As Simon Hooper’s whistle brought a merciful end to another 90 minutes of Canary torment, this time at the hands of a dominant, if slightly (for me anyway), second gear, Leeds United, the pitchforks began to come out in earnest for the first time in Daniel Farke’s Norwich career.
There have been rumblings before, as there always are. Rewind Canary Call to his first ever game as Norwich manager, away at Fulham with swirling summer temperatures and a barmy, tempestuous welcome from Nelson Oliviera, and I’ll wager good money that one of the Barrys or Johns or Dereks that weren’t at the game but listened to parts of it on the radio, while in and out to the garden, would have called for Farke’s head after one game.
The number of those unimpressed with Farke were relatively few following stirring cup runs culminating in narrow defeats at The Emirates and Stamford Bridge, but little has gone right for Farke’s Norwich City since then, and his critics have risen steadily in number accordingly.
A paltry 4 wins from the last 21 games is enough to test even the most patient of supporters, let alone those whose emotions fluctuate wildly at any given result.
The question at the forefront of many of minds right now is how much time Farke will be given.
When the hitherto-unknown figure of Daniel Farke was unveiled as Norwich City’s first ever overseas coach he was heralded as having great promise, used to dealing with very little in the way of funds and still producing results. He was good at bringing young players through. His remit at Norwich was for more of the same.
His early press-conferences were peppered with the promise of stylistic change. He would build a way of playing that people would see and instantly know it was a Norwich style. He wanted his team to be “the protagonists”.
Just over a year later, and the style of play is not as individual as Farke would like. We have seen it a few times before in fact. The Spanish national team to be precise. Not the dominant sides that won the European Championships of 2008 and 2012 either side of a World Cup in 2010 though. I’m thinking of the 2014 side that crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage because their endless passing carousel was tired, failed to create sufficient chances, and the opposition had long since come up with a plan to counteract it.
If you prefer a more current example see the German side that bungled their defence of the World Cup just a couple of months ago. Possession for possession’s sake but zero penetration.
Farke clearly did not have this in mind when he imagined “the Norwich way”.
As for becoming the protagonists, as results have tailed off Farke has become increasingly negative and cautious. His game plan at home against Preston was to try and recover defensive solidity by dominating possession and for eighty minutes we suffered some of the most turgid unimaginative backwards and sideways passing seen at Carrow Road for many a long year.
That we went on to win was a relief of sorts, but it shows how increasingly desperate Farke is getting just to stay in games. All respect to Preston and their top seven finish last season but, at home in particular, Norwich should be looking to take the game to the opposition and break them down.
To me, his tactics stunk of a lack of confidence in his players. He didn’t believe that whichever eleven he put out on the pitch could come out and attack Preston without leaving themselves exposed at the back. Our ability to create problems for them was not sufficient for us to be the protagonists at our own stadium.
We sat back and kept the ball and threw the dice as to whether we’d make an error at the back with our constant triangles between Tettey and the central defenders and gift them a goal or whether at the other end Hernandez could conjure another moment of genius and nick us a chance, or Rhodes win a set piece around the box that might come to something.
We are not the protagonists you promised Daniel. We are scared of errors and scared of losing and we are threatening nobody on a consistent enough basis.
Alarm bells are ringing loud and clear that Farke is not changing a style that isn’t working and hasn’t been for some time. There is no Plan B, and there should be because Plan A isn’t so great. Farke is hugely likeable and was well worth the gamble the club took in appointing him. But I’m struggling to see a point where this turns around and we start winning the matches we should.
I’m not expecting us to cut a swathe through the division and get promotion or top six. But I do expect that at home, we will be on the front foot, create a few chances and not concede too many. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation. But we look more and more unlikely to get over this relatively low bar with every game. I hate to say it but it looks a little like our bottle has gone. Confidence is draining out of this side.
So, what is going on in Stuart Webber’s mind right now?
Chief amongst his concerns on the footballing side when he arrived was to rapidly turn over the squad. To jettison all the sky-high contracts, he’d inherited and replaced them with a cheaper, more affordable group. In doing so he knew this would make us less competitive, and so far, this has proven depressingly correct. Losing Johnny Howson and Jacob Murphy to balance the books would have hurt any Championship side, so the pressure on Daniel Farke in May was limited despite an extremely poor tailing off to the campaign.
The start of this season has shown little tangible improvement. An attack that initially showed signs of a cutting-edge previously lacking, is already in danger of blunting itself. Jordan Rhodes is becoming increasingly isolated and the miserly amount of touches he has per game is already pointing to Ricky van Wolfswinkel territory through no fault of the player’s.
However, some of those who have arrived have been fantastic signings. Onel Hernandez is the player we wish Josh Murphy could have become. Rhodes and Pukki are both excellent finishers which makes it all the more galling when we don’t give them adequate service.
By and large, I think that most Canary fans have faith in the squad of players we have and a large part of the frustration felt is with the fact that Farke is not getting the best out of them. We are currently less than the sum of our parts, and that can only be down to tactics, coaching and preparation.
Stuart Webber is nobody’s fool and he can see this. But given that he further weakened Farke’s hand by depriving him of the talents of Maddison and Murphy this summer, has he recalibrated his own expectations for Farke’s performance this year? If you take a team that finished 14th, and sell its two most productive players, what really is he expecting?
I’m spitballing here. I like Webber and I think he’s done exceptionally well at dealing with the bloated, overpaid squad he was faced with when he took over last year. He’s brought in sufficient quality in terms of replacements to expect more from Farke and his coaches than he is currently getting back. And I think this is what is likely to be giving him pause for thought right now.
However, Farke was his first managerial appointment as Sporting Director. He was hand-picked by Webber to lead us forward through a period of transition, so Webber has strong personal reasons for wanting Farke to succeed.
The disruption of the transition was estimated when Webber first spoke to the press, to last at least three transfer windows, but given that the enormous contracts of Naismith, Jarvis, Martin, McGovern, Klose and Pinto don’t expire until next June, and we haven’t been able to move any of them on, that disruption can be extended to four windows in all likelihood, which will coincide with the end of Farke’s own contract.
Without writing this season off I think Webber will resist making managerial and coaching changes in the face of anything but the direst series of results. Whilst we are all looking for an improvement from last year despite the losses of Maddison and Murphy, I think Webber is comfortable with anything that keeps us in the division without flirting too much with a relegation battle.
From his point of view, even if we repeat last season’s disappointment, Farke will have plotted a safe course through two seasons of financial choppy waters that demanded his squad be consistently sliced up and sold off to the highest bidder.
He’s also under no obligation to renew Farke’s contract and if he deems the experiment hasn’t worked he gets to hand a decent squad that is much younger and much cheaper to run than the one he inherited, to a new manager come May. And if, as we suspect, this squad contains a lot of good players that aren’t necessarily being asked to play the type of football that works in this league, the potential for success for that manager is high.
As such, for those expecting an early managerial departure at Colney this season, I think you’ll be disappointed. Webber holds the cards here. He knows we won’t go up and a new manager won’t suddenly change that this season.
Farke might not be proving to be the right man long-term, but unless we get mired in the bottom three, just keeping us ticking along may be enough to keep him in his job, at least for the rest of the season. Strap yourselves in, it could be a bumpy ride.