In the cyclical nature of football I guess you could say City are ‘mid trough’
We have had a good run – a brilliant run in fact – and not a single foot soldier could have seen it coming as those two fat blokes hurled their season tickets in the direction of poor Bryan Gunn.
What followed was beyond our wildest dreams and it felt good. The peaks are now etched in Canary history.
That it has now gone southwards – and caused divisions aplenty in the Canary Nation – is hard to swallow but, in the greater scheme of things, I would suggest it is symptomatic of where Norwich City is as a football club.
In the real world we are of an ilk where ‘continued improvement’ in the Premier League was always going to be a massive ask – certainly in terms of improving on 11th place. It didn’t seem an unreasonable aspiration at the time but as it turned out now seems a million miles away.
While I can understand ‘continued improvement’ forming the core of the club’s mission statement (it’s hardly likely to say ‘to stand still’) to sustain it while still in the hands of “poor millionaires” was always going to be a big ask.
To have a balance sheet that shows zero level of external debt is one huge achievement, and can’t be under-estimated but, as we found to our cost, does little to gear you up for going toe-to-toe with those backed by massive wealth.
And I’m not just talking the Manchester Citys or Chelseas – whose reliance on Russian and Middle Eastern oil has taken them to a completely different financial stratosphere. I’m talking the Southamptons, the West Hams, even the Hull Citys, all of whom have backing of a very different level to Norwich City.
Our midfield was crying out last season for one in the mould of Tom Huddleston, but I suspect any chance of luring that ‘not quite good enough for the top five’ type of quality was scuppered by the level of reward on offer in the Fine City. Similarly their transfer window double of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long.
All of them out of City’s financial reach. Like it or not, the amber and black are currently fighting on a different level to the yellow and green.
Of course, the margins remain fine and if Chris Hughton’s (or should that be Ewan Chester’s) summer search for a goalscorer or two had proved just a fraction more fruitful we’d still be a Premier League club.
But still, this summer, we’d likely have come off second best if challenging head-to-head for a player’s signature with those blessed with deeper pockets – which is around 90 per cent of the Premier League.
Even in the Championship there will be several with more financial clout than City – and we may not find ourselves the ‘big shots’ that some seem to believe.
During the now infamous Radio Norfolk phone-in Delia spoke passionately of retaining City’s identity, and not selling out to those who would no longer perceive the club as pivotal to Norfolk and its community but who would instead see Norwich City FC as another branch of its portfolio.
In the same phone-in David McNally spoke of operating on our current financial footing for the foreseeable future.
Clearly, where once the board were scouring the world for investment, they now appear to have accepted that being debt-free but with no fresh investment is how it is going to be for the short to medium term. The search, it seems, is over.
And in truth, that’s how it has to be. With external investment comes risk, not to mention a potential lack of control, and it is clear that Delia and Co are not about to expose themselves and the club to the former and relinquish the latter. At least not without knowing the club’s future is in safe, wholesome hands. The waters are indeed full of sharks, but many have already been lured in.
It goes without saying that Delia and Michael have the best interests of the club at heart – and after witnessing the shenanigans at Cardiff and, ironically, Hull who could blame them – but, equally, there is not a single owner or investor out there who will tick all of their boxes.
It remains a square that can’t be circled. Do we bumble along betwixt Premier League and Championship in the knowledge that yo yo will could become our middle name, or risk selling our soul in search of the ruble, the dirham or the dollar? I suspect I know the answer.
In fact it remains a hypothetical argument. The previous fruitless search suggests that little old Norwich is not deemed an attractive investment opportunity in the world of high finance, even less so now it has a healthy balance sheet.
Those aforementioned clubs have one thing in common: they were all ‘basket cases’ who were deemed ripe for the picking by their respective angel investors. Chuck Ipswich Town in to that same equation, albeit their particular angel investor hasn’t quite turned out as they had hoped.
Of course, the fact the club, in terms of finances at least, is no basket case makes it a more costly investment proposition. To then expect the investor to live and breathe the club in the way we all do narrows the field considerably…
As ever, there are exceptions to the rule and West Brom and Swansea both look to be making a decent fist of being a Premier League club minus a benefactor. Only time will tell if that model remains sustainable for them in the longer term. I hope it is.
Equally, external investment is far from the only answer. Indeed, if it were to become the only way it would then become a game of ‘my investor is bigger than your investor’ and then off we would all go again.
The Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules are clearly there to reduce one’s ability to ‘do an Abramovich’ but already loopholes are being found to scupper Sepp Blatter’s best made plans, and no-one is expecting to see a significant shift in the pecking order of the Premier League as a result.
But, we are where we are and, as McNally reminded us, our financial position is not about to change any time soon regardless of whether we want it to. It appears the cloth (and players’ contracts) has been cut accordingly and ours is a sustainable business model even while in the Championship, so, in that regard, all is good.
For the club to become a player at the top table for the long-term would require a seismic shift in outlook. One that, for all the right reasons, the club looks unprepared to take.
Would we have it any other way?