Harold Wilson was nearly right. A week may be a long time in politics, but it’s equally true in football management.
This time last week we were gearing ourselves up for another home ‘must-win’ in the knowledge that, despite the miserable away form, Chris Hughton and Carrow Road had generally proved to be a successful combination.
One no-show later and the resentment that had been bubbling just below the surface exploded. Those who had been bursting to vent their spleen, but were unable to do so because of the decent home record, at last had carte blanche to unleash. And they did.
In scenes reminiscent of the infamous Nigel Worthington/Burnley afternoon it became clear, in the swish of a clapper, that Hughton’s time was up.
David McNally knew it, Delia and Michael knew it, 25,000 clad in yellow knew it, and I suspect, deep down, Hughton knew it too. There remained of course the option of permitting him the final five games to pull City out of the mire, but never would ‘dead man walking’ have been more apt.
As it happened Sunday night’s announcement caught me a little off-guard. Despite the grimness of Saturday, and the deflation felt by all, I expected the board to honour their ‘keep us out of the bottom three and your job is safe’ pledge until the end of the season. The fact said statement made no allowance for City dropping into the final three in the last couple of games was presumably why the power-brokers decided to act.
Mick Dennis’ fine piece gave us a fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes events that led to the decision to call time on Hughton’s tenure and reminded us again what a ruthless business it is – and has to be. And which makes it even harder when the subject of said ruthlessness is a gentleman.
Hughton is indeed one of the game’s ‘nice guys’. There are no excuses for not knowing that; we’re constantly reminded by those who claim his treatment to be unjust. As ever, those for whom a trip to the fine city is regarded as a pleasant, twice-yearly jaunt to the country, claim to know more than those who watch City week in week out.
Alas, being a nice guy, whose dealings with the media are a pleasure for all concerned, doesn’t automatically equate to being one equipped to steer City to mid-table mediocrity. Neither does it automatically make your team one that’s prepared to fight tooth and nail for Premier League survival. And, perhaps more critically, it doesn’t naturally engender a style of play that strikes perfectly the balance between solid defence and free-flowing attack.
What it does prepare you for is dealing with press conferences and interviews with absolute aplomb. Which he did. And the same with every supporter, critic and abstainer that crossed his path. And if we needed reminding of his niceness, his statement released by the League Managers Association did just that.
Love him or hate him, the man has genuine class and for all the brickbats hurled in his direction over the last 22 months not once has he flinched. Even when confronted by a baying mob and flying clappers he showed the good grace we have come to expect, and for that reason alone I hope his tenure as City manager will not be remembered solely for its turgid second season.
Instead I’d like to think he will be lauded for the magnificent achievement of 11th place in his first season and remembered as the thoroughly decent human being he is. It’s all a little raw right now but I’m hopeful the passage of time will allow us to focus on the highs and move on from the lows.
Naturally there is no getting away from how disappointing this season has been. Not particularly because of City’s lowly position in the table – heaven forbid we should aspire to a top half finish (one for the national pundits/journos) – but generally because of the fare on offer.
Hughton’s instinctive desire for caution was always going to be a problem given the gung-ho Lambert years on which we had recently gorged ourselves, but his natural penchant to retreat further when the chips were down became almost too much to bear – especially away from home.
While I was emphatic in my support for Team Hughton (unreasonably so according to some) in the first half of this season, the doubts had started to creep in by the time Fulham (who else) staged their Boxing Day smash and grab. Those doubts turned into alarm bells when only that Elmander-inspired late rally saved a St Mary’s massacre.
Even at that stage I was of the belief that the board’s patience may yet yield a turnaround, but in the last few weeks it has become clear the effect of the increasingly bleak away-days was taking its toll.
In hindsight my unswerving faith was ill-judged. But only in hindsight. I kept the faith because I genuinely believed that stability at managerial level was the best thing for Norwich City.
The players too have a case to answer. While there is no suggestion Hughton had ‘lost’ the dressing room, it became increasingly clear his message was either falling on deaf ears or was not being implemented as he would have wished.
A few whispers have leaked out regarding the unhappiness of one or two with regard to tactics, but the failure to pass the ball with precision to a team-mate is not something that should be laid at the door of the manager. For every failing on the part of Hughton there have been an equivalent number from the players.
But, now is not the time to apportion blame. Instead, it almost goes without saying that every breath and sinew must be strained to its limit in support of Neil Adams. And it will be.
For all the rights and wrongs, Sunday evening’s announcement created a buzz across the Canary nation unlike any other in the last 22 months. If part of McNally’s rationale was to re-energise the flagging Yellow Army it looks to have worked and we head to Craven Cottage with a spring in the step that wasn’t there at 5pm last Saturday.
Whether Adams can work his magic on a squad of seasoned pros remains to be seen but, with confidence and belief at an all-time low after the West Brom game, the sound of some different pre-match tones could well be what’s required to refresh some jaded minds.
Clearly the task of getting the message across to a bunch of impressionable 17 and 18 year-olds is different to instructing a dressing room full of established Premier League players, but Adams has passion, belief and a tactical nous that was showcased in last season’s FA Youth Cup final. He will also have a united and raucous Yellow Army behind him.
It’s been a traumatic week – one that will remain in the memory for some time – but, like all of us, I’m hopeful it can end on a positive note.
I dare not consider the consequences of Felix Magath’s men giving us the Craven Cottage treatment, but even if the worst were to happen the Canary nation will still be unswerving in its support of those in yellow for the remainder of the season.
Instead, I’m content to dream that City are yet capable of overcoming the Fulham hoodoo and do to the Cottagers what the Baggies did to us six days ago.
Let’s keep believing.