City will never get to the semi-final or final of the Champions League – nor will we ever compete in the Champions League for that matter – but how many of a yellow and green persuasion have followed Ajax’s exploits in the knockout stages of this year’s competition and thought, ‘yep, this looks familiar’?
An idiot even tweeted about it:
Ajax’s variation of Farkeball is pretty good. Not quite as sophisticated as the original, but still good
— Gary Gowers (@Gary_Gowers) April 16, 2019
I’m not suggesting for one second we’re going to go to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next season and teach Spurs a footballing lesson, nor will we likely be teaching any of the top six any lessons, but on a smaller scale, we are Ajax.
While they have had more than their share of wilderness years on the European stage, those of us of a certain age can just about recall their 1970s heyday when Johan Cruyff and co strutted their way around Europe – for club and country – taking on all before them with their “total football”.
All of which makes their seemingly unstoppable surge to the Champions League final resonate just that little bit more, especially when they are doing it in a manner similar to that which we now recognise as the ‘Norwich way’.
We quite rightly rave about Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey and Emi Buendia, while Ajax fans have Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt to get excited over – even if all three are almost certain to depart Amsterdam in the summer.
Each team has a sprinkling of experienced heads who act as the glue that holds it all together, and both rely on their players being accomplished technicians who are comfortable with the ball at their feet.
The similarities don’t end there, but for the Dutch, it’s a style that has been honed for decades. For City, it’s one that’s been just two seasons in the making, which in many ways makes it all the more remarkable.
And we’re right to be excited about this brave new world and the direction in which the board and Stuart Webber have taken us. Let’s just hope that, like Ajax, we’ll still be treading this same path in the years and decades to come..
There will, of course, be ups and downs along the way and the cyclical nature of supporting a provincial club will naturally provide enough difficult times to help us appreciate and embrace the good ones – like this season – but I’d love to think that even when Stuart departs for his dream job, the values and culture will remain.
We’ve talked about the ‘Norwich way’ on numerous occasions in the past without ever really knowing what it is, or was, but now we do. And this needs to be embedded for generations to come, in the same way the Ajax philosophy – with its origins in the late 1960s and first seen under Rinus Michels – still shines brightly to this very day.
The Amsterdam club unashamedly cite the old values and traditions of their club, ie – developing their own without lavish spending, selling and then re-investing and renewing. While it was Michels who started the ball rolling, it was best summed up best by Cruyff who, in his time as head coach there, said: “Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”
And there it is, in a nutshell. In a single line, Cruyff has wrapped up the thrust of the self-financing model.
Obviously, it takes more than a snappy one-liner to beat a “richer club” – excellent coaching and recruitment are but two more vital ingredients – but the model begins and ends with the belief that deep pockets are not the be-all and end-all of a successful football club.
Ajax is a bigger club than Norwich City, of course, and to embed a culture from top to bottom is a bigger task the bigger the organisation, but the principle of doing it within your means, by developing your own, to buy low and sell high and to be innovative is a golden thread that now runs through both clubs.
So too the style of football, and how the patient, fluid, possession-based game is introduced to the youngest age groups in the respective academies and filtered out across all age groups and senior teams – the most striking similarity of all.
It’s worth saying again, there is a clear difference between Ajax doing it in Europe’s elite club competition and City doing it in the English second tier, but the similarities in the way the ball is worked through the thirds, the zip, the verve, the fearlessness and the inventiveness in the final third is there for all to see.
That Ajax and Tottenham – who for very different reasons have had a City-style transfer budget over the last two transfer windows – made it to one of the Champions League semi-finals was a result in itself, and was one in the eye for the Man Citys and PSGs whose successes are the very antithesis of self-funded.
All of which makes next season that little bit more mouthwatering. While the prospect of City going toe-to-toe with the top six is somewhat daunting, even the tiniest prospect of seeing one or two being taken down along the way by virtue of some Farkeball more than compensates.
Premier League campaigns of years gone by have been notable for their lack of successful recruitment but we already know this one will be different. Webber and co have earned our trust and, while the media will link City with dozens of names in the coming weeks, it will be a very different summer from previous pre-Prem affairs.
The few names that arrive are unlikely to be familiar but will have been carefully chosen and will, at least on paper, be a perfect fit for Farkeball. And before the summer is over, they will be engrained in the ‘Norwich way’.
So, let’s sit tight, admire the Ajax way, win the league and then trust Stuart and Daniel to bring in the odd unpolished diamond who, after being ‘Colneyed’, will be a fine fit for some total football Norwich-City-style.
While you’re here, you’ll probably have noticed that in order to *hopefully* safeguard the future of MyFootballWriter, we’ve started a fund-raising drive using the Patreon membership model. If you think you could help, or if you’re at least intrigued as to what it’s all about, please have a look here.
We’ve made a steady start but there’s still some way to go before we can look forward to, hopefully, reporting on City as they mix it with the elite of the English game. We’d really appreciate your help people.