I could have written this article last week, or the week before.
Your expression at this point may be similar to my wife’s. “What??? City play a derby, and it makes no difference to what you think?”
The bottom line is this: I said before the season we should give it 20 games before making judgements, and I’ve seen nothing to change my view.
Before I play Devil’s Advocate with that, let me explain what I meant. I didn’t mean we shouldn’t have expectations. Farke and his coaches now have a year’s experience of the Championship; we’ve had to sell our best player, but we’ve captured a number of decent signings and have a deeper squad than last year.
I won’t argue with anyone who expects – across the season – improvement over last year. It’s my expectation too.
If we now have continuity in the coaching staff, though, the same isn’t true of the playing staff. In effect, the front half of the team is new. Rhodes, Pukki, Buendia and McLean (plus Marshall when he plays in a forward role) are new to the club; given his injuries after signing for us, Hernandez is effectively a new signing too.
At the back we have a new keeper, while the effect of Pinto and Hanley missing pre-season has been evident.
With that scale of change and upheaval – albeit less than a year before – it’s just not reasonable to expect everything to click immediately. Reserving judgement until we’ve had a significant number of games, and played against a significant spread of Championship teams, is logical unless something is dramatically wrong.
“But what about the league table?”
I don’t like it any more than you do. But I also said – before the season started, honestly – that in the first few games performances mattered more than results. In particular, I wanted to see whether Farke was capable of making us a more potent attacking force.
The performances have been mixed, of course – which is exactly my point about the need to reserve judgement while changes settle down. I wouldn’t wait 20 games if we were uniformly and consistently awful. But we’re not.
We were the better side at Birmingham on opening day. The West Brom game hinged on a couple of extraordinary individual moments; another day, and that performance would have brought us three points. At 1-1 at Bramall Lane, we looked the more likely winners.
Only against Leeds, and only when they’d weathered our first 20 minutes and scored two quick-fire goals, did we look clearly second-best.
As for the derby, it’s the least indicative of all games. Check any derby in any context (except perhaps Glasgow) and you’ll find the same pattern: Liverpool may finish twelve places above Everton, but the derby games and their scores will probably show something completely different.
As I say: if we were without spirit or ideas, I’d bring forward my 20-game horizon. Of course we’ve shown weaknesses, both individual and collective; we need to iron out the flaws and toughen up our mentality.
But it’s a mixed bag.
“We have good players who should be doing better – Farke’s management is holding them back”
Clearly, some fans have less patience than I do. There have been calls for Farke to be dismissed now, or after the next three games, or in October. Many of them are saying the players are better than the Head Coach.
I wonder if those people have really thought it through. The departure of Farke and his coaching staff would be a big upheaval, at a time when we’re still financially fragile. Just as significantly, though, there’d clearly be upheaval among the players.
We’ve been able to get players like Trybull, Leitner, Pukki, Hernandez and Rhodes within our limited budget because they haven’t been pulling up trees at their old clubs. They’ve responded to Daniel Farke – indeed, to a man they’ve said how Farke’s plans for the team and their personal role were central to their decision to come to Norwich.
Some of our players would probably adapt to, and appeal to, another manager: Hanley, perhaps, and/or Marshall and McLean. But many would not.
Then there’s the youth development which has to be pivotal to our short and medium-term future. Players now contributing to the first team – Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey, Louis Thompson, Todd Cantwell – all heap praise on Farke for his direction of their careers.
Farke’s predecessors didn’t see, or perhaps just weren’t interested to see, their potential (they didn’t even appreciate it in James Maddison).
That’s why I’m holding to my 20-game period before judgement. Of course, necessary change shouldn’t be ducked because of cost or inconvenience. I don’t think for a moment that Stuart Webber (assuming we want to keep him) would duck it – after all, it’s his reputation on the line too.
I just don’t see a compelling case for judgement – let alone change – right now.