Inevitably the tone of any piece of football writing is going to be tainted when your team has just come off the back of a mediocre performance, culminating in another loss in an already worrying run of form.
But what follows is something that’s been formulating in my mind since the back end of last season – not just over the last few weeks.
Over the past few years Norwich City have risen to the heights of the English top flight, fallen back down to the second division, risen back… and fallen down again. The yo-yo effect has left us as a club unsure of which division we belong in, with a squad of players that have been acquired from both.
Perhaps two or three seasons ago we would have been confident in saying that we had a close-knit side, the players able to enjoy working and playing alongside one-another. But ever since the defeat to Newcastle this season the notion of this team spirit has disappeared.
As we saw with Leicester City last season, team spirit is an integral and imperative part of any success. With 46 games to play in a long, arduous season a team needs to be able to rally together through tough spells and come out the other side fighting to prove their worth. What I saw from the team against Leeds was a team with passengers. Players unprepared to put in 100 per cent in a team already struggling to find the winning formula under Alex Neil.
Neil was clear in his post-match comments that he still believes in his ability, which to an extent I agree with, but the lack of tactical changes resembles the period he went through in the Premier League when his gameplans were first found out.
When he burst onto the scene some of the top managers in the country commented in their post-match statements that they were surprised and impressed with his tactical approach and I recall Norwich fans being excited by the football we were playing.
Towards the end of last season though the football became drab, the players despondent and the fans disconsolate as each game passed and the inevitable became ever more a reality. It was almost as if Neil lost the confidence in himself.
This season I feel the same problem has occurred; our early season results were merely papering over the cracks that were waiting to split.
Should he be sacked? I’ve been toying with that idea and on reflection I am still in the “no” camp. The manager of a football club is not the all-powerful figure anymore; he’s the person held accountable for the majority of a club’s failings and sometimes not the figure who should be blamed.
If we look at transfers for instance, I don’t know exactly how City manage the process but it was widely publicised that Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool had to sit within a transfer committee and assist in the decision making process. This means that players signed, whether successes or flops may not have been his decision in the first place.
With a head of recruitment and a scouting network in place you’re relying on them to produce reports on players that are going to be right for the football club. Beyond that Neil then has to rely on the powers that be to negotiate the deals that bring the right players in; with third-party ownership issues and commercial contracts to negotiate it is harder than ever before for teams like Norwich who spend sensibly to attract the better players.
You’ve also got the technical director, Ricky Martin who has barely been mentioned by the fans. What part is he playing in the club after overseeing a relegation?
The state of football has made it harder than ever before to be sensible with the club’s finances and I pointed out in an article written for the EDP that the percentage of turnover put into players’ salaries and bonuses (for all top-flight clubs) is absurd. However, what we can say with confidence is that this is the same state of affairs for most Championship clubs and therefore there is no excuse on that front.
The players Norwich have, on paper, are some of the best in the division.
Irrespective of the formation employed by Neil they are the ones responsible for the club’s fortunes when they step out onto the pitch. The fans moan about substitutions and changing the game, which I fully agree with, but the eleven who are put out there from the outset should be performing better.
I didn’t see any player rallying around and trying to get the team pumped up to perform. When the Leeds goals started going in the player’s heads dropped and the Carrow Road grass suddenly became the focal point of their concentration.
I appreciate the important part psychology plays within football, and when confidence gets knocked the self-belief wanes. I get that the money at stake is probably more important to fans than players, because they can get that money at another club if things don’t go well, but the absolute minimum the fans expect is to see passion and pride to play for the football club.
The words spoken by Russell Martin after the Brighton game now seem completely false and empty. There was no response – there wasn’t so much as a flicker of a team looking to make amends to the fans.
I’m completely disillusioned with the players that represent the football club right now and until the squad is refreshed I cannot see that changing.
Gary Field says
Interesting stuff Matthew.
One issue I’ve struggled with is the fact that we only had 2 senior players out of contract last summer, both of whom were offered new contracts. One renewed, the other went.
I believe that this impacted on our ability to refresh the squad and “move on” players deemed surplus to requirements.
We clearly got close towards the close of the window, but we certainly didn’t do as much business as we hoped.
Maybe that’s had a impact of squad moral, with a handful effectively no where near being selected. That, in turn, impacts on the competition for places on match days.
