The last few days have been a good reminder of what could have been for Norwich City fans.
Last Saturday, the Canaries hosted a Villa side that got relegated alongside them two seasons ago. Unlike Norwich, they are in the play-off places this year, but City outclassed them anyway, and we were reminded of just how good this City side can be.
Then, on Tuesday, the 547 courageous/absolutely mental Norwich fans at the Stadium of Light witnessed what could have also been. A Sunderland side who, by the sounds of things, didn’t put in a bad performance against City, but one that are now pretty much consigned to their second relegation in as many years. At least it’s not that bad.
Today, we’ll witness a Cardiff side, spearheaded by Neil Warnock, who are still in the driving seat for automatic promotion. I remember seeing the Bluebirds play at Carrow Road last October and, although City only beat them 3-2, they seemed destined for relegation. Under Warnock, they eventually finished that season in 12th before this year’s heroics.
As the managerial merry-go-round swings into motion again, it does make you wonder what would happen if we just dumped the whole ‘Projekt’ now and hired Alan Pardew or Mick McCarthy. When both inevitably get picked up by a Championship club in the next few months, I don’t doubt that both will get on just fine.
Even better though, what if City had sacked Alex Neil months before they eventually did and snuck in to poach Warnock from under Cardiff’s noses? There would have been uproar at the time from a large chunk of the Norwich fanbase (I would have been apoplectic). But would it be City who now reside in third place instead? I don’t see why not.
Is hiring, for instance, Warnock (or McCarthy, or Pardew etc.), just short-term thinking though? Warnock has been promoted to the Premier League twice – with Sheffield United in 2005 and QPR in 2011. The Blades were relegated immediately, and Warnock was sacked as QPR boss before the Rs themselves could be relegated. He was also removed from his position as Crystal Palace boss in 2014 with the Eagles teetering on the brink of relegation.
McCarthy, meanwhile, was in part responsible for Sunderland finishing with just 19 points in 2002/03 (although he was only hired with two months left of that season) and then 15 points in 2005/06 (when he was sacked in March). He had better success with Wolves, but they were ultimately relegated after three seasons of top-flight football.
What Norwich are currently aiming for is true, prolonged success. It won’t necessarily work – it’s quite hard to tell if it’s working right now – but it’s worth a shot, right? The intention here is not to return to yo-yo club status.
City’s new long-term approach is certainly novel in a sport that demands such instant gratification. It’s brave, for sure – many supporters are already not happy. But Delia, Stuart Webber and Steve Stone seem content to batten down the hatches, wait out the storm, and then finally emerge and say, ‘I told you so’ when the sun is again shining – let’s hope they get the chance.
Who couldn’t get a bit excited, anyway, when Delia talks about comparisons with Auxerre, as she did in her interview with the Guardian last week?
She said: “[in 1996] I went to visit a football club called Auxerre and their manager, Guy Roux. The first thing he said to me, and he didn’t speak much English, was: ‘I never buy footballers.’ The academy had their own little stadium, they had houses built on site. Roux knew all the youngsters by name.
“And the record is there, isn’t it? They played in Europe, they never went out of Ligue 1. And Auxerre is the size of Thetford. Wow. That’s the kind of club I want Norwich to be. I want it to feel like it is part of the community.”
Guy Roux was manager of Auxerre for 44 years, taking them from the fifth tier of French football to League and Cup champions in 1996. But, as Delia said, it was through Roux’s incredible work with the side’s academy that he was able to achieve this (notable Auxerre academy graduates include Eric Cantona and Djibril Cisse.)
City and Stuart Webber’s idea (and the reason for the £5 million academy bond) is to have one new player graduate from the academy to the first team each year – an ambitious plan but one that has made Southampton, for example, eminently self-sustainable for more than a decade (Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers and Adam Lallana over 12 years can’t be just coincidence, can it?)
Daniel Farke has been called into question on more than one occasion this season but the improvement in numerous players – James Maddison (who has personally praised Farke for the effect he’s had), Timm Klose, Alex Tettey, and arguably Josh Murphy – over last season is clear to see. Jamal Lewis has come from nowhere to be a top-class Championship left-back, Mario Vrancic is 10x the player he was at the start of the season and Christoph Zimmermann has gone from the German fourth tier and a rocky start to an outstanding centre-back. Perhaps the plan is already working.
Maybe then, we shouldn’t think about what could have been and instead look ahead to what will be, hopefully for many years to come. (Remember that when we’re trailing 2-0 to Warnock’s Cardiff later today…)