A word of advice for any would-be MFW writer.
In a nutshell: go for it! It’s fun, and in Gary Gowers we have an editor who’s unfailingly sympathetic, flexible and supportive.
Well, almost unfailingly. You need to know that every year there’s one day of complete embarrassment and ritual humiliation for the writers on this site.
You see, every summer Gary gets us to predict the outcome of the season ahead. He doesn’t ask us to predict the top six of the Premier League, which would nicely enhance our reputations and make us seem sages. No – Gary makes us predict the top six of the Championship.
Every May, therefore, there’s a reckoning. And we look like idiots. We’ve made our best considered forecasts, based on careful assessment of each club’s resources, squads, experience and financial clout – and we’re hopelessly wrong.
The only consolation is that the bookies are no better.
Why is the Championship so unpredictable? And trying to disentangle that, what are the keys to success?
I hear a muttered chorus in answer to that last question: “money”. Well, of course it helps, all other things being equal. But they’re not – as we, better than anyone, should know.
Our Championship season with most money and resource was last year, when we never challenged. In contrast, the Championship season 2010-11 under Paul Lambert was on a shoe-string, and we cut through the league like a knife through butter.
If it’s all about money, why don’t Villa win the Championship?
Those examples certainly highlight one of the keys to success: having the right manager for the club, its culture and situation.
A manager with a clear philosophy, and who gets time to assemble a squad of players who respond to that philosophy, can achieve far more than the value of the squad would suggest. Brian Clough’s teams exemplified that, as do for instance Sean Dyche’s Burnley, David Wagner’s Huddersfield and – much as it pains me to say it – Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United.
In addition to having a clear philosophy, those managers have shown an ability to learn and adapt as they tackle unfamiliar leagues and challenges, and a personality that inspires admiration and affection in their players.
Those qualities have carried them through when they’ve made mistakes, as all of them have.
Where does that leave us, and in particular how we should assess Daniel Farke?
Everything was new to our Head Coach when he came to Norwich and the Championship in the summer. As he’s said, he had more comfortable options but wanted to come here. Like David Wagner, he relished the challenge of learning how to apply his talents to England.
We need him to be a learner, and a fast one. In terms of what we’ve seen on the pitch, at this point it’s fair for our judgement to be reserved. He responded impressively to the challenges – both physical and tactical – of the first few games and the need to shore up our defence. On the other hand, he hasn’t yet cracked the lack of tempo and penetration in our attacking play at home.
Behind that, does he have the qualities for the current task at Norwich? He and Stuart Webber inherited, frankly, a mess: a squad of highly-paid and under-performing players, an immediate need to cut the budget in response to falling parachute payments, and the prospect of further cuts unless we achieved the long shot of promotion this year.
So it’s a re-build. One of the things going for us is a group of, by common consent, talented youngsters. The keys to success at today’s Norwich City aren’t an ability to spend large sums and deal with big-name players, but the will and flair to develop young talent, to establish a football philosophy running through the club, to recruit players right for that philosophy, and to inspire confidence and commitment in those players.
These are reputed strengths of Farke, and already we can see some clear vision and purpose. He’s assessed the developing players and figured out plans for them: who’s ready for the first team now (Lewis), who’s best being kept close at hand (Cantwell), who will most benefit from a full season games elsewhere (Godfrey). It’s a plan from which he won’t be deflected by short-term clamour (“we need to recall Godfrey to fill in the odd games that Tettey can’t play”).
In terms of personality, no-one who’s met Farke can fail to be struck by his likeability. More important than that, of course, is his impact on players. Perhaps the most striking comment was made by Cameron Jerome on his departure to Derby. Jerome would have reason to feel disgruntled and under-appreciated by Farke, having played second fiddle to the moody Oliveira. His comment, though, was rather different:
“Norwich is a fantastic club and Daniel Farke is a fantastic manager”
If Jerome feels that way, it’s pretty evident that others do too, especially the younger players. As Connor Southwell wrote elegantly here a few days ago, turning our young talent into effective first-teamers is now an essential priority for the club.
Together with smart recruitment and a system that players buy in to, it’s our path to another 2010-11 – a season when we, like many other clubs before and since, upset the odds and achieved more with an unheralded squad than the fancier and more expensive names around us.
It happens. It’s called the Championship, and it’s gloriously – if sometimes embarrassingly – hard to predict.