Last summer, Alex Neil described the incoming recruitment of players in June as “impossible”. A year on, and Norwich, at time of writing, look poised to complete their fourth signing of the summer.
If you dissect the signings individually, it seems to be part of a somewhat wider scheme. A directionless club sitting in a rut has become proactive with a man clearly clued up in the transfer market.
Stuart Webber’s mandate is seemingly to reduce the wage bill while Daniel Farke enforces a philosophy on the pitch to see an enhanced performance in 2017/18. The three signings through the door seem to be part of a wider strategy. Let me explain…
The club has shifted masses of deadwood who collectively did little to contribute to last season’s campaign and is now seemingly looking towards developing young talent in exchange for success going forward.
And while Marley Watkins and Mario Vrancic don’t necessarily compliment this line of thinking, I believe the idea is to find a core bunch of talent and build around that with young, loan players.
I cast my eyes north and witness the project at Huddersfield Town, the only evidence of Webber’s individual work. In midfield they have Jonathan Hogg – a 28 year old midfielder formerly with Watford – and what he epitomises is a player with a certain skillset and clarity over his role. His remit was to win the ball and ensure the defensive shaping of the side was maintained during attacking phases of play.
Another example is Danny Ward. An on-loan goalkeeper from Liverpool who made minimal appearances for a handful of clubs, including Morecombe and Aberdeen, before Webber pulled a masterstroke in signing him on a season long loan.
See any comparisons?
Watkins was the first summer recruit to enter the seemingly ever revolving doors at Colney but some were asking how have Norwich gone from recruiting former Champions League players to a free transfer from Barnsley? Finances are, obviously, a factor but scratch beneath the surface and this signing appears more impressive.
Watkins has fought every time he has walked onto a football pitch as a professional. Following his release as a youngster from Swansea after eight years in the Swans academy, and via a whirlwind stop in League One, he dropped out of the professional game and became a player of Hereford.
This fight and hunger then saw Watkins become Cheltenham’s youngest ever senior player but perhaps his biggest break came when he was given an opportunity by Terry Butcher to travel to Inverness.
Watkins is an example that graft to the top can be achieved, so long as you have the right mental attitude to the game. If you compare this to the fragile mental attitude Norwich were frequently accused of lacking last term, Watkins is a refreshing and understandable choice.
Some will say cheap. I say shrewd. Watkins is the evidence of a recruitment strategy that’s been well considered and thrown to the forefront of Webber’s and Farke’s minds during this close season. Watkins reinforces the ideology and modern approach to recruitment that is gradually is being implemented.
As a writer, inevitably a part of me went fuzzy and giddy about the narrative behind Angus Gunn’s whole story. Gary’s article hit the nail on the head – it’s completely irrelevant but wonderfully intertwined into a young man who could become number one of this country. Yet let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Gunn’s arrival also highlights the strength, breadth and trust of relationship Webber has with England’s so called ‘top six’. If you remove all the emotion from the move what you are left with is a goalkeeper who needs game time and is certainly raring to go.
The pessimist in me is says Norwich are getting a goalkeeper who is yet to register a single senior appearance yet something in my armoury of thoughts as a football fan can’t help but be optimistic.
Gunn is an Under-21 goalkeeper of his nation. Standing at 6ft 6in, he will tower over most on the pitch. You’d comfortably expect him to dominate his area by coming for crosses and being physically commanding.
It also reflects the image Webber painted at Huddersfield in terms of recruitment. Norwich will have a core of players, in which young and loan players will be cautiously embedded. Gunn also will gain a year as a first-choice goalkeeper and, unless injuries or suspensions dictate, will play 46 games this season. It’s a win-win for all parties.
Admittedly, you can discuss the ‘young and hungry’ model as much as you like, but first and foremost, there must be a knowledge and application of this ‘philosophy’ on the Carrow Road turf.
Many fans greeted the initial speculation that a Bosnian international midfielder was joining the club as pure fiction. This rumour grew rapidly and in the space of a day, Mario Vrancic was a Canary. I wonder how many times that has happened before, if at all.
Firstly, it’s astonishing that Norwich have prised Vrancic out of Germany for such a little fee; he starred in an underwhelming Darmstadt side who struggled with life in Germany’s top tier. I could reel off numerous statistics to support his arrival but in many ways they are irrelevant.
Reserve your judgment on Vrancic until the day comes when he is donning the yellow and green of Norwich. I won’t pretend to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of him but, to counter my previous point, his stats and reports from German press is hard to ignore.
Let the season begin again and let more signings to arrive.