By the end of the season, you may not recognise me.
A slim-line, super-fit Stewart, his mind full of newly-acquired wisdom and his reflexes honed by hours at the piano.
Or maybe not. Sadly, history tells us it’s about as likely as Arsenal winning the Champions League or Mourinho praising the officials’ handling of his games.
If you’ve made New Year Resolutions, I hope you’re more resolute with them than I am.
Let’s set those Resolutions aside, then, and focus on some fundamental New Year Wishes for ourselves and our club.
Before getting into football matters, I wish every one of you (yes, including you, Jeff) a healthy and happy 2017. The latter may depend a little – hopefully not too much – on the fortunes of Norwich City.
My basic wish for our club, of course, is to shake off the fragility and torpor of many performances since October, to play to our potential and mount a charge into the playoffs. Actually, it won’t take that much of a ‘charge’: remarkably in view of how we perceive this season, we’re only five points off sixth place.
The $64,000 question – actually, much more than that – is what it will take.
Our scepticism about Alex Neil won’t go away with one good performance, of course; nor should it. But the Derby game offered us some insight – including one feature that seems to me to have been under-reported and under-analysed.
A fellow columnist earlier this week said about the game “For 90 minutes we were served up a New Year’s treat”. With due respect, I disagree.
We were served up a New Year’s treat for 75 minutes. For the first 15 minutes the team was sluggish, with little movement and few players looking for the ball or ready to take responsibility. No wonder the crowd was subdued.
Then Nelson Oliveira conjured one of his goals from nothing. From that point, everything changed. Players like Naismith came to life, everyone wanted the ball and felt empowered to dominate their opponent. Derby – who hadn’t lost a league game since October – barely deserved to be called second best.
So, what might the transformation tell us?
Two diseases in football show very similar symptoms – so similar that it’s easy to get the diagnosis wrong. One is lack of commitment (also known as “not playing for the manager”, “lost the dressing room” etc). The other is lack of confidence.
After the performances between October and December, we’ll take some convincing that there isn’t an element of the first disease at work. Changes of personnel, but a common lack of spirit and belief.
However, it may not be the complete picture. The Derby game showed us that with an injection of confidence – in this case from Oliveira’s strike – we can play impressive and successful stuff.
If we could put a run of wins together – a big ‘if’, of course – we might see a sustainable version of those glorious 75 minutes on Monday.
Next up in the league is a tantalising visit to strugglers Rotherham, followed by the always-competitive home game against Wolves – with added spice this time in the form of Paul Lambert’s return. Let’s see where we are after those two.
Much has been made of the team selections against Brentford and Derby, which generally met with fans’ approval as something close to our ideal choice.
The interesting thing is that they’re clearly close to Alex Neil’s ideal too. The team against Derby was the nearest we’ve seen for a long time to the opening-day selection against Blackburn. The only two differences were the inclusion at Blackburn of Ryan Bennett (with Russ injured) and Cameron Jerome (before the emergence of Oliveira).
It’s the team AN wanted to lead us through the season, but which he changed when injury and form (and who knows what else) got in the way.
None of this is to take the heat off AN or the Board. The Board is desperate for him to succeed, for a mix of good and apparently not-so-good reasons. If the team can’t sustain its improved form (and God knows, we had false dawns in 2016), then the pressure will be relentless and justified.
On the other hand, it’s just possible that Derby will prove a turning point. With a few tweaks in January, our squad is good enough to mount a challenge.
If that happens under Alex Neil’s leadership, a number of us will have to look back and take responsibility for our words.
As someone who came off the fence relatively late but called, with all the fervour of the convert, for AN’s sacking, I’d look particularly foolish.
Vain as I am, in that situation I’d be purely, deliriously, happy.
The Derby game might yet prove to be a real turning point for 3 reasons; AN was able to get his better players on the pitch, back both fit (e.g. Howson) and in-form (e.g. Klose, Olsson), with Howson & Russ back we had some leadership on the pitch (I think most of the South stand heard Russ’ expletive laden defensive orders to Jacob in the first half) and finally, the bad apple that spoils the bunch wasn’t there. The quicker Brady is sold the better.
Same to you Mr Lewis and look forward to seeing your abs rolling around the Carra someday soon.
With this piece, it strikes me you’ve taken a bigger bite of the Jeffer cake than you’d like to admit.
This board have acted in an absolutely moronic fashion by giving Neil the most stupid of clauses (which is obviously true) you will ever hear of in football, so we simply have to hope like hell it works out because that’s £2m we can’t afford.
