If only we hadn’t hired David McNally.
When he arrived in the summer of 2009, we’d just gone down to League 1. Given that we were also broke, disorganised and demoralised, with a pile of loan players and Bryan Gunn as manager, we looked set for an extended stay there.
But McNally had other ideas. He professionalised the club from top to bottom, brought in Paul Lambert, and the rest is history.
Which is why we didn’t have a league game over Easter.
No offence to anyone, I hope, but the meaning of Easter has always been clear to me: a biting east wind and two league games. We’ve had the wind, but it’s Leagues 1 and 2 who have the games. Even with an unexpectedly heartening England performance, it just doesn’t feel right.
I’ll accept international breaks as a necessary evil, but that’s as far as I can go. Even when England play well, it’s just not…well, exciting. For me, what gets the blood coursing is Norwich City.
Which brings us back to the rollercoaster temporarily suspended in mid-ride. Man City gave us fresh heart, but we knew from bitter experience that our hearts might be broken again at West Brom; only this time they weren’t.
For now, at least, we’re clearly on the up. Isn’t it great to have a deserving candidate for March Player of the Month? In fact, better: one good candidate (Jonny Howson) and two absolutely outstanding ones (Timm Klose and Gary O’Neil).
I suspect Klose will win the award, and who could deny him? Rarely has a player got to grips with the Premier League so quickly and effectively (only hope I’m not cursing him by saying so).
Yet – if we go on to pull it out of the bag, I think I know what the enduring image of our survival will be: the head-bandaged O’Neil – someone who we expected to be a bit-part player this year, but who’s turned into the general leading, organising and inspiring our troops.
Next up, of course, is the Newcastle game – “everything”, according to Jose Mourinho. Well, it’s certainly an important one, but perhaps we should resist the temptation to see it as be-all-and-end-all. A lot happened over the course of the last seven games a year ago, as Leicester (16 points from the 7 games) leapfrogged QPR (5), Burnley and Hull (7 each).
It’s far from just one game.
Much as I’d love us to beat Newcastle – and I’m sure we’ll set up with that aim – I wouldn’t be distraught at a draw. I’m not a fan of late-season managerial changes and certainly didn’t share the fatalism of some of our more skittish fans at the news (“Toon to stay up for sure” and “We’re doomed now” rapidly appeared on Twitter).
However, replacing the hapless McClaren with Benitez will undoubtedly help them in the sense of bringing in some shrewd organisational skills. In the limited time at his disposal I’m not sure how far Rafa can impose his ideas, but it won’t do them any harm.
The same, of course, is true of their late equalizer against Sunderland. I was delighted (OK, delirious) at the time, because City must almost certainly finish above both. The downside we have to accept is that it will have raised the spirits of Newcastle, and of their moody but talented striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
It would be fantastic to win on Saturday, worrying to lose. But nothing is decided this week, or probably this month. Whatever the outcome this weekend, we’ll have to keep our concentration – and our nerve.
To help pass the time, a memory and a quiz. Saturday’s game will give us grey hairs – in the case of some of us, more grey hairs – if it’s as dramatic as Newcastle’s visit to Carrow Road during our relegation fight in April 2005.
Everyone remembers Safri’s 40-yarder to give us a first-half lead. We thought we’d hang on – especially as Shearer missed chances – until an 89th minute equalizer from Newcastle substitute Patrick Kluivert. But desolation turned to ecstasy as Dean Ashton turned in an injury-time winner.
1. Who was Newcastle’s manager? And,
2. Who (still a familiar figure at Carrow Road) came on as an 89th minute substitute for City?
Prizes for wrong answers (within reason), proving that you haven’t Googled it.
Canary Mary says
Great article as ever Stewart .
Yes certainly David Mc has an awful lot to answer for (not)X
No Norwich footy has given me a chance to do some of my
other love ? GARDENING” all be it in the greenhouse.
Must say I throughly enjoyed the young lions game inspite of some unbelievable vitriol tweeted & f/booked.
We have something special to look forward to methinks.
Very sad for the young goalie “Buckland ” though .
Bob in Diss says
After ‘that tackle’ at Stoke and the dogs’ abuse he got for it, shows the measure of the man that Gaz O’Neil has bounced back to be a vital cog in the midfield wheel as we enter the tense and sweaty home straight. Long may the bandage remain.
The tension ahead of the Newcastle game is building already. Let’s hope we don’t have to rely on a 40 yard ‘once in a life-timer’ or an injury time winner to get the points.
Almost impossible to predict which Newcastle side will turn up – I predict the final score won’t be 6-2. I’d take a 1-0 for us with a deflection off Bassong’s backside settling it – that would be revenge enough for that grim away day.
Sorry, had to revert to a popular online search engine to find the quiz answers – so won’t spoil things for others by revealing them here.
Wrong but closely related answer – Dalglish and Mackay.
Stuart – No surprise who you are worshipping this Easter.
I have been fascinated by your adoration of McNally since last summer when you assured us that the lack of transfers was being addressed by McNally – a “consummate professional”.
