As Delia Smith’s 20-year stewardship of the Canaries came back under the spotlight, this made for a timely read.
It’s Daniel Taylor’s piece on how Southampton dodged a bullet when the men from SISI came a-calling – a bullet that, instead, has ripped a huge hole through the heart of Coventry City Football Club.
It is worth a read if only for the genius line about the club’s over-weight mascot. Or at least in the eyes of its new foreign owners.
Until someone pointed out that the club’s mascot was, actually, an elephant.
The point of the piece is how lucky Southampton were to dodge said bullet; given that they are now a model club when it comes to punching above your provincial weight.
As, of course, are Leicester City.
The reigning Premiership champions have shattered the notion that clubs of a certain provincial ilk can’t attract foreign investors.
And that those same, foreign investors can’t then make the kind of judicious investment and appointments that yield a Premier League crown and a place in the Champions League.
Albeit all at the expense of the Financial Fair Play League; whose rules are there to be broken in this day and age.
So it is do-able.
Southampton might not have hit Leicester’s heights. But in the Liebherr family – first the father and now, on his death in 2010, the daughter Katharina – Saints found a foreign investor willing to not only take a punt, but equally happy enough to take a back seat.
And not complain about the size of the club mascot. Or the colour of the club’s home shirt.
They got ‘lucky’.
Whether they will get lucky for a second time with talk brewing of a £200m plus sale to a Chinese sports investment house is another matter. But, right now, that’s probably a nice worry to have.
Compared to the worries that beset fans of, say, Coventry, Portsmouth, Blackburn and Bolton. Who have all been used and abused by their foreign owners; their Premier League hey-days now a distant memory.
That there is this huge, fine line between test case and basket case; between getting it very right and very, very wrong – with repercussions for the powerless supporters that could last for generations.
So, as ever when people begin to question the ambition of the Smith ‘dynasty’ now that nephew Tom is on the Board, there is a case of be careful what you wish for.
Norwich could just as easily be a Coventry, as it could be a Southampton.
And here is the ‘but’ that the Southampton tale adds to the pot.
The Southampton and the Leicester stories have one thing in common – astute and ambitious managerial appointments by back seat owners that duly took both clubs into the higher reaches of the top flight.
It wasn’t just their money talking. It was using that money smartly when it came to managerial appointments.
They found the men to match and deliver their ambitions. And they found those men abroad. Who duly instituted a pressing playing style and squad fit for Premiership purpose. See Liverpool.
And that’s maybe the crossroads the club finds itself on.
My impression is that the ‘succession’ is done. The club is in Tom’s hands now.
And the Lady – judging by The Times interview with Henry Winter over the weekend – is not for turning.
The fact of the matter is the whole ambition/ownership issues only raise their heads when Norwich are heading south; not north.
For as long as City are 16th and below in the football league ladder, then it continues to bedevil conversations; with no easy answers. Not when the baton has so clearly passed.
The ‘trick’ is to get beyond 16th through managerial strength and acumen as opposed to flexing financial muscles you haven’t got. O if you have, so has everyone else.
And this is the challenge for Alex Neil. In that play-off season, he proved a very good Championship manager when asked to manage Championship players.
Now he has to prove that he is a very good Premiership manager when managing Premiership players – in the Championship.
That’s a big ask. Of anyone. Let alone of someone still cutting their teeth in the management game.
He is no Rafa Benitez. Or Claudio Ranieri.
Wherein lies a world of difference. As Tom Smith is fast discovering.