So, the finger of blame for City’s current travails appears to have been pointed at Mark Robson.
But is that really where the key failing lies?
I suspect not. But before I put forward my alternative theory, here’s an update on how our daughter is getting on with her preparations for her school entrance exams.
We’ve been discussing essay content and structure lately and one previously-set title we looked at was this:
‘Discuss the good and bad points about competition in modern life.’
Our daughter, having a strong competitive streak herself, was quick to see the positive aspects: “If you’re in competition with someone and trying to beat them, it makes you try harder and do better”.
A sound point. But she struggled a bit with the negative side of the question.
Fortunately that’s my speciality, so I was able to help. As ever, football was my first point of reference; I explained how the competitive element is now being played down at youth level, since the FA has finally recognised that an emphasis on results and league tables is detrimental to young players’ development of technique and understanding of the game.
We went on to talk about how competition can hinder progress because it deters cooperation. On a corporate level, for example, the development of new medicines often takes longer because rival pharmaceutical companies aren’t keen on sharing their breakthroughs with each other.
And on a personal level, individuals who keep a metaphorical arm around their work in a primary school style will not achieve as much as if they helped one another. (Unless they’re actually in school doing a test, obviously, in which case cooperation will get them both punished for cheating.)
The principle of working together to achieve better results than individually has long been established in my regular field of work (advertising) where members of the (air quotes) creative department generally operate in pairs.
And it’s this principle which seems to be absent in City’s current strike pairing – you’ll notice I didn’t say ‘partnership’ – of Grabban and Jerome.
They’re both very good, proven strikers at this level. But the problem is that they’re playing as individuals. It’s like having two lone strikers, if that makes sense.
I haven’t seen any official stats on how often the two of them pass to each other, but I’ve been keeping half an eye on it in recent matches. I counted one pass at Fulham and one again at Forest.
When Grabban was interviewed after the Blackpool game, he mentioned that if one of them isn’t scoring, it’s up to the other one to do it: they evidently see themselves as performing the same role alongside each other rather than working together. And when asked how much he enjoys playing with Jerome, Grabban’s immediate reaction was to laugh. I didn’t read anything significant into it at the time, but now I wonder.
I’m not suggesting they don’t get on, by the way. The two of them are certainly not as bad as Ibrahimovic and Cavani at PSG (there’s something I never expected to write) who really don’t appear to like each other. Though of course mutual loathing needn’t preclude a profitable relationship, as Sheringham and Cole demonstrated at Manchester United.
Perhaps it’s a wider issue. Maybe, with the majority of top teams playing with a single striker these days, the art of playing as a pair up front is being lost. The combination of Suarez and Sturridge at Liverpool last season stood out all the more because it’s now something of an anomaly.
But you won’t be surprised to hear it’s not the wider issue that concerns me; it’s the specific situation at Norwich. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the lack of chemistry between Grabban and Jerome lies at the heart of our current slump.
It’s a counterintuitive theory, I know. The defending has clearly been shocking in the last two games – and I’m not just talking about the back four. The failure of our midfielders to track runners has been appalling, especially at Middlesbrough.
But I think the defensive failings in the team stem from a general lack of confidence and belief – which in turn comes from the inability of the front two to play together. It’s like a fault which has gone uncorrected and has eventually compromised the whole structure.
Even at my lowly level, I’ve played enough football to know that when your strikers are on fire, it gives the whole team a lift. Everyone’s performance improves, all over the pitch.
Conversely, when it’s not working up front, everything else becomes so much harder. The pressure increases on the rest of the team because you know that just one slip is likely to be very costly.
Although it’s not an exact correlation, you can also make a general case that City’s downturn has coincided with Neil Adams’ (understandable) desire to accommodate his two leading scorers in the side.
So what is to be done? As I see it, there are three alternatives:
1) We play one or the other, but not both.
2) We try a different pairing. I don’t know what the right pairing might be; it’s often something that only reveals itself through experimentation – though Adams perhaps doesn’t have the time to indulge in trial and error now. It may even be that the best partnership doesn’t involve the best individual strikers; Robert Rosario was by no measure a prolific scorer, but his partnership with Robert Fleck still worked.
3) More time is devoted on the training ground to helping Grabban and Jerome play off each other.
Whichever option is favoured, it’s clear that the first team coach is going to be kept fully occupied for the next few weeks.