Like many City fans, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about our club.
I’ve seen numerous fans signalling their disillusionment, and/or saying they’ve fallen out of love with the club. Some of them are people I know and for whom I have great respect; all of them I understand.
A run of bad results and dull performances, especially at home, provided an inauspicious background to an AGM that highlighted the financial constraints at Carrow Road. The immediate future seems to hold more challenges than opportunities, and the Premier League status we crave seems a distant prospect.
There’s talk of mistakes, especially in transfers, and it’s worth reflecting on them.
A quick bit of perspective. Living away from Norfolk, most of my local friends support other teams. Two of them surprised me recently; I thought of their clubs as being exceptionally good in transfer business, but all they had was criticism. They cited bad purchases (most of which I’d actually forgotten) and only reluctantly accepted my list of their successes.
We shouldn’t think of our transfer business in recent years as all bad. Some of our purchases gave great service to NCFC (Howson, Ruddy etc); some we sold for spectacular profits (Brady, Fer etc); players like Bradley Johnson and Nathan Redmond arguably fall into both categories.
But of course, we’ve had spectacular horrors too, and we’re in much less of a position than other clubs to afford them. In an early interview after becoming chairman, Ed Balls said our ownership model was no inherent barrier to success, but our decision-making had to be exceptional.
It hasn’t been good enough. In the latter stages of David McNally’s and Alex Neil’s tenures, and of course under Jez Moxey, hugely damaging mistakes were made.
The real horror show was last season when we took a big punt, keeping a Premier League squad with an eye-popping wage bill by Championship standards, in a gamble that they’d get us promotion. They didn’t get close.
That’s what’s left us in our current predicament. There have been two turning points for our club in the past decade, in each case stemming from failures that led Delia and Michael to appoint new people and hand over power to them.
The first was summer 2009, when McNally was hired and given free rein – and took it.
The second is now, with the radical re-structure and appointment of Stuart Webber. As he succinctly says: “If everything was fine, I wouldn’t have been offered the job”.
The summer 2009 change was an immediate and obvious success. Without taking anything away from McNally and Lambert, they did have one advantage: we were in League One with an outstanding squad for that league. In particular, the strike force of Holty, Wes and Chris Martin was a fantastic inheritance for Lambert.
Webber and Farke have a much tougher gig. If McNally and Lambert had taken over a mid-Championship City team with a wage bill that had to be immediately slashed, I reckon they’d have needed time to turn the ship around – and I hope I’d have argued for giving it to them.
That’s why I’m still more patient than some. I like Stuart Webber and the way he goes about his business, including his communication with fans. Contrary to what some have suggested, he was fully aware of the finances before he took the job and has not had any nasty surprises (anyone doubting that should look at his interview with this site back in May).
Daniel Farke is harder to judge at this stage, but I’m sufficiently impressed to back him for the foreseeable future. We’ve had good and bad spells this season – exactly as most of us foresaw back in August. But of course it’s easier to be sanguine about that when the team is in a good spell.
Neither Webber nor Farke are responsible for the mistakes that have harmed us; they’re trying to put the pieces together again. With the time for quick fixes now over, they’re putting into place a long-term (and long-overdue) plan, against a tough financial background.
The Academy has to be an important facet of that long-term plan. They’ve asked – not demanded – that fans help the Academy financially if they can. I understand the negative reaction of some fans to that request, and I won’t try to persuade anyone else to put their hands in their pockets – but I will.
Football-wise, the first half at Cardiff was clearly an improvement. As the excellent Mark Walton said on Radio Norfolk commentary, it was obvious that the players are behind the manager. The bizarre penalty decision immediately after the interval was the kind of thing that goes against you when you’re struggling, and our fragile confidence was duly exposed.
We’ll eventually get the break or two you need to turn things round, perhaps on Saturday.
I’m still in love with the Canaries.