Fans of Only Fools and Horses will remember a scene where the character Trigger (a street cleaner) proudly boasts of having had the same broom for over 20 years.
“This old broom has had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles in its time” he states, prompting quizzical looks and the obvious reply:
“How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?”
Over the next few weeks, Alex Neil and David McNally face an important challenge: improving the quality within the squad whilst retaining its fundamental sense of identity.
Or to put it another way, to stick a new handle on our old broom.
The dilemma for any promoted side is to gauge the extent to which you keep faith with the squad that got you promoted rather than relying on new players who are arguably better equipped for a higher division.
I recently suggested that a key factor for us next season could be the team-spirit that currently exists within the dressing room. We have a group of players who went on a collective roller-coaster ride that ended in jubilation on the Wembley balcony.
The question now is how many of them will stand together once more on the opening day against Palace and how many will find themselves frozen out by new arrivals? How much of the chemistry and team-spirit will remain as a result?
It’s a juggling act that Paul Lambert mastered as he transformed the group of players he inherited in League One into a squad that secured top flight safety – all within the space of four transfer windows.
Approaching each window, Lambert would signal his intentions to “bring in one or two, to give the lads a hand.” What he actually meant off course was that he was going to replace those players whose ability couldn’t keep pace with the club’s meteoric rise through the divisions.
However the inference was always that it would be minor tweaks and that the squad and its precious team spirit would remain intact.
In many respects he was lucky that the club’s rise was mirrored by that of Grant Holt, who provided stability throughout the Lambert years. He was the club captain, multiple Player of the Season winner, leading goal scorer and a big figure in the dressing room (not a dig at his waistline).
Holty became a talisman and alongside Wes Hoolahan and Russell Martin, provided the club with consistency and identity. The overhaul of playing staff that took place under Lambert was significant but it always felt like a gradual evolution with Holty as the figurehead.
All good things come to an end of course but when we swapped our number 9 for a flashy expensive new one, it left a massive hole (again not a dig at his physique) and fundamentally changed the dynamic within the team. Snoddy’s attempt to take over the mantle was perhaps as successful as his attempt to take over penalty duties.
It wasn’t the first time either. Promotion in 2004 saw the departure of two big characters in Iwan Roberts and Malky MacKay. City legends who helped define the title-winning side but who were deemed surplus to requirements immediately after.
In both examples, it ended in tears the following season and whilst I’m not suggesting this was the sole reason for either of those relegations, there’s so much more to building and sustaining a team than simply bolting on expensive new signings. If that were true, Man City’s millions would have bought the Champions League a long time ago.
The off-season is a trying time for any football fan. There’s an understandable clamour for transfer news and questions over when and where the club is going to splash the cash.
It’s fun to speculate of course but some folk seem all too keen on slotting each new rumoured target into their starting XI with little regard for who makes way and what that does to the balance of the team.
Let’s not forget that unlike our last two promotion-winning sides, Alex Neil already has a squad packed full of Premier League experience. He also has characters such as Wes and Russ that have been an integral part of the City journey through good times and bad.
Yes we need to strengthen but if it was down to me, I would leave the majority of the squad unchanged and (as a wise man once put it) just “bring one or two in to give the lads a hand”.
Absolutely right about team spirit but we do need some more quality. As you say, the team is packed full of premier league experience – and the experience of being relegated from it. Of course there were all sorts of reasons for that but a major factor has to be that ultimately the players weren’t good enough. Yes, let’s do the ‘tweaking’ but we need some quality coming in. Last time in the premier we couldn’t score goals – two of forwards (Jerome and Hooper) have failed to score regularly in the premier before and in Grabban we have someone who hasn’t played at that level. I know it didn’t work out spending big on the Wolf last time but that shouldn’t put us off doing it again.
Gary Field says
Last time we invested in two strikers from “second level” European leagues (Portugal and Scotland) and, whilst there’s nothing to suggest that strikers from those parts aren’t capable of making the step up, they’re usually plying their trade at that level for a reason.
That’s why, personally, I think you should be looking at strikers with decent experience from either the Premier League, Spain, Italy or Germany. That, of course, is going to cost serious money and, begs the question, are Norwich prepared to invest such money on just one player?
I guess, answering my own question, given our financial position is much healthier than last time, it’s far more likely now than ever before.
It’s still going to require a huge leap of faith by the Board and manager.
Watch this space!
Stewart Lewis says
A lot of good sense in the article and first comments.
We probably made a mistake in ditching Iwan and Malky. They wouldn’t have been regular starters in the top division, but their influence in the dressing room and help to younger players might have been invaluable. Under the fierce pressures of the Premier League, cool heads and experienced voices are a precious commodity.
To me, we need strengthening at both ends of the pitch – that’s where the Premier League is unforgiving, even without Suarez. Gary’s point about strikers is right, but ‘serious money’ is something of an understatement and his solution may still be beyond our means.
If a striker has a sustained record of success (around 1 goal in 2 games or better) just outside the top divisions, he’s worth looking at. Especially if he’s technically strong, two-footed, an international and still young enough to learn. I’m looking at one who’s 25, scored 173 goals in 325 games and has those attributes. Convention wisdom says he’s lost his edge in the past 3 years – well, he’s scored 74 goals in 143 apps in those years.
Jordan Rhodes, anyone?
Cosmo P. says
I thought Bradley J. took up the talisman role superbly last season. Great goals, total commitment and a visceral connection with the paying punters.
