How do we feel about the forthcoming season? And what might we learn from the past?
Eleven years ago, approaching the 2005-06 season, I felt pretty good. Yes, we’d been relegated – but only narrowly. Our highly successful manager Nigel Worthington had stayed, as had our trump card Dean Ashton.
That gave us a forward line of Ashton, Leon McKenzie and Darren Huckerby – a combination that would surely tear Championship defences to shreds. As consolation for going down, this season would be fun as we ran away with the league.
And we had an extra bonus. With Coventry’s ground being renovated, the first game was switched to Carrow Road – giving us three home games to start the season and launch our title bid. We looked forward confidently to nine points on the board and a marker laid down.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Those tempting three home games – Coventry, Crewe and Palace – all finished as 1-1 draws. By the time we lost the next three, the writing was on the wall. We were going nowhere that season; January saw the inevitable departure of Ashton, and Worthington limped through to the end of the season before being replaced early in the next.
We were favourites for promotion in that 2005-06 season, and clearly didn’t lack quality. So what went wrong, and what does it say about our prospects now?
Quality matters, but – as Paul Lambert showed in his one Championship season with us – not as much as mentality. A relegated team has got used to losing, whatever its quality, unless it can shake off that mindset, is going to be vulnerable to hungrier and mentally more positive teams.
No wonder only one in four clubs who come down from the Premier League bounce straight back. Many more (like Fulham and Cardiff who came with us two years ago) fade into obscurity.
I listened to Alex Neil’s words at the end of last season – but paid just as attention to his body language. To me, Nigel Worthington never recovered from relegation in 2004-05; his spirit was broken, and that conveyed itself to the players. If Alex Neil showed the same signs, I’d have called for us to let him go.
Alex’s demeanour told me differently. He hated the failure of relegation, including the part that his inexperience played in it. But what shone through was resilience and determination. He’s OK.
So what else do we need? Some freshening-up of the squad, for sure. Alex knows what resources he wants, and which players he trusts to bring the necessary attitude to the rigours of 46 league games before us.
In terms of our scope for squad-building, there are two big obstacles and two big plusses. The stark economics of relegation – which still seem to escape some of our fans – clearly restrict City’s scope for new signings.
Our playing budget (ie transfer fees + wages) has to show a surplus in this window. And though no other club can match the commitment of our owners, several can match and surpass their riches.
On the plus side, the outstanding management of our club over recent years means that we can deal with a 60 per cent drop in income without a fire sale of our best players. We can sell a couple of non-essential assets to create funds for 3-4 incoming players – just as we did two years ago.
In short, I see grounds for optimism – at least optimism that’s guarded by past experience. With one rider: we have to replace the goals of two years ago that came from Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper. A proven striker is the one absolute necessity I see, and we’ll need to push the boat out to get him.
That means some more fund-raising. Beyond Redmond, at least one more ‘big name’ has to go. If it’s Brady, so be it – in fact, if we sell Brady to fund a new striker while keeping hold of Timm Klose, I’ll be ecstatic.
McCormack, Assombalonga or AN Other? If I had any inside knowledge I’d be happy to share it. As it is, those two may or may not be our prime targets, and may or may not be within our means. But let’s play along.
McCormack is the closest thing to a guaranteed Championship goalscorer, but 30. He’d be a short-term investment – not my usual inclination, but if it’s ever the right thing to do, it’s now.
At 23, Assombalonga is the perfect age to buy but clearly more of a gamble. He looks the part, but has only scored 16 Championship goals. On the other hand, the shirt-printing income isn’t to be sneezed at…
Take your pick – and don’t be surprised if the striker we actually sign is someone completely different.
el dingo says
“If we sell Brady to fund a new striker while keeping hold of Timm Klose, I’ll be ecstatic.”
That’s the crux of it for me too.
My other concern is that we still seem overloaded with a few we surely don’t need who must be on pretty good money. I’m sure we all have our own ideas on who we’d like to see the back of!
I do not see McCormack as the answer myself, but I wouldn’t have spent £8million or whatever on Naismith either. As Stewart says, we’ll have to wait and see. Well done on the close season stuff to all at MFW btw – there’ll be real highs and lows to write about and discuss soon:-)
Yeah, not with you. One established striker and ruddy, martin and bassong still in the building while offering players like whitts new contracts means we’ve learned nothing. Not one ounce of learning’s have been taken from previous failures. We have three weeks until kick off. The CEO should have been nailed down for summer business and a friend who works within the club tells me its a shambles. This summer was a chance to get fans back on side…remove the relegation stalwarts mentioned previously and bring in hungry players to replace them with Howson as captain. That sends the right messages to the fans and players who think this club is an easy pay day…but no. We keep those jokers on to widespread applause from the fans, therefore telling players they can come here, make the most heinous footballing errors on the pitch and stay on. It’s pathetic and becoming more painful every day passes. Based on your raising of worthy’s post relegation season, I would have thought you would have learned something, but it seems you’re in cahoots with our board. The best lessons learned are from failure, unless you decide not to take heed…then you’re just a myopic fool.
The gruesome sentimentality that allowed worthington to stay in post following the Fulham debacle summed up in a nutshell everything that is wrong with Norwich city. Combine that with the loss of some high profile players and a truly god awful summer of recruitment to rival any we’ve ever seen set us on the path to the third division. Jeff is right when he talks of previous lessons being unlearned. The next three weeks will determine the direction of the club for years to come. If vibrant new signings allied to the cream of the current crop, as the author rightly states, Klose, March out at Blackburn there will be cautious grounds for optimism, if we are short changed again by the board it’s going to be painful for all concerned.
