To borrow a phrase from Game of Thrones, it was clear from January onwards that for many of the City squad, Winter was Coming.
The long summer that had persisted for more seasons than usual was coming to an end and those who had dined at the high tables had become fat, enjoying the fruits of many harvests.
The fat had to be trimmed. And although not as bloody as a typical Westeros pitched battle, Webber arrived with his very own Red wedding, letting John Ruddy et al depart in an emotional, if understandable, end-of-season-finale.
Whilst Daniel Farke is undoubtedly The New King it continues to be the machinations of his “Hand”, Stuart Webber, that dominate things in this kingdom whilst we await the coming of the new season.
The first decisions Webber had to make, on the players who were out of contract, were seen to be an easy series of “no-brainers”, but from the beginning it was clear that he already had an idea of who did and did not have a potential sales market. Two examples of this are Ryan Bennett and Declan Rudd.
Both had one-year extensions that the club could trigger if they so wished. Bennett was given the old-fashioned thumbs down by Webber and was quickly snapped up by Wolves as a free agent. Could we have prized a transfer fee out of them had he remained under contract?
Possibly. But the likelihood is that Webber knew the market and knew that the wages being offered by clubs to Bennett would have been less than he would have continued to pick up in Norfolk. Bennett could conceivably have opted for financial and geographical stability for one more year, trusting in his ability, wrongly or rightly to get back into our team and earn another contract which, if we went up, could be even more lucrative.
He may have seen that as a worthwhile gamble to take even if told he would be seen initially in 2017-2018 as a reserve. Bennett’s “commitment” to the cause would likely have cost the same wages for the season as four Christoph Zimmermann’s. Webber cut Bennett loose and eliminated the problem. He may have lost a potential transfer fee but the odds were stacked unfavourably so he went with the logical call.
Rudd on the other hand was less of a gamble. His wages were nowhere near Bennett levels and wouldn’t break the bank if he were to hang around for another season. However, Webber clearly knew there would be interest in the 25 year old keeper. Charlton and Preston were obvious suitors and it was no surprise to see the latter emerge to whisk Declan northward.
Even if a permanent move didn’t come around, there was always a good chance someone would have taken him on loan to cover his wages anyway.
As it is, we made some decent money to reinvest in the squad. Clearly Webber knows his transfer onions.
Other than Rudd though, at time of writing we’ve yet to move any of our other players on. The interminable saga of Graham Dorrans to Rangers drags on as they appear to offer a mildly increasing level of payment plans, money-off vouchers and Diners Club Cards to prise him out of Norfolk.
As much as they may be his boyhood club, unless he willingly accepts magic beans instead of actual wages I fear the Del Boy’s of Scottish football may have to accept they’re still shopping in Lidl and leave the Waitrose players for bigger clubs.
From Norwich’s point of view though, keeping Dorrans on the back pages is all grist to the mill. Every column inch dedicated to Rangers fruitless pursuit reminds other clubs that there’s a very talented footballer available. For the right price.
Every week there seems to be a new player featured in a major newspaper as being a possible outgoing. Klose to Hamburg, Naismith to Scotland, Jerome to Middlesbrough/Sunderland, Howson to Leeds/Burnley/Anywhere-that-used-to-have-a-mill-or-a-mine. None of these have gathered any steam and may be nothing more than newspapers filling column inches.
And then there was the one about Benny Ashley-Seal. He was known to most Norwich fans a week ago as “oh yeah I think I’ve heard of him”, but appears to be known to the Daily Mail Sports Writers as the love-child of Pele and Maradona.
Leicester, with former City academy coach Dmitri Halajko now heading up the Foxes set-up are apparently admirers of a young player who, while promising enough to come onto the Canary radar as “the next Jamar Loza” is not quite “one of the brightest talents in British football” as portrayed in the pages of Mr Dacre’s flagship publication.
Now while the Mail and the truth are often uncomfortable bedfellows, the reporting of the potential Ashley-Seal move was a masterclass of hyperbole, even for them. With transfers of youth players usually going to tribunal these days, and the FA, in their wisdom, tending to let big clubs swoop in for youngsters relatively cheaply, it would probably mean Leicester picking up Benny for peanuts.
Most young players fetch very little at tribunal, with only “the brightest talents in British football ™” fetching top dollar. Suddenly here is The Mail adding a value to our player that has never previously existed. If I were a cynic I’d suggest that someone suggested they run a positive story for this very reason.
If I were even more cynical I’d suggest we may see a major new Norwich signing story broken in the not-too-distant future by The Mail. Quid pro quo et al.
Maybe I’m reading too much into things and Stuart Webber isn’t the Machiavellian schemer I suspect but I’m enjoying following the progress of our dealings this summer in a way that I haven’t for years.
Given a choice between Lee Darnborough and his pleading emails, or Lord Webber, Master of Whisperers and his little birds floating about the wider Westeros of the footballing world, I know which is better box office.