Whether he can carry that on at the top level will be fascinating to see – he had one or two nightmares under Hughton and came in for some shocking stick lest we forget.
I don’t see any ‘marquee’ signings, just solid back-ups to the core that gave us such a splendid Wembley memory…still seems like yesterday.
Stewart Lewis – Good call on Rhodes. Definitely worth looking at. I guess it depends on his price tag though.
Andy/Gary Lewis – The reason why we struggled to score last time is because we had a manager who was intent on ‘not losing’, as opposed to winning.
The difference in tactics is obvious to see. All Canaries fans should be able to see that. Our first season we finished comfortably in 12th without even looking like we were going to be relegated. Our next two season were completely different. Why? Because we had Hughton as manager.
Personally, I don’t think we need to strengthen as much as some fans would like to think. The only marquee signing we need is at centre back. Other than that, we need squad players to keep the others on their toes. Alex Neil is more meticulous than Paul Lambert so I have no doubt that we will be fine next season.
Ash Diback says
Stewart..Jordan Rhodes? Can we forgive him for once being a Tractor boy?
Any more Scots at the club and they’ll start selling yellow and green kilts in the club shop.
Gary Field says
@3 Stewart – I note what you’re saying, but, unless we genuinely can’t afford a £15m striker, isn’t the suggestion of Rhodes just a repetition of our previous buys?
Buying someone with no Premier League experience is just the same gamble?
Lambert was a magician at this – his smoke and mirrors made it feel that from league 1 up to the PL we were the same “us”, while he carefully strengthened where needed. Of all of the attributes the current squad have, it was their team spirit and togetherness that led them to success, and with the transfer budgets we’re looking at, this is again our best chance of survival. I have always believed that selling Malky and Iwan had a critical impact in 2004. I’m happy to trust Alex Neil on which of the players are important for team spirit, as I believe (like Lambert) that he sees this as as important as other skills – these may not be the players that everyone thinks are the strongest on the pitch, and it may be something only evident in training and the dressing room.
So I’m hoping that Alex Neil can weave some Lambertesque magic and add a few absolutely key players and make us all (including the team) believe that the team that runs out on the 8th August is the same “us” that so professionally and with such belief won our place in the PL at Wembley. Because that team, with the yellow army standing so unequivocally behind them, are a match for anyone.
Stewart Lewis says
Gary (7): Of course Rhodes would be a gamble, but perhaps with some reasons for optimism that it would succeed.
I’m sure you’re not claiming that your suggestion (an established top-flight striker from e.g. Spain or Italy) is devoid of risk. I’ll just say two words: Dani Osvaldo.
Ash (6): a half-and-half yellow/green kilt might be a hot item. Especially with a big yellow sporran in the front….
Ben K says
Speaking of transfers, I saw this article in The Guardian today, about the various strategies and teams that Premier League clubs use to get players in. Some of you may beg to differ with the bit about Norwich if you’re in the know (I’m not; and I don’t know how much homework was done for this article) but it doesn’t stack up well against the others, like Saints for a start, and the position of Head of Recruitment being vacant since March seems like a rum old do.
Have a read: http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2015/jul/03/premier-league-transfers-who-decides-club-buys?CMP=EMCFTBEML853
Steve Cook says
Katie (8) – spot on! I wish I could have put it as eloquently in the article. As you say, we don’t witness the real dynamic in the dressing room and at Colney so Alex is best placed to judge the characters and their ‘roles’
Daniel (5) – the Van Dijk rumours might fit your theory of a Marquee CB. Would agree it’s a position we need to strengthen with Cuellar leaving and Turner presumably on his way out. Does that mean the end to the Seb and Russ partnership? Russ seemingly doesn’t want to play RB and Whitts performed brilliantly under AN
Ben (10) – interesting link. I’ve seen bits about a new head of recruitment – guy from Burnley whose name escapes me. Not sure if the head of recruitment has been recruited though!!
jeremy young says
I hate the term premier league experience – we heard it all the time under hughton and it led to a rather sterile team that was too timid and lacked the buccaneering style of lambert
Gary Field says
@9 Stewart – all transfers are a risk, no matter how much, or, how little, you spend.
Spending big doesn’t guarantee success but, generally, “get what you pay for” – although I doubt £8m for a Championship left back will be seen as “value for money” over the course of the next 38 games!
Premier League Pedant says
It’s hard to know what players to look for if there’s no obvious weak links in the side, but I think we all want pretty much the same thing – a dominant centre-back, a creative midfielder to take some pressure off Wes, and a 15-goal-a-season striker. Trouble is every team in the league is after the same thing, so we have to be prepared to spend to a new level if we want to add genuine quality, especially with the jump in revenue from season 16/17.
Bit harsh on Snoddy isn’t it Steve? He did claim a Barry Butler Trophy of his own after all (and Guzan was way off his line for that penalty, although I’ve just about let it go now). Incidently, I hope both him and Holty can successfully resume their careers this season after horrible knee injuries.
Stewart Lewis says
Not only do I love Premier League Pedant’s name, I have to agree with him. Snoddy and Fer may be similar level players, but for attitude and commitment they were chalk and cheese. I’m loath to criticise someone who gave as much as Snoddy did, especially in the (ultimately unsuccessful) fight against relegation.
Premier League Pedant says
Thanks Stewart! I used to be Neil N. Pray (and ShinyShoes, til Shoes got sacked), but my prayers were answered at Wembley, so my new mission is to make sure everyone knows exactly which league we are in, and what it is called.