Tony Mowbray referenced it, and many others operating the corridors of power will have thought about it.
Norwich City’s methodology from the season just gone will be dissected and emulated by aspirational Championship clubs. Many coaches have eulogised around the way City soared to the summit of the Championship, opting against conforming to the rules outlined by traditionalists who adhere to a specific set of criteria to earn success.
Eighteen months ago, electing to proceed down a route that involved a Head Coach and a Sporting Director operating in tandem, seemed an adventurous approach to adopt.
But accelerate down the timeline to present day, and Daniel Farke’s men have been on a magic carpet ride with the destination being the Premier League. It’s hard to ignore what a brave decision it was to head in this new direction.
With the club staring into the financial abyss, its big decision makers walked into a club on its knees, begging for direction and reconnection.
On the second highest budget in Championship history, Alex Neil and his side flopped. How the club was operating wasn’t sustainable. Something had to give. Yet in many quarters, it was simply perceived as Stuart Webber merely replicating his Huddersfield success by picking up his work and dropping it into NR1.
It’s a narrative that was seized upon with gusto by those outside to the Norfolk bubble, once the happenings at Carrow Road became clear to all.
It felt like a radical departure away from the norm, but now it is well on its way to being perceived as the norm. Farke’s squad of unheralded talent have achieved mission improbable; they arrived as unknown entities but have passed their way to Championship glory.
The beauty of the success was in its unpredictability, but now there is a reason why other clubs want to follow suit.
Education is a huge factor in football.
If City’s success teaches Championship sides anything, it’s that being ambitious doesn’t necessarily need to be defined by big budgets and household names. Ambition can also be a self-belief in a particular direction, while recruitment doesn’t need to rely upon these shores.
Financial insecurity is rife within the Championship at present, with the crystal ball predicting more clubs will fall due to chasing the dream by irresponsibly splashing huge sums of money. Derby or Aston Villa will theoretically find themselves staring administration in the face, whichever one fails to reach the Premier League, and if you add in Financial Fair Play, you get a lot of teams struggling to comply.
That City were able to achieve promotion within their own modest budgets and by complying with FFP, serves as a massive glowing light to those clubs who lack resources.
The formula has been mapped out since Webber’s arrival. At no point did it take a significant detour, nor did the fundamentals of it change. Contrast and compare this with other clubs who have declared a bold new direction only to revert to type once doubt seeped in.
City, regardless of the external noises and negative chants, ploughed on with confidence. Even in the heat of some intense pressure on the board, against Brentford in December 2017, Farke introduced Jamal Lewis for his senior debut. A week later, he made his first start.
Blooding youngsters at times of pressure has become a common scenario during Farke’s reign.
Most coachess would opt for experience over youth but the German has drip-fed his young players into the starting line-up. With Lewis, it was that Brentford appearance, with Ben Godfrey, half a season of watching and learning, and with Max Aarons, a cup game before the intensity of an East Anglian derby.
Underpinning that success has been the togetherness in the dressing room and the mentality instilled by those occupying senior positions in Colney.
But we know it’s going to be difficult and anyone who watched the FA Cup Final will have witnessed the level that awaits Farke’s fledgelings.
Pep Guardiola’s side will be merely one obstacle the Canaries will need to contain next season. Now it’s all about to change. We’re now competing in an arena where corporate hospitality is King, where teams spend more on their defences than some countries spend ensuring they can withstand nuclear bombardment. The grounds are bigger, names are more prominent than shirts, and everything becomes more commercial.
The task will be whether Norwich can maintain that togetherness and continue to operate with youthful exuberance while in a setting where defeats could become more common than victories. But the transformation of the club’s attitudes towards the academy, recruitment and a strong identity means they accelerate into the Premier League in a comfortable position.
Arguably, they are in a stronger position than ever before to build a club that can sustain its seat at the top table for a consistent period.
In an alternative dimension, James Maddison’s injury on the closing day of 2017 would have seen him remain at the club for months. That would have inadvertently halted the Canaries assault to the top tier. That reinvigoration wouldn’t have been witnessed; the enigmatic Marco Stiepermann may still have been a left-back option.
So many variables have contributed to a remarkable campaign.
Maddison’s personal numbers are there for all to see. He was the pivot and the team was built around; it was a game plan concocted around extracting his talents. But remove his goals and Norwich would have been relegation fodder. The mistakes of the past meant Maddison’s stay would be a sweet but short one.
A potential financial abyss threatened to devour the club. Sadly, it was the magic in Maddison’s boots which were sacrificed, but in doing so an equilibrium has been reached that has created a cohesive clockwork surrounding the club.
Underpinning it all are several buzzwords: ‘togetherness’, ‘identity’, ‘philosophy’ and ‘culture’.
Yet, perhaps the most pertinent is bravery.
Whether that’s in recruitment, youth development or through their patterns of play, City’s bravery is what stems right through the heart of the club’s operations.
It’s embodied in the work of Webber and Farke, but is also tangible around the feel of Colney through the building works.
No longer is this a club that fears being in the shadows; it’s now one that is frantically attempting to create its own light.
Rebellious, adaptable and exciting – that’s the challenge Norwich pose to the Premier League. Fundamentally, they need to retain those values among the prawn sandwiches, inflated transfer fees and corporateness of the Premier League.
As Webber said, they’ve climbed Everest, reached the summit and now it’s time to do it again.
Who would bet against them?