City’s fate is still unknown of course and a week on from what at the time felt like the Apocalypse it’s now become clear that we’re not dead and buried – not yet.
It looks a distinct possibility that it could go to the final game, in which case it would be helpful if, 1) Everton’s board could leave Roberto Martinez in situ at least until the end of the season (the last thing we need is a combo of Everton legends – spearheaded by Duncan Ferguson – rallying the Goodison faithful into a frenzy for one night only) and 2), they offer a repeat performance of last night’s first-half, not the second.
What is needed though is for City to actually grasp that bloody nettle themselves and not rely on others to do their dirty work. While it’s definitely silly season – we were sky blue Mancs in the week, Scousers yesterday (I know…) and will this afternoon, for two hours, become die-hard Gooners – part of me harks back to the plethora of missed City opportunities.
If we can’t see it through ourselves, or are not good enough to see it through ourselves, then to spit the dummy out when, for example, Liverpool throw away a two goal lead to the Mags is just a little bit ridiculous.
We’ve made our bed – bit of a bedraggled mess it is too – and we’re soon to find out if Alex Neil’s squad, armed with a central defensive pairing that was deemed not good enough for the Championship and a forward line without goals in it, can defy logic and eke out a minimum of six points.
And football being football they just might.
But, either way, this season has been a struggle and for large chunks has not been a whole lot of fun. As ever when in the Prem, the highs are very high but few and far between while the lows are more plentiful and range between moderately disappointing to gut-wrenching. If it has to be a roller-coaster then it’s more Vegas than Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach.
The reality is however, this was always going to be the case. The bookies and pundits, whether we like or not, did call it right. We naturally dreamed of mid-table mediocrity and convinced ourselves that the Alex Neil factor would be sufficient for an angst-free one but once the adrenalin-fuelled bounce of promotion had subsided it became clear that for us plain sailing wasn’t even a thing.
We are a club that in its current state is a top six contender in the Championship and bottom half shoo-in in the Prem – the very epitome of a yo-yo club. I’d rather we weren’t but that’s precisely what we are and why, alongside a couple of fallen ‘giants’, we are currently sniffing around the nether regions of the top tier.
And unless something extraordinary happens, that no-man’s land between top and second tier is where, for the foreseeable future, we’ll remain. (I’m not, for now, willing to even consider relegation that is duly followed by an Ipswich Town-like spell in the footballing wilderness).
What form that ‘extraordinariness’ should or could take is the $64,000 question, but if we do wish to break that cycle something different needs to happen; the flip-side being if we’re happy to bob along as we are then leave well alone.
One risk-free possibility would be for that something to occur in the corridors and on the fields of Colney, whereby the club steals a march on its peers by excelling in the fields of coaching and recruitment.
It’s nigh impossible to quantify the success of the current coaching set-up at the elite level (easier at academy level, where we appear to be be strong) but it’s hard to argue that it’s an area where we currently excel. Perhaps we hold our own but there’s little evidence of us being better than the rest.
And in terms of recruitment, while perhaps it’s not quite as shambolic as some suggest (Timm Klose was certainly a good spot by someone), it’s impossible to argue that it’s an area in which we usurp our peers. For that particular trait Leicester City are leading the way. I’d suggest we’re way behind and still playing catch up.
So, in order not to bob along content in the knowledge that as a club we’re secure but limited in our aspirations we have to be clever; we have to find a way that will aid us in punching above our weight. Perhaps the signings of Ben Godfrey, Ebou Adams and James Maddison were the opening shots in such a process.
The other possibility, the elephant in the room if you like, and one that by even mentioning it will make me unpopular, is to consider seriously the prospect of inviting outside investment into our hallowed walls.
It’s of course a route that comes riddled with risk and I await being offered a very long and sorry list of those who have unsuccessfully sold their soul to the Yankee Dollar, Indian Rupee, the UAE dirham and such like, but minus an innovative approach on and off the field it takes cold hard cash to take a club out of Premier League ‘poverty’.
Some will cite the mega-megabucks that are on offer next season to the country’s elite 20 clubs but with all 20 being in receipt of said windfall it only becomes advantageous when you’re going toe-to-toe with those outside of the Premier League, at home and abroad.
In the last week, Swansea City – they of the perfect football club model – have announced they are finalising a deal with American investors that could be worth as much as £100m; a suggestion that the Welsh club see their current model as having been maxed-out and in need of more financial muscle.
That said, as the aforementioned list will show, there are more examples of bad, unsuccessful investors than there are good ones – and the Swans will be hoping for a John W. Henry as opposed to a Randy Lerner – but City’s current sound financial footing would offer the club time to consider its options and not be forced to jump into bed with anyone akin to Venky’s, Vincent Tan or Marcus Evans.
