“Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”
I won’t take this into a discussion of our current political leaders, tempting as that might be. Suffice to say, perhaps, that Lincoln himself passed the test with flying colours.
The principle applies to leadership in all fields, of course. One of its many interesting facets is that it’s not always easy to predict who will rise to the challenge.
As Bryan Robson approached the end of his playing days, I recall one pundit after another proclaiming him as the next great manager, “a natural”.
After mixed spells at Middlesbrough and West Brom though, Robson’s managerial career simply petered out. Despite great opportunities, it never happened for him.
At around the same time, Norwich had a golden period. From 1980 to 1994, we thrived under three unheralded managers – Ken Brown, Dave Stringer and Mike Walker. Remarkably, we were out of the top flight for only two of those 14 seasons.
These were modest men who stepped into power with ease and grace – football equivalents of Clement Attlee, perhaps.
Those three were driven by passion for the job, and for Norwich City. Certainly, Mike Walker didn’t lack ambition – but with better support he’d have stayed with us rather than looking for a way out. (Interestingly, Walker still has the worst record of any post-war Everton manager.)
Others have seen our club as a stepping stone, of course, the most striking recent example being Paul Lambert. Fans of his previous clubs alerted us to his talent, and his ambition: “Enjoy it while it lasts” was their message, and didn’t we just.
Lambert’s career plan went swimmingly until he left Norwich. I’d love to hear his reflections now. I’m sure he sees ill fortune in what’s happened to him, but surely a chunk of it is self-inflicted.
Villa, Blackburn and Wolves are undoubtedly big names, the kind of places Lambert saw as next steps on his journey. But what thinking manager would put himself at the mercy of Randy Lerner, than the Venkys, then a bunch of faceless Chinese investors?
The name Jorge Mendes came up on this forum earlier in the week. Surely Lambert heard warning bells when it became clear that Fosun International (the Chinese group who’d taken over Wolves a few months earlier) trusted the Portuguese agent more than they trusted him?
Without re-opening the can of the foreign investor debate, it’s fair to say that it’s a mixed – and often unpredictable – bag.
Perhaps Birmingham fans might have sensed something worrying when ‘Trillion Trophy Asia’ became their new owners. But they probably didn’t see the disaster to come. Gary Rowett, who’d shown character aplenty in creating some gold from the base metal at his disposal, wasn’t a big enough name for the new owners, and was unceremoniously dumped for Gianfranco Zola.
Zola was touted as not only a great leader, but an essential part of the new regime’s “strategic, long-term view”. Twenty-four games later he was ditched, with ‘Arry Redknapp brought in to save the club from relegation.
Some long-term view.
At Norwich, of course, we’re also taking a step into the unknown. The new structure represents one of the boldest changes in our history. Perhaps an example, as in 2009, of Delia letting other voices on the Board override some of her natural sentimental attachments.
Unlike our friends down the road, it’s clear that there are influential progressive voices in the Carrow Road boardroom these days.
We won’t have any idea of likely success until some footballs have been kicked, of course – in particular at Craven Cottage on 5 August. But there’s cause for interest, and perhaps excitement, in the leadership qualities we’re now seeing.
Stuart Webber was the Board’s first choice as Sporting Director; Daniel Farke was Stuart’s first choice as Head Coach. The chemistry between them is obvious – as it is between Webber and Steve Stone, a critical relationship as we try to perform our financial balancing act.
Hopefully, some of our signings will be Webber/Farke first choices.
Word from Dortmund is that Daniel Farke is an impressive leader, as well as a shrewd tactician. If he’s as inspiring as it appears, we should see some interesting stuff on the field this season.
After the flurry of early signings, we’d entered something of a lull when up popped the season-long loan of Southampton’s Harrison Reed. And over the next month I’d expect to see significant traffic of players in and out of the club; the starting XI at Craven Cottage will be distinctly new to us.
How will it all work out? I don’t know and won’t predict. But I suspect we’ll go into the season with a good deal more anticipation and – dare I say it – justified hope than our friends down the road in Mick McCarthy’s Tired Blue Army.