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.