To be honest, I’m at a loss with NCFC. I wanted a fresh start in 2017 with some hope and exciting transfer rumours. Now we’re resigned to buying another 524 attacking midfielders and a man at the helm who can only succeed when he stumbles across the right formation.
Bodes well though.
martin penney says
That’s one hell of a reasonable article and hard to argue with.
#1 Kobecanary: yes I agree with you. Robbie Brady needs to go, not just for his own good but for the welfare of NCFC too.
#2 Jeff: I know I’ve said it before, but this window needs to be more about who we can ship out. The AN debate doesn’t really exist in finite terms as they plainly have no intention of replacing him.
If it reaches the point where we are not going to make the play-offs he surely has to truly blood some youngsters in an attempt bed a few in.
Because, believe me, if we don’t scrape a promotion via the play-offs this season, 2017-2018 will be the most significant period for our Club in (certainly my) living memory.
Martin – I agree it’s about who we ship out in the main, but we need new blood too. Otherwise we’ll be even weaker than we already are.
Unfortunately, these fools will not ship the right people out. They won’t get rid of the failures that have served us so badly for seasons on end.
They will get rid of the Canos’ of this world and retain the guys that hurt my eyes when wearing yellow (and that’s saying something).
Nothing suggests the the club can be trusted to get anything right this January, a much maligned month in their own words.
I’m off to Portsmouth to support a better run club.
Stewart Lewis says
Jeff (2/4): Lots of good points (as we’re all now recognising).
I think you’re being harsh about shipping out, though. In the summer we set up multiple deals for Lafferty and Naismith to leave – but they wouldn’t go. Fault lies with the wages we’re paying them, for sure, but at least the Board has been trying.
It may still be a challenge.
Martin (3): Very true words about this season and 2017-18.
As I have said before , the problems of team Norwich City is not the quality , or the make up of the squad , but the way it has been used this past 18 months. I estimate AN has 15 international players at his disposal. Unfortunately the use of these players as a team & as substitutes has sometimes bordered on the farcical. When the selection wasn’t working the only solution seemed to be to juggle the numbers. It’s taken the management over 12 months of mediocrity to try something different regarding formation & tactics. It has been so obvious to most supporters that playing one up front with a striker such as CJ did not work for a majority of the games in the PL & against the better teams in the Championship. Likewise sticking rigidly to 2 centrebacks while playing full backs that spent half their time in the opposing half without the right blend in midfield was so obviously a flawed formation to many supporters. You mention confidence Stuart & I agree it plays a big part in any walk of life. Sadly even when Norwich were on a good run earlier in the season , the confidence didn’t seem to be there. Hanging on for a nervy final 10 minutes became the norm with the chickens coming home to roost at Newcastle & Fulham. Again I lay this lack of confidence ( of seasoned internationals) at the door of the management Let’s hope that the Derby win is the start of a revival & that 2017 can be as enjoyable for supporters as the Lambert era. I have a feeling it will take some astute dealings this transfer window ( centre back, centerback , ) & a major shake up on the training ground for this to happen For the sake of all supporters let’s hope we finally get some action , rather than hollow words , from those entrusted with the fortunes of OUR club
Keith B says
I’ve been meaning to suggest a slightly different angle on the supposed Neil contract clause for a while.
Like the players Neil had taken a pay cut, a significant one we believe. Some of those players have, not surprisingly, agitated to leave. One or two have had contract renewals which presumably take them back towards where they were.
I assume that, like us, the Board had high hopes/expectations that by now we would be leading the way in the Championship, or very close to it. They also know that there are always going to be half a dozen or more Premier League clubs looking over their shoulders from late September onwards.
Whilst I don’t believe that Neil would himself be agitating to leave they would not unreasonably be concerned that if we were doing well someone else would be keen to employ him, at his old rate of pay.
So I suspect this clause was agreed as much to enable us to increase the compensation received in those circumstances, because being realistic if a PL club did come in then he would want to go. Indeed if our form were to recover such that, say, we made the play-offs but didn’t win them it might still come in useful.
And supposing Scotland finally say “enough’s enough” to Mr Strachan? Who knows where they might look next.
Sure, with hindsight (aka 7 losses in 10, or whatever it is) it looks like a massive own goal. But that’s hindsight for you.
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks, Keith (7).
Some of the discussion over AN’s contract puzzles me. With the wisdom of hindsight, as you say, the Board seems wrong to have thought he was key to our bouncing back.
Having made that decision, though (a perhaps understandable one given his impact in 2015), it was logical for them to tie him to a new contract. Such a contract is bound to have a large payoff clause if the club wants to break it six months later.
Remember when Chelsea sacked the hapless Andre Villas-Boas? His payoff was £13m.