I can’t have been the only Norwich fan who sat awestruck last Sunday evening as Manchester City knocked three second-half goals past Tottenham with mind-boggling ease.
It reminded me of Mayweather v McGregor back in August; City danced around their opponent for a while, even making you question if it actually was a fair contest. Then two quick jabs, from Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, before Spurs could even catch their breath, Sterling had knocked them to the floor.
Everything they do is so perfect, so precise, that you even wonder whether the England winger meant to miss the ball to set himself up for the Blues’ fourth. It certainly makes you consider whether, like Mayweather in his career, they will go unbeaten this season.
But, if you cast your mind back to last year, City, and in particular Pep Guardiola, were seriously called into question.
Despite finishing third – a perfectly reasonable effort – they struggled to beat the better teams, losing to Chelsea twice, and taking just one point from both Spurs and Liverpool (the remainder of last season’s top four). Supporters and pundits questioned whether Pep could actually deliver dominance in a league with more than just a couple of teams with ambitions of the title. He has answered those questions now.
Much, of course, to Jose Mourinho’s annoyance (although to Jose’s credit, he is always annoyed). As has been well-documented, Mourinho has won the league in his second season at every club he’s been at – Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter Milan and Real Madrid. He has typically been pretty successful in his first season too, although he did fail to win the league on his first attempt with Madrid, Chelsea (the second time) and Manchester United. He improved all three teams the second time around though, even if United won’t be winning the league this year.
You probably know where I’m going with this.
Much closer to home, Nigel Worthington won just 34 points from his first 26 games in charge, up until the end of the 2000/01 season (a figure Norwich are roughly likely to attain from their first 26 games this season). Even the following year, City took a modest 58 points from their opening 39 games, before that remarkable seven-game run that took us all the way to Cardiff. Despite losing that day, we never looked back. Worthy took a struggling team and turned them into champions.
There are not currently any great calls for Daniel Farke’s head. The Barclay were even singing his name during the match with Sheffield Wednesday but there are serious murmurings of discontent, especially on social media, with supporters questioning why the board and Stuart Webber are seemingly sitting idly and watching this season pass us by.
It is really, really frustrating, but there isn’t a whole lot they can do right now, other than sack the manager, and they definitely shouldn’t do that. (For the record, I’m sure Webber is working round the clock to ensure this upcoming transfer window goes better than the last one.)
Eighth place and 70 points greatly flattered Norwich last season. The mood around the club was fairly toxic, and, even though we had a great home record we were still outplayed by the best teams at Carrow Road (Huddersfield and ten-man Fulham spring to mind as particularly humbling). And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how bad City were away from home – we won two games on the road between October 2nd and the end of the season.
Farke was given his first manager’s job at Lippstadt 08, in April 2009, but only led them to promotion from the sixth tier of German football in 2012, before getting them immediately promoted again, in 2013. (In the interest of full disclosure, they were then relegated but when Farke was appointed the club was fully amateur, whereas the German fourth tier is semi-professional and features many of the largest club’s reserve sides.) Following that he led Borussia Dortmund II to second place in his first and only season.
This isn’t to say he’ll ever get Norwich promoted but the likelihood is drastically decreased if he’s never given a reasonable chance to. Short-termism is hardly a modern phenomenon in English football, but we’ve seen this week how it results in Swansea sacking one manager every December, amongst a host of other clubs who discard coaches with the kind of apathy Nelson Oliveira currently displays most match days.
Of course, improvement over last season has been limited/non-existent but with the turnover of players and change in playing style, things were always likely to get worse before they got better. We at least got a sneak peek at what the new, improved Norwich City would look like, for eight games anyway. Tomorrow night, is the ideal time to start showing that again.
Performances have already picked up against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds but the next four games present a real opportunity for our season to get back on track: Brentford at home tonight, followed by Burton and Birmingham away and Millwall at home. I’m not suggesting we will win them all, but we can.
If not, there’s always next year. We’ll be much better then, I promise.
NB: I was delighted to read the other day that the club are starting an LGBT+ team for next summer. Even if we don’t have a club to be too proud of on the pitch at the moment, we should all be immensely proud of the club’s off the pitch efforts for equality.