In turbulent times it’s good to find something to smile about.
I’ve come across a couple this week. In the “you couldn’t make it up” category, there was Neil Warnock’s lecture to the Wolves manager on behaving with class and dignity. Hmm…
The other was a story that happened a while ago, involving Cross Farm Park Celtic – one which we might file under “rules is rules”. A striker was standing close to the ref as he blew his whistle to start the game. Perhaps too close, as he gave a start and said “F*** me, that was loud”. The ref immediately stopped play and sent him off for foul and abusive language.
An early bath, indeed.
Meanwhile, our thoughts are inevitably turning to the summer and next season. By “the summer”, I don’t of course mean a break from football, or even the World Cup. Most of us mean the transfer window and what Stuart Webber will do with it.
Many of our fans on social media are now predicting a decline – gradual or precipitous – in City’s standing and league position. Others see some grounds for optimism.
I reckon both are understandable. Let’s look at three arguments for each view, starting with the pessimistic one.
- We’re in a financial bind and are falling further behind the big hitters.
It’s true. The final withdrawal of parachute payments happens this summer and means, unless we can tap into any other sources of income, that we need to find savings of £20m plus in our playing budget (i.e. wages and transfer fees).
All at Carrow Road acknowledge it’s a huge challenge.
- Some unproductive high earners will still be draining our resources next year.
Possibly. I can’t see us doing anything other than letting the contracts of Alex Tettey and Wes Hoolahan run out this summer, but the unsuccessful Steven Naismith and unfortunate Matt Jarvis are on big deals through to summer 2019.
I’m not privy to details, but it’s clear we’re still paying the bulk of Naismith’s wages while he’s in Scotland.
If we could somehow extricate ourselves from those commitments – if not wholly, at least substantially – it would create very valuable space in the wage bucket.
- Under Daniel Farke, the team hasn’t progressed this season.
I understand the comments that the team hasn’t made regular, continuous visible progress through the season.
This one seems to me less clear-cut, though. Farke fixed the alarming defensive shortcomings of the first five games, promptly and impressively. I guess that makes it frustrating that other issues – notably, slow build-up and lack of penetration – have persisted through much of the season.
I wonder if there are a couple of mitigating factors. In defence, Farke had new players of his choice to work with. With the exception of the long-term signing of Dennis Srbeny, he’s had to work with what he inherited in attack.
The indication is that neither Jerome nor Oliveira is Farke’s kind of striker. We’ve had a sign of his thinking with the (now unfortunately injured) Onel Hernandez – but this area will surely be the big one for change in the summer.
Given the sheer scale of change a year ago, perhaps an inconsistency of performance is more understandable (even, forgivable) this season than it was last.
What might be on the other side of the scale, arguments for cautious optimism? Again, three possibilities.
- Money isn’t everything.
Last season, Aston Villa far outstripped Norwich in spending and wages. During the summer, that gap widened further; as Daniel Farke pointed out, while we were signing Christoph Zimmermann, they were signing John Terry.
In theory, last weekend’s game should have been a mismatch. Actually it was, but the other way round: the 3-1 scoreline to City could have been more.
And that game isn’t a one-off. The Championship’s history is littered with unfancied teams doing well and far richer clubs failing to make their expected impact.
Of all clubs, we should know that. We’ve seen Paul Lambert’s low-budget City team storm through the league to promotion, and Alex Neil’s big-budget team of last season fade to mid-table obscurity.
A couple of messages to the phoneless Canarycall on Tuesday (if you missed it, it was a treat) bemoaned the fact that Millwall are challenging for the playoffs while we’re not. I’d argue just the opposite: at this point we should take heart from the fact that a small-budget club can stick with its manager (Neil Harris has been there three years) and succeed in the midst of bigger-spending rivals.
- We need bargains, and may have the right people to find them.
We don’t know whether Stuart Webber would be any better than his predecessors at spending large sums of money. Hopefully we’ll find out one day, but in the meantime what we need is someone to secure good players at modest prices.
Yes, the club needs to sell this summer, and to bring in much more cash than it spends. But the plan clearly includes provision for signing new players, if we can find them within our budget. Zimmermann, Trybull, Vrancic, Leitner, Hernandez and Hanley suggest that’s something Webber has an aptitude for (as well as Gunn and Reed confirming his knack for loan signings).
Together with developing our young talent, that’s the priority need for Norwich City today.
- The biggest key to success in this league is hunger and team spirit.
Despite up-and-down performances, a constant in this season has been the positive messages coming out of Carrow Road about commitment and team togetherness.
Listening to Harrison Reed or Angus Gunn, their passion for the club and for Farke’s leadership is well beyond anything you’d expect of a loan player. There clearly is a special spirit and closeness at Norwich these days. Obviously it’s got to translate more consistently onto the pitch, but in an embryonic way it looks potentially reminiscent of the Lambert era.
What Farke really, really wants is a full pre-season with his staff and players, most of whom will have now had – like Farke himself – a year’s experience in the Championship. As well as the players mentioned above, others such as Stiepermann may make a bigger impact with that experience.
Will it all work, giving us many more performances like the Villa one? No one can say for sure. But the potential may just be there.