All of which assumes the club would even entertain the prospect in the first place and Tom Smith’s appointment to the board, as part of Delia and Michael’s succession planning, suggests that for now at least it isn’t even up for consideration. And that will please many.
It also assumes that there are investors out there who would be interested in a piece of Norwich City and previous fruitless searches across the globe probably suggests this isn’t the case. Another one for the traditionalists.
But if this club is to progress, as much as some will oppose it, I suggest it is a possibility that has to be considered.
We all want this football club to be the best it can possibly be. We all want to be able to compete on an even playing field with the Southamptons, the Stokes and, yes, the Leicesters. And we all want the club to be well equipped to thrive.
If that means us veering a little away from our existing traditional community club model, would it not be worth it?
I can’t decide. You tell me.
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Jon Fearnley says
I’ve been bobbing along for 55 years so I’m in the something needs to change camp, but ask me again in 10 minutes time I may have changed my mind. That’s why staying up this year is so important, money from outside sources won’t be so necessary to “bob” along for another half century, but are we happy with that? I sure as hell don’t know.
Another good article Gary. I think you’re right and that we should consider outside investment. I would have thought that we are an attractive proposition (especially if we stay up), however we’ve not even heard of any rumours on the subject. If it were to happen, Delia and the board and Mr McNally should all be in agreement. At first it should be on the basis of less than 50% (like the current Everton deal, though perhaps less than 49.9%). The problems might arise if the shareholding gave control to the outsider and I have no idea how easy that would be, once an outsider has a significant stake. It is also worth noting that the Swansea supporters’ trust were not initially happy with the deal and had not been informed about it. But you’re right about the yo-yo club and finances are a part of the issue – we are the poorest club in the Premiership and it may well have been the wages issue that scuppered our attempts at getting people in just before the August deadline. But we all know that money is not the only issue and there are plenty of examples of clubs with money failing to stay up. Football management is not an exact science, even for those clubs that can afford to have a few £30 million subs sitting on the bench.
I don’t see any other choice. In order to remain and be competitive in the prem, the club has to get the money from somewhere. Besides, during my lifetime the club has come close to folding twice. Once in the 90’s under Robert Chase and more recently when ever were in league 1. No foreign owner ship in either cases.
Let’s be honest, even under Lambert when we’ve got lucky, in all of our Premiership campaigns since the 90’s we’ve brought a knife to a gun fight. Financially, we have just about enough muscle to assemble a good XI but never a good enough squad of 22/23 to sustain our place in the league in the long term.
That said, it does not mean that outside investment is the answer, firstly, because the probably of us securing an Abu Dhabi prince is much less than securing a Tony Fernandes or Randy Lerner (don’t forget Forest are Kuwaiti owned – how much difference is that making?). Secondly, it still won’t close the gap to the big boys (Bournemouth, Watford & Swansea will still be lower half Premiership sides at best). Finally, if you spend more than you’ve fundamentally earned, it will always catch up on you, ask Leeds, Bolton & Portsmouth if that brief moment in the sun was really worth it.
Now maybe our recent investment in youth marks a real change in strategy and hopefully the Board have realised that copying everybody else on a lower budget is always going to fail. The only way to stay in the Prem now is to secure 2/3 £20m+ players, now we might have 1 in Redmond, but RVW, Hooper & Naismith prove that spending £6-8m doesn’t get you £20m quality unless you are really lucky (& may be we have with Klose).
Personally, I think we have 3 options but they all involve being World Class at something that nobody else in the league does. We can only have the lowest wage bill in the league and be a sustainable Premiership side if we either scout for £20m players at 18/19 years old in a place that nobody else looks (eg Non – League, Obscure parts of Africa / South America), or develop statistical analysis techniques to spot players no-one else looks at, or finally develop a style of play that goes completely against the grain (eg Stoke’s Giants under Pulis or even Raneri’s back-to-the-eighties Leicester). Either way I suspect we might need to take a step back to take a step forward.
Azores Canary says
Good question, Gary. And good reply Kobe.
However, let’s keep all this in perspective. The cold fact is that each season 3 teams WILL get relegated and 3 WILL replace them. That’s just the way it is for us and 20 or so other teams in the top 2 flights. This season, like last season, and the season before, we will be one of those 6 (probably). Things are tight at this level for clubs like us. Things could have been very different this season if our playing staff had turned up on a few critical games; or our coaching staff had been a little less naïve on a few occasions; or if our Recruitment Team had cast their net a little more wisely. But sadly it didn’t happen.