Not the sole reason for our current predicament, but certainly a factor
Couldn’t agree more, I still want Neil to stay, especially now Lambert has gone to Wolves… The players need to step up here and take some responsibility, its their fault for thinking this season would be a breeze. Some look positively workshy.
Laurence G says
Whilst I understand that the manager may have to discuss the transfer deals within a group, Neil made it clear when he joined that he wanted complete control on all matters. We know that some players will not want to come to us due to location and wages and because we are not a ‘fashionable’ club, but I still feel not enough is being done on the recruitment side apart from building for tomorrow – we do have a few excellent young prospects after all.
The other point I want to make is that whilst the players need to be replaced/swapped out because of their lack of passion, the person who picks them is the manager! He had a massive chance to put in some young and hungry players after the Brighton debacle but made just one tactical change. Even if we had won I don’t think people would have been happy given what he had said about making sweeping changes following the 5-0 thumping. We need to know that he will be radical when he says he will and not just produce the same flat team in the same boring formation week in week out when it isn’t working. Sure, we have got a few results and are still in the playoff positions but with the exception of the first game of the season we have never dominated a game and there have been far too many teams let back into the game who had no right to be (not to mention the Newcastle fiasco). Neil needs to look at the defensive play (for the whole team, not just the 4 at the back) but he also needs to consider other formations given that it seems obvious that the team are not playing well in the current one. When was the last time he played a game with an alternative strategy? My last recollection was the 6-2 at Newcastle in the Premier League…
Great article Matthew and I agree with many of your sentiments. Alex Neil and his team can only do so much and I whilst I agree that some of the tactics and selections haven’t quite worked, ultimately it comes to the 11 players that step over the white line. In my mind the players are simply not stepping-up and taking responsibility. Too often we see players pointing fingers at each other or simply shrugging shoulders. How many really put themselves on the line? How many of them do you see gathering the team around and urging them on? What this demonstrates (at least in my mind) is a chronic lack of on-the-pitch leadership and the need for several Holt-Mackay-Fleming-Roberts-Nelson-Butterworth type characters.
As for Russell Martin’s comments I would respectfully disagree when you say they were “…completely false and empty…”. He certainly meant them and I think they were pretty spot on. To step up and say that about your team mates takes a lot of bottle. It was the response of the team (collectively) and many individuals that was “…completely false and empty…”.
Matt Howman says
Completely agree with that last point RE: Russell Martin’s comments. This is precisely what I was thinking when I included that, reading back it wasn’t clear! – the response of the team rendered his comments empty – It was refreshing to see a player so raw after a match that he called on his teammates to step up.
Keith B says
“He had a massive chance to put in some young and hungry players after the Brighton debacle but made just one tactical change”
Not in defence where the problem lay Laurence (3). The only young defensive players we have are Godfrey and Thompson. Godfrey isn’t ready. Thompson is and got his chance – and seems to have taken it.
Young and hungry is fine in theory, but you can’t really play both Murphys, Pritchard and Canos (not that I’m convinced he’s genuinely “hungry”) all at the same time. Assuming you’d leave Jerome up top that would be 4 players behind him whose tackling currently makes Wes look like Billy Bremner. If you want Oliveira instead of Jerome that makes it even harder to put effective pressure on the opposition in their own half.
I’ve yet to see a proposed line-up for the Leeds game that would have achieved several changes but not left us with an inexperienced powder puff midfield.
Good article Matt which sums up exactly where we are. The lack of any sort of leader on the pitch is being cruelly exposed, and with the player’s reaction following Russell Martin’s outburst after Brighton, shows that he definitely is NOT the man. What price to bring Mr Holt back from Scotland and stick him on the touch-line with the brief to tell the players what he thinks, just to try to arrest this alarming slide?
Keith is correct. I simply cannot see how, with the players available, Neil could have made wholesale changes and put out a viable side.
I’d have gone and would still try going 3-5-2. I’d play Martin, Klose and Bassong, Pinto if fit else Whittaker, Thompson, Wes, Dorrans and Olsson, with Jerome and Carlton Morris up front.
Lafferty and Oliveira sub options for the striker roles. Godfrey on the bench. Canes and Pritchard as mid field subs. No role for the speedy but naive Murphys – who I’d personally sell like Redmond was – for good money before their limitations were widely known. Bennett and Brady defensive subs.
As Jerome works his butt off, could he be the motivating captain on the pitch?