Oh dear Jeff. Such a vitriolic post. You obviously know very little about players contracts. Whits, etc. had an automatic extension triggered. Nothing the club could have done about it. Players in mid- contract cannot just be dumped. There are employment laws that cover this as with any other job. Players are made available for sale and lists circulated on this availability. You nor I do not know the intricacies of these systems. Yes, of course there are players we would like to get rid of but unfortunately this is easier said than done. As for the CEO, yes it is frustrating to wait, but to think we can go out and get one to start immediately is pie in the sky. We have an acting CEO in place (which is what happens in many businesses during an interregnum) who will deal with the day to day running of the club, but presumably not have to have total control of everything that happens!! Hope you enjoy the season!
tim sell says
Amongst all the above ( and we all seem to think we know how the finances should be spent and managed ) you need a great deal of luck and to stay clear of injuries to succeed in any division.
At the end of last season Alex Neil said the squad had become a bit stale, with some players needing to be moved on, so the activity (or lack of) is somewhat surprising. Such stale players are likely to have neither the quality or attitude.
For a club aspiring to be Premier League again asap, the re-signing of Turner, Jerome and Whittaker does not bode well. But if they have the appetite for a Championship slog maybe that will be more important.
I think el dingo’s comment about unwanted players being on “pretty good money” points to part of the problem. The players won’t agree to move if it involves a substantial pay cut. Hence no surprise that Lafferty, RVW, Bassong are still here and will probably be loaned (yet again).
I can’t see McGovern willing to warm the bench after impressing at the Euros, and question Rudd and Ruddy’s patience to be a sub goalkeeper. Surely one or both will go …
Jerome performed well in Championship last time, but was that a one-season wonder? Burnley signed Andre Gray for £9M just as the Champ season started last year, lets hope Alex Neil has similar plan.
Bob in Diss says
Encouragingly, both Burnley and Hull did the bounce back by sticking with the same manager. Indeed, Hull sold 4-5 key players (inc. Brady of course) but didn’t spend hugely on new players last summer.
No doubt, there were fans of theirs (like Jeff for us) who berated everything and everyone at their club last summer as they faced the Championship battle to come. Plus ca change..
Although Worthy failed to get us back up first time, both John Bond and Ken Brown managed it and I’m backing Alex to chalk his name in the Canaries’ history books for the same reason.
Worthy is now club ambassador at Fakenham Town – good luck to him and them this season.
Keith B says
Oh dear, if Jeff and Chris (2 and 3) are depressed about our future now I dread to think how they’ll feel if we don’t put we don’t put 5 or 6 past Dukkla Prague ….
The only “signing” that surprises me is Turner. I don’t know how well he did on loan at SW but presumably someone was watching him on our behalf and saw something positive.
I would imagine most of those destined to leave probably won’t do so until the back end of the transfer window – especially any who are borderline and might be reprieved if there are injuries, or incoming targets fall through.
Can’t deny that the squad does seem very crowded at the moment, 32 players on the club’s official site, many of them having been with us a while and never been anywhere near our first XI. Several have been on loan – which begs a question.
Can anyone name a City player who has been out on loan in, say, the last 10 years, and come back sufficiently improved to make it as a first team regular? I can not think of any.
Stevie M says
Is it really helpful to have anyone who would describe themselves as a passionate fan of the club to work themselves up into a frenzy of negativity before a ball’s been kicked and whilst the transfer window remains open for around another 50 days? Let’s all try and be positive, get fully behind Alex Neil and try to get a sound perspective of the practical difficulties and realities of bringing players in and shipping others out.It’s really coming to something when we start labeling as jokers players who have given a great deal to the club, and in some cases the local community over the past few years.
el dingo says
Jeff’s comment (2) I believe has some validity. The bit about the insider and the “shambles”. I know two contractors (hi-viz orange jackets on match days)there’s a clue, who would agree with him. Surely there’s room on this Board for somebody with a REAL feeling for football? Otherwise doo-doo beckons imo. But, as I always say, let’s wait and see.
You seem to be having a lot of faith in AN Stewart. He failed last season, so what gives you this optimism?
I wouldn’t expect to put five past Dukla tonight. It’s purely a fitnes exercise and should be seen as such. Jeff comments are broadly indicative of the dis satisfaction felt by a broad swathe of the clubs support in the light of the last thirteen months and shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. Alex Neil has a huge job on his hands, particularly with motivating a failed squad of players who could mainly be forgiven for thinking the championship is their natural habitat. Yes, mr Jerome, I’m looking at you. We need new blood and the squad needs money spending on it. On the evidence of this boards record supporters are entitled to be a little nervous
Cosmo P. says
Mick(11) – Dyce and Bruce ‘failed’ but bounced back. Just because they suffer a relegation doesn’t mean a manager is thrown on the scrap heap.
It’s all about the individual and his character and personality in responding to disappointment. AN is not lacking those qualities.
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks for everyone’s comments, positive and not-so-positive. I suspect we’d all agree that the proof of the pudding is in the eating – let’s see what Alex Neil’s team produces for us when the real action starts.
Yes, I do have some faith in him. He was given a pretty weak hand to play last season in an unforgiving league; he made some good calls and some bad ones, and is clearly someone who absorbs lessons. In the meantime, his Championship record with us speaks for itself.
Jeff (2): I won’t (indeed, couldn’t) answer all your points. But I can comment on one. I may not be privy to City’s transfer targets, but I do know a bit about hiring a Chief Executive. Unless the change is planned well in advance – which this one certainly wasn’t – it takes time to identify and recruit the right person. My instinctive thought when we knew we’d need to replace McNally was “this’ll take three months”.
Cosmo (13), Thought Bruce actually kept Hull up in their first season?