In my last piece I grappled with the question: “Where are you from?”
For those who missed it, it was some thoughts about Gorleston rather than an insight into the deeper mysteries of existence. Still a tricky one, but it turns out much more straightforward than today’s issue: “As Norwich fans, what should we expect?”
One of the things I love about this site is the exchange of views. Even when I profoundly disagree, I enjoy how people take the opportunity to make a case – which sometimes does require more than 140 characters.
That’s why I miss one contributor from a while ago, even though we drove each other crazy. Essentially, his stance was that we shouldn’t settle for anything less than City being among the top clubs in the top division. I applauded that desire but argued that our expectations should be tempered by realism.
We never found common ground and other contributors weighed in on both sides. On reflection I think we both had a point, and it’s a debate as relevant today as back then.
There’s a piece of analysis that’s surely relevant, even if it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. Every year, a group ranks the Premier League clubs by resources (as reflected in wage bills, transfer spend etc) and compares that ranking to actual performance in the league.
There’s always a high correlation. Depressingly – if not surprisingly – the best-resourced clubs tend to challenge for the title while the least resourced ones are battling at the bottom. Hence the case for realism.
But there are always striking exceptions. The years I first looked at the analysis were 2011-12 and 2012-13 – our first two years back in the Prem. In those years, two clubs dramatically under-performed (i.e. finished much worse than their resources would have predicted).
While you think about who they were, another two clubs dramatically over-performed (i.e. finished much higher than resources would have suggested). They were Everton under David Moyes (a better manager than we now think of him), and Norwich under Paul Lambert and Chris Hughton.
Norwich were clearly in the bottom three in terms of resources at their disposal, but finished mid-table in both of those years.
Before you start penning angry comments, this is not an apology for Hughton. However you choose to allocate the blame, I fully acknowledge that we should have done better in 2013-14 (when we actually had more resources to play with).
So, I believe we should have been proud of our club’s performance in those two years. What I saw though was a dramatic rise in expectations that still haven’t abated. While we were justifiably disappointed with the relegation season, some of our wider expectations seem, to me, to be less than reasonable.
To conclude the case for measured expectations: in the context of today’s Premier League, most of our players are journeymen doing their best. Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond have special talents, but limitations; if Wes had pace and Redderz consistency, they wouldn’t be at Norwich. We have a bright young manager learning his trade in the toughest of environments.
Having said all that, is it the way I feel? Of course not. I can’t settle for us being ordinary. We’ve found ways to over-achieve before and I fully expect us to do it again.
However, I can’t go as far as our old contributor. Heaven forbid that we go the way of Leeds and Villa, and think we’re grander than we actually are. If that happens – and there are worrying signs of it among some of our fans – the worst result is we’ll fail to give Alex and his players the full backing they need and deserve.
I expect us to make signings in January, despite the super-inflated prices clubs will demand. But we won’t be signing Robert Lewandowski or John Stones. We’ll add what we can to our quality (as we’ve done with Robbie Brady, Matt Jarvis and Youssouf Mulumbu) but it’ll still be a team effort that determines our fate, including the role of the fans.
As to those teams who under-achieved in 2011-13? Have a guess. When we reach ten comments, all will be revealed.