You can surmise a lot about departures by looking at the arrivals.
So, as we enter the weeks which will shape Norwich City’s destiny for the next few seasons, what have we learned so far?
City’s prospects of being properly competitive in the Championship depend on who is retained and who is recruited before the transfer window closes.
And if this season brings disappointment on the pitch – which is what happens to most clubs relegated from the Premier League – then the moment and momentum might well be lost. The club we care about could be marooned in the second tier for another long stay.
I’m not saying that will happen. I most certainly don’t want that to happen. But of the 24 teams in the Championship this season, 18 have been in the Premier League. All of them went down vowing to bounce straight back.
So, what can we work out about our squad from the arrivals so far: two strikers and, if the Gary O’Neill signing goes through, a box-to-box midfielder?
I’d take the early signing of two forwards as a clear indication of a clear-out. I’d expect our club and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel to agree with his agent that the Championship “is not the stage for his talents”.
One of the enduring myths about last season is that Chris Hughton didn’t play to RVW’s strengths. I am not trying to resurrect the Hughton argument. I lost that one and don’t want to be divisive ahead of a campaign when unity in the stands will be especially important.
But RVW didn’t do enough in the box. He did not work defenders. He stood and waited for deliveries instead of ensuring that he got across the front of his marker. And, as the season unfolded, his confidence hit the floor and his touch became terrible.
I think that if RVW had managed just five or six goals for us, we’d still be in the Premier League. But he didn’t.
In Portugal, he played for one of the best teams in a poor league. In England he played for a poor team in a tough league. And he went from a goal every couple of games to a goal a season.
So, soon after the end of the season, Ewan Chester, who was ‘head of recruitment’ – chief scout in old money – paid the price for suggesting RVW as our major signing. Chester was sacked and replaced by Barry Simmonds, whom I have known tangentially for quite a few years and whom like and respect.
The best course of action regarding RVW would be to bang him out on loan, probably abroad. If we sell him this summer, we’ll make a big loss. But if he can find some form while loaned out, we could flog him for a reasonable fee.
I’m sure Neil Adams would like to keep Gary Hooper. I’m not so sure about the attitude towards Luciano Becchio, whose own attitude appears far too compliant. He seemed far too complacent, too comfortable, about not getting a game for so long.
In midfield, I imagine O’Neill is seen as part of the answer to the likely departures of Leroy Fer and Alex Tettey. Fer scored in the World Cup. He’s not going to play in the Championship. Tettey seems to have upset Adams last season at a time when we needed everyone supporting the interim boss.
There have been no defensive acquisitions yet, but there are still some clues to inspect.
Seb Bassong was a Hughton man. He played for him at Newcastle and spoke highly of him at every opportunity. I don’t expect him to hang around and try to build a similar rapport with Adams.
But what clues do we have about Adams himself? Have we gleaned anything from the pre-season games?
Well, it’s been back to the future. He’s used a diamond system quite a lot, with Andrew Surman occupying the left-hand berth and Wes Hoolahan deployed at the apex. Déjà vu all over again.
That’s interesting and counter-intuititve. The game has changed since the diamond shone so brightly for us under Paul Lambert.
Most teams played 4-2-3-1 last season, which gave them numerical advantage in midfield against any playing 4-4-2. Again, I’m not trying to fight old wars, but my complaint about Hughton was not that he was too defensive but that he played two strikers too often in the wrong games – at Everton, at home to Fulham and so-on – and our formation ceded the midfield to the opposition’s five men.
It is possible that the World Cup is going to suggest to a rash of teams that they play with three centre backs. That is what Luis Van Gaal intends to do at Manchester United. If the idea catches on in the Championship, then a diamond, with its narrow midfield, would face teams using wingbacks. Hmmm.
But, being relentlessly positive about Norwich managers, I prefer to look at our diamond geezers like this: the system puts Wes in the position where he can unpick defences and Surman can also see and deliver a pass between defenders.
At Youth level, Adams made the most of the players at his disposal – in particular, the Murphy twins – by devising a system to suit them. It meant counter-attacking with blistering pace and using the flanks. There are two lessons there for Adams and for those of us who watch and cheer: pace pays, and using what you have got is better than having pre-conceived prejudices about what system is best.
The good news for Norwich (if not for football generally) is that parachute payments are much more generous than when we last received them. We will get £23 million this season, £18m in 2015-16, and then two seasons of £9m – although we hope we’re back in the Premier League long before that.
But we’re getting a parachute because income falls off a cliff when you’re relegated from the Premier League. That £23m is a big splodge of money. But we received more than £60m in the Prem.
So it is hugely important that the board insisted that every player had a “relegation clause” in his contract, cutting his salary for this season.
And the old news about having no outside debts because of the work done by chairman Alan Bowkett and chief executive David McNally retains immense significance now that revenue is taking such a big hit. It means that we don’t have to stage a fire sale of players just to pay back banks.
So what are our prospects?
If our goalkeeper is John Ruddy, our centre-backs include Michael Turner and we have Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson available in midfield, then I feel confident.
If we can keep Martin Olsson and Nathan Redmond, I’ll be happy.
If Jamar Loza, Adel Gafaiti and the Murphys can exploit the opportunities Adams will give them, then I’ll expect the sort of goose bump nights the young Canaries gave us at Stamford Bridge in 2013.
