I’m not creative.
No false modesty there – it’s unquestionably true. Give me the mechanical mental processing tasks that used to be the core of IQ tests, and I’ll do fine. Ask me to name twenty uses for a flowerpot, though, and you can come back an hour later to find my pen stopped at “grow flowers”.
Meanwhile, my wife would be annoyed and frustrated that they only asked for twenty.
So I’ve always found creativity rather awe-inspiring, and somewhat scary. How the heck does someone sit down with a blank sheet and compose music? To make it even scarier, I know the answer from some composers would be “why doesn’t everyone?”
Bringing this closer to home, Stuart Webber talked back in May about the need for Norwich to be creative in the forthcoming transfer window. I trusted then (and trust now) that he didn’t mean it in the sense of ‘creative accounting’. One of our majority owners may be a famous chef, but I think we’d be one of the last clubs to cook the books.
No – Stuart explained some of what he meant, and we’ve now seen it in action. He told us, for instance, that he’d explore the loan market and the Continent for players of the right age, quality and hunger for us.
I also suspect he meant how we negotiate those deals too.
Early in my business career I was sent – with about as much enthusiasm as I’d have mustered for a creativity test – on a financial management course. But afterwards I was always grateful for it. As well as teaching me to sense the smell of books being cooked, it impressed on me the significance of cashflow.
I didn’t appreciate, for instance, that most businesses which go under aren’t short of orders. What they’ve failed to manage is cash.
You wouldn’t know it from media coverage, but cashflow is just as vital in football as other industries. In our present case, the terms on which we sold Jacob to Newcastle really matter. Even when it’s officially ‘undisclosed’, we get an idea of headline transfer fees. But the detail of payment terms – in particular how much is paid up front – has a significant bearing on our freedom to operate and spend.
Stuart was operating under a constraint we’ve discussed already on this forum. Last season we spent to the limit; we now had to adjust to a drop of some £15 million in parachute payments, before they dry up entirely. So the playing budget had to come down, dramatically.
How did he do?
Inevitably we’ve lost a chunk of experience, and some quality. The fact that it includes Jonny Howson and Jacob Murphy wasn’t of the club’s choosing; their desire to leave was the deciding factor. One or two others, who we’d have preferred to lose, weren’t possible to shift.
To me, though, it’s impressive how little the overall level of technical quality has dropped; that’s part of Stuart Webber’s creativity. A greater issue, for now at least, is Championship nous and experience.
An aside is how we’ve changed in terms of active squad size. Within the bewildering flurry of deals of the past two months, departures have broadly matched arrivals. The pool of players available to the manager in practice, though, seems to have changed.
By my reckoning, we’ve lost five-six players in genuine contention for the first team: Ruddy, Bennett, Howson, Dorrans and Jacob Murphy (plus the end of Mitchell Dijks’s loan). On the other hand, we’ve added ten genuine first XI candidates: Gunn, Reed, Zimmermann, Franke, Husband, Stiepermann, Trybull, Watkins, Vrancic and Hanley.
Many of them will need a period of adjustment to new surroundings and a new league. Inevitably, some will work out better than others. It’s an interesting shift of numbers, though, and one I didn’t expect.
A special word on the last main signing. As Steve Stone explained to the Canaries Trust last week, the package to bring Grant Hanley here stretched beyond our plan for the summer; in the new reality of City’s finances, it represents pushing the boat out in a big way.
If there was ever a case for going beyond the plan, though, this was surely it. Some have chirped on social media that Grant Hanley isn’t the most sophisticated footballer in the world. By his own admission, he’s no Bobby Moore or Franz Beckenbauer; nor is he a John Stones or David Luiz.
But he’s something else. Among the articles many of us wrote in anguish after Millwall, the headline that perhaps best encapsulated it was “Inexperience, incompetence and Championship naivety painfully reigned supreme at the Den”. Though it might have fixed itself gradually over time, Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke clearly decided the process needed a helping hand.
Beyond doubt, Grant Hanley brings us strength, experience and Championship know-how. Plus something else we’ve been lacking this season, and probably for longer than that: leadership. He’s no Wes on the ball – and he’ll need some games to get up to speed – but Grant Hanley impressed Paul Lambert sufficiently at Blackburn for him to be made captain and described as a colossus, “worth his weight in gold”.
That’ll do for me. Incidentally, I guessed he was older than he actually is; though highly experienced, he’s still only 25. That’s actually an essential factor in the deal; Steve Stone has shared that we couldn’t have accepted his desire for a 4-year contract if he’d been older.
After the rush of early fixtures, I’m sure Daniel Farke has relished the two-week gap. Not as a break, but as a chance to take stock and work with the players under less immediate pressure of games. He’s a man of ideas, some of which will surely have been tweaked in the light of new experience.
His team selection for Birmingham will be fascinating to see. I’m sure he’ll approach it with some thought – and creativity.