Shame he had not set up a European scouting network nor had a recruitment team in place.
There are a number of individuals who can share credit for our progress since relegation to League 1. For example, what if Bryan Gunn had not signed Grant Holt?
Since that low point, one relegation (so far) and a couple of unsuccessful managerial appointments show no one person involved is worthy of being likened to the Second Coming.
Rich Clarke says
Totally agree and think your opening summed it up perfectly.
I find it really hard to beleive how short a memory some of our fans have, there are not many CEs that could have turned our club around so quickly as what David McNally did, and for that I will forever be gratefull and so should all City fans.
My biggest fear is we lose him, lets face it Delia’s track record hiring managers and CEs is hit and miss to say the least.
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks for the comments, as always.
pab (3): Fair points. McNally’s record isn’t unblemished: he did put in big bids for players last summer, but didn’t get the deals across the line. While AN is quick to say that wasn’t David’s fault, I’m sure David himself is self-critical. And season 2013-14 was mismanaged by everyone.
Having said that, his overall record seems to me remarkable. He had to sort out every facet of the club, avoiding administration (the coward’s way out, taken by Southampton & others) and get the club on a sound footing while supporting his managers. Against massive scepticism of fans, he identified AN as the one who could spark us to promotion last year (look what happened to much better-resourced Fulham & Cardiff).
An impressive performance in my view, for which we owe him (as Rich says) a great deal.
Gary Field says
The Newcastle manager was Souness (I only know this because his mug appeared on the Safri YouTube clip during the week).
As for the substitute, I’m guessing Gary Holt?
I dont know who did what when we were in League 1, but the new chairman Alan Bowkett was widely credited with playing a big role in relieving the financial crisis.
Rich – don’t worry, Hughton and Adams were not a success. If we didn’t have McNally to chose our next manager then hopefully his successor as Chief Exec or a specialist recruiter would spare Delia the task.
McNally brought Lambert in, but he also lost him. Chase got a lot of flak for losing Walker, but somehow McNally comes up smelling of roses. While a significant improvement on his predecessor, he still creates problems that didn;t need to exist.
Dave B says
For a long time I was a big fan of McNally for turning the club around and his no-nonsense attitude. He was extremely visible and approachable, especially on social media.
That was until the season we were relegated from the Prem. When the going got tough McNally disappeared. Removed himself from social media, hid, refused to act on Hughton, didn’t invest at Christmas, and took his bonus despite relegation. Not the leader I’d want or could be proud of.
In retrospect he perhaps made only three very good decisions. Firstly appointing Lambert (failed to hold on to). Secondly restructuring the debt. Thirdly signing Neil (yet to be proven if prudent in the long term).
Under more scrutiny McNally’s management post Lambert reign doesn’t hold up. We’ve got terrible scouting and recruiting depts. We’ve never signed a premier level forward despite many seasons in it. We played pre-season warmups against a local pub side (and at least they turned up). Our backroom staff structure has been fluid, to say the least. If we’re relegated then we’ve failed to secure PL status. We’ve seriously damaged many player’s careers by buying, then not playing them. We’ve wasted huge amounts of money on players we don’t need. Failed to hold on to the best manager we’ve had in decades. Not a single youth team player has broken through. We started this season with a dangerously inadequate defense etc…
I could go on, but you probably get the point. McNally was brought in to do a job. Make the club stable. Now we need someone who can make us a PL team. I don’t believe that’s McNally.
Stewart Lewis says
Pab (7): Yes, Bowkett negotiated with the City, persuading them that under McNally’s leadership we could turn things around and repay the debts if given time. Both he and McNally deserve huge credit.
Also, by the way, they both bought into a philosophy close to Delia’s & Michael’s hearts (and also to mine). We could have followed Soton, Ipswich and others by going into administration. That effectively lets the club off much of its debt, at the expense of its suppliers, basically small local firms. Norwich – I’m proud to say – worked bloody hard to avoid that option.
Hughton emulated Lambert in leading a bottom-three side in resource terms to a mid-table season – then had a bad one (as did McNally). City under Adams did far better than the richer teams who came down with us (or had done so in the three previous years), but didn’t have the spark to push us to promotion; McNally found someone who could.
Dave B (9): If you ever attended (or attend) games, you’d know McNally to be unfailingly approachable. He left social media after the kind of abuse that no-one should have to suffer, and that none of us would put up with. He also got it on appointing Alex Neil, never complained and has never said “told you so”. Not sure I could be so forebearing.
Controlling the finances of a club like Norwich takes constant vigilance. Being in the Premier League doesn’t guarantee solvency, as fans of Bolton, QPR and others will testify bitterly. The discipline he brings is just as important today as ever.
I take some of your points about background and scouting, though. And it’s true that no-one could contain the burning ambition of Paul Lambert – just as fans of Wycombe and Colchester warned us. But his appointment by McNally, even though it didn’t last, was still vital for our turnaround.