And if we’ve got the recruitment of forwards right this time, then this time next season I’ll be previewing a season which will include visits to the Eithad.
That’s a lot of “ifs”. And the next few weeks will determine so much.
Good read Mick. So £64m reduces to £23m for the current season. Do those much vaunted “relegation clauses” actually cover this shortfall completely?
Stephen Moore says
An honest & objective view Mick, personally the only thing i would like is for RVW to give City till January before a decision is made, it gives the club time to find a decent replacement if required and its a chance for him to build his damaged reputation. Adams is going to have to get off to a flyer and continue it to keep the masses of his back, far too many ex City players turned managers have lost the shine after taking the hotseat at CR.
A top two position is there for the taking and i believe the squad has it in its locker to make it happen.
There is a dash of positivity about the start of the new season, but I can’t see most of these guys hanging around – Hughton has done too much damage to most of them, which would have tainted their view of the club (not to mention my love of the game, hence my mild reticence).
I still get, even though you say you don’t want to rake up old arguments, this feeling of support/regret for Hughton in your words. Taking everything in to consideration, I find that odd for a man so experienced in football as yourself. Even my Mum, who has watched about 2 games in her life (both were World Cup finals) surmised Hughton’s tenure to perfection – “He seems like a waste of space” (which wasn’t fed by me as I stupidly supported him til Chrimbo!)
Danny Lineker says
Interesting thoughts although our two new strikers seem to have slipped off your radar – Grabban and Lafferty? If Hooper stays, then they have to be our 3 main strikers – I just don’t see Ricky digging deep in the Championship and shaking off those ‘issues’ which you pointed out in his play of last season.
Although the Adams reign already seems promising in terms of attacking play and goals, let’s not get carried away by the pre season goal fests – quite frankly, my cat could have bagged a couple against some of the outfits who we’ve played in July.
I’d like to see us bid for the African who’s in the news – Ebola. Poses a threat, gets through defences and can adapt to any system..
Very interesting read as always Mick. Have to say I’d be disappointed if RVW departed – think he has a big point to prove not least to himself and I think moving on now would always leave a huge question mark, ones of those that could actually do more long-term harm than good. As for Fer, I really don’t get this ‘he scored a goal therefore he’s fantastic’ mentality – sure it was a well taken goal but other than that he didn’t really set the tournament alight. For the season ahead I’m quietly optimistic – at the least it will be good to see some goals and a bit of heart! OTBC!
Hi Mick, i have to agree with Jon. I can’t understand fans who suggest we should get rid of RVW. He seems more committed than ever. Your suggestion of him not doing enough, hides some important facts. One, the system we played rarely had a ball in behind defenders. Two, we had Snodgrass, who couldn’t cross a ball if his life depended on it. Three, Chris Hughton was 100%, complete and utter crap. It wasn’t just a few games. His tactics throughout the season and the one before were awful at best. Your undeniable support for him, Roeder and now your attempt to place a lot of the blame on RVW’s shoulders makes your articles seem empty and pointless. If we keep RVW, he could quite easily be top goal scorer. Iwan Roberts didn’t do too bad did he?
So, Leroy Fer came off the bench to score in a World Cup final group stage match.
Well, amongst many many others, you can add the familiar names of Craig Burley, Matt Holland, Kevin Sheedy, Colin Clarke, Darren Anderton, Stuart McCall and Ray Houghton to that list of WC group scorers.
Whilst some proven decent top flight players at one time or another, all spent time in the lower leagues AFTER their WC exploits, so I don’t think that a WC goal alone from Fer should elevate him to such status as being to good for the Championship.
In my eyes, he has more to prove yet to justify that.
Alan Pratt says
I’m not sure where all this unconditional love is coming from for Ricky in the comments? Every striker has runs of bad form and low confidence but they have to show desire and effort at those times, particularly when being paid at the level Ricky is. Clearly, he let himself and the club down in that department with the stroppy reactions to being substituted and the ‘leaving on a jet plane’ incident on the last day of the season.
With a chance of going to Brazil in the summer, such petulance is mind-boggling and I’m not sure he’s matured over the summer. I hope Fer stays – he was excellent in the first half of the season but never fully recovered after the injury layoff.
Ben K says
I agree that Fer didn’t do anything much to earn a lucrative move this summer. One header when completely unmarked isn’t much to shout about, but if a club wants a bit of a name signing at a low price he’d be a good option for quite a few. ‘Look at us, buying a player who scored for the Dutch at the World Cup’ they’d be saying, so I expect him to leave. And I wouldn’t be too bothered if he did. He often looked like his heart wasn’t in it while playing in the PL, so I can’t imagine he’d be scrapping for every ball in the Championship.
don mann says
our midfield was good until we signed fer and tettey so the sooner they go that will let surman and hoolahan take control with different attacking ideas and then hopper and lafferty will get the goals to put us back in premier league next year
Mick Dennis says
To clarify: I’m not saying a World Cup goal means Fer’s too good for us. I say it means his agent will be able to get him to a club paying considerably more than Championship wages.
Morris C. says
If a manager of the standing of van Gaal thinks enough of Fer to take him to Brazil (whilst in a relegation-bound side) and put him on at a crucial stage of a group game, then PL clubs are going to pick their heads up. Let’s be honest, who had heard of Divock Origi before the WC? His one goal got him a move to Anfield.