 will be infamous for feelings of frustration, grievance and anger.
But now it’s time for Norwich City to go back to basics and work in the present. The football club has been called all the names under the sun, yet now begins a new dawn, and all areas of the club need to buy into the new philosophy and remain open and receptive to the changes being made.
As I write, social media and various news outlets furiously hunt down the latest Norwich City rumours. We scan the message board comments too looking for snippets.
When linked to a player, comments of ‘he’s not Premier League standard’ or ‘he won’t be good enough in the Premier League’invariably arise. But how can you debate whether a footballer is good enough for a division that he doesn’t compete in?
That’s not a criticism of supporters. Aspirations are a good strength for any club to have but only when those aspirations are acted upon.
This club has evaluated, decided upon a direction and will hopefully now strengthen.
As I touched upon in my opening piece, Stuart Webber appears to have brought a modern approach which has been greeted with positivity. On the footballing side, staleness had threatened to strangle the life out of the club. It was suffocating.
People speak of Norwich as a unique community club in the sense it covers a vast geographical area which marries with a huge array of supporting potential, and Norfolk is indeed rarity in the sense of it being a one county club.
I both agree and adore that about this wonderfully vibrant and accepting football club. Speaking with a friend of another club, I asked him a simple question: “What do you think of when you think about Norwich City?”
His response was a damning indictment: “A family club who play good football but who are far too soft.”
I think about City teams over the last ten years and I think that’s sadly very accurate. And this season has particularly epitomised that statement. A good footballing side with a seriously soft underbelly.
As a side, the defending was something being emulated on the pitches of parks on Sunday mornings up and down the land. At times it appeared comical.
The last Norwich team to be ‘nasty’ was Paul Lambert’s, spearheaded by one Grant Holt. Evaluating the Norwich squad at present, I struggle to highlight a player with that streak of nastiness in a way that is used positively. Holt is a fine example of how this can be achieved.
Norwich, simply, are too nice.
By the same score, I saw fans and pundits drool over footballing “philosopher” Pep Guardiola who would, theoretically, come in and play aesthetically pleasing football that would revolutionise the sport in this country. But the reality is this Manchester City side lacks the physicality that makes the English game so unique and special.
I’m not insinuating that City look to appoint Tony Pulis and replicate tactics seen in Twickenham, but Norwich need a blend between sexy football and being physically able. I’m sure Mr Webber is all over it.
Experienced managers, Rafa Benitez and Steve Bruce to name two, have both spoken about the importance of building squads tailored to the Championship; players who share physical aspects whilst retaining crucial technical qualities. In the nucleus of this new City side there has to be strength and a willingness to fight.
Looking back, this current Norwich side had too many gifted footballers who lacked the physicality, desire and mind-set to scrap and battle. It’s notoriously harder to defend because it is exhausting physically and mentally and our soft underbelly and poor application was simply exposured too often this season.
On average, footballers spend three minutes over the ninety minute piece with the ball at their feet. Three minutes to make an impact. Three minutes to become winners. Norwich fundamentally lacked the required mind-sets to be winners, and the ability to dig in as a defensive unit was tactically and mentally non-existent. Value was not made of those three minutes.
That’s not to say that going forward we can’t have niche players in the side, just as long as it’s also tactically balanced, with a strong mental ability and ‘black box’ thinking. Creative players are the brain of the team; the gritty, unattractive footballers its heart.
Fans wait in trepidation and panic as to who will be unveiled as the captain to prevent this Norwich ship sinking into Championship mediocrity. But the complexion of the side, the direction of the side needs to be stripped back to basics and contain more mentally strong players with belief and heart. Eleven captains.
Recruitment of course is key, good scouting at its core, and with it a requirement to understand a player’s personality and how he will alter the dynamic of a complex room of millionaires. It’s about balance, belief and mind-set.
And we, as fans, are just left to wait as the makeover of this squad is completed.