We cannot expect to stay permanently in the top flight. We are not a superclub like Arsenal, The Mans, L’pool, Chelsea etc and I for one wouldn’t want to be. If you think we Norwich fans are frustrated, unfulfilled and downright apoplectic, talk to the supporters of the aforementioned clubs who have ‘invested’ obscenely and still failed to deliver consistent results.
Conversely, we are not a small club like Accrington, Yeovil or Ipswich. We are simply an average Premier League / Championship club, and we will shout from the rooftops when we’re doing well, and we will despair when we’re not doing well. That’s football.
We’re nearly there, just a tweak here and a bit of luck there and we can move it up a notch. We must not part with Delia’s passion, or DMcN’s shrewdness, or AN’s undoubted ability just because the Bookies got it right this time around.
So in answer to your question, Gary, yes it would be worth veering a little away from our existing traditional community club model. But the emphasis must be on ‘little’. Our club ethos should not be dismantled on a gamble as the superclubs have, otherwise we may slide into the abyss as pretenders like Portsmouth, Leeds, Forest, Cardiff, QPR etc have. The monotony and tedium of supporting those types of clubs just doesn’t seem quite right to me. We are Norwich, let’s keep it that way – but with a tweak here and a tweak there maybe we can achieve more ups than downs, and who knows, the odd trophy may come our way before too long.
Keep the faith. OTBC
The fact is I think the club is very well run indeed. I know we will be a bit of a yo-yo but as others say rather that than slip into oblivion altogether. From the late’60s through to the early 90s Norwich slowly built, some relegations, some promotions but eventually we peaked with 5th, 4th and 3rd in the top flight and two semi finals, and taking the scalp of Bayern in Europe. We are building again, where it peaks we’ll see but right now I reckon it’s a gradual upward move, even if we do go down this time. Being well run puts us in a much better position than so many clubs. I’m sad to be relegated but I genuinely think the future for Norwich is positive.
Stewart Lewis says
No extra thoughts from me at this stage (though plenty provoked by Gary’s piece).
Just wanted to say this represents MyFootballWriter at its best: a thoughtful & intelligent article, prompting thoughtful & intelligent comments. An oasis of good discussion amidst the panic and knee-jerk debate about our club.
Keith B says
I can live with us being a yo-yo club, I’d just like it to be between 7th and 17th, rather than 17th and 27th. That way we could have a go at the cup competitions again like we used to.
In fact if we do go down, bearing in mind that we will be able to enjoy winning some games again next season, I will personally envy Palace fans their Cup Final trip far more than their place in the Premier League.
Realistically we all know that even if we do survive this season, next is not likely to be much different.
The problem with being set up as a we are is that it puts enormous pressure on the Board to find the right manager every time they need one. If Man U get it badly wrong they might drop to 8th. If we get it badly wrong we head for League 1.
With our wage budget we need a very good manager to even survive in the Premier League, let alone to get to mid-table safety a la Stoke or Southampton. And of course if we have/find one then as soon as he’s perceived to have over-achieved with us he’s off and we have to start again.
Dave B says
The trouble is there’s really no such thing as a yo-yo club, as that suggests a club that consistently goes up and down in quick repetition. The reality is there’s a few clubs that have spent periods in both leagues and almost all of them have spent prolonged periods in The Championship. To accept we are a “yo-yo” club is to accept a 5-10 year stint in TC again.
I’d be interested to know what our financial plan would look like if we modeled it for the remainder of the decade being in TC.
Gary Gowers says
Fair point Dave (9) – The only club that has really *yo-yoed* in the last decade is West Brom – I accept that.
My point, which was clumsily made, was that as a club our financial clout (or relative lack of) naturally heads us toward that hinterland betwixt Prem and Champ, where any campaign at the top level (barring something exceptional) will see us in the bottom third, and any campaign in the second tier will (or should) see us being competitive.
In order for that cycle to be broken – in a positive way – it’s my view that we need either innovation off the field or an injection of finance.
Thanks for this article, it has made me think! Would I swap our community club, our directors who are fans, perhaps even the name of our ground for Premier League success? I don’t know! I really do want nothing more than success for our club, it’s a inextricable part of me… But at the same time I can’t help feeling that the heart of football is being inexorably eroded away as it all becomes business. And perhaps with that, bit by bit some of the emotional connection fans have for their identikit clubs gets eroded away too… But at the same time I don’t think we should ever “settle” for being a certain type of club, a yo-yo club or whatever – I would expect our board to always be aiming in all ways possible to improve our position. And no doubt if an investor was found I’d be over the moon. This is not an easy question!
Innovation off the field sounds like a wonderful dream, and I would hope it is one of the main aims of the board. We could certainly do with some of the success in recruitment of Leicester (although time will tell whether they just got lucky this season).