Happy New Year and a Happy New Transfer Window to one and all.
Since its introduction in the 2002/03 season and being afforded the full Sky treatment, the transfer window has given rise to all manner of clichés. From countdowns and totalisers to Jim White’s yellow tie and ‘Arry Redknapp’s car windows, there promises to be plenty of ‘massive breaking news’ before it ‘slams shut’ at the end of the month.
To throw in a couple of other well-worn clichés, Norwich City is currently a club ‘in transition’; a ‘work in progress’. Terms which sound quite progressive and forward-thinking but that’s largely dependent on what it is that we’re transitioning into.
City fans remain undecided and divided. Is there to be a phoenix rising from the flames or is this transition one of regression with the club settling back into life amongst the other have-nots and has-beens in the second tier?
There’s been evidence to support both points of view.
At our worst, we look laboured; lacking in pace, natural width and on-field leadership, while playing a style of football that neither threatens the opposition nor ignites the crowd.
However, the second-half display against Millwall provided a tantalising glimpse of what our best XI can achieve when they apply themselves and start to click.
Whatever proves to be the final destination of this journey we’re on, it’s not been an easy ride so far and vaguely reminiscent of my train trip to Peterborough for the cup match a few years ago. Chugging along with precious little of interest to look at along the way and several unscheduled stops at some pretty dark places.
‘Viva la Webberlution’?
Few would argue that the club wasn’t in desperate need of an overhaul. A squad which had delivered relegation, lacked the qualities needed to bounce back to the top flight and was too expensive to sustain beyond a single season in the Championship.
Over-paid, under-performing and full of proverbial ‘dead-wood’, it’s easy to understand why many of the City faithful bought into the wholesale changes that began last summer.
We applauded the departures of the fringe players and the reduced burden on the wage bill.
We lamented but understood the loss of John Ruddy and bid him a fond farewell.
Jacob Murphy’s transfer to Newcastle raised eyebrows but was reconciled on the basis that the money was too good to turn down and there was an identical replacement waiting in the wings to run the wings.
Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke’s new recruits and foreign legion were welcomed with open arms (and a song to boot).
Patience was called for and on the whole, it was given; rewarded with an impressive series of results built around a record-breaking run of consecutive away wins.
But following the late cup exit at the hands of Arsenal, results and more specifically performances have been hard to take and the natives have grown increasingly restless.
Transition takes time of course, but the signs of genuine progression have been fleeting. For every Millwall, there’s a Brentford and plenty of doubt as to whether the players are adapting to Farke’s masterplan or if that the plan is effective in the Championship anyway.
Fans need to see the green shoots of recovery; something that points to a brighter future and this transfer window may give us the clearest indication yet as to the long-term trajectory.
Webber suggested that the club had suffered from three or four poor consecutive transfer windows and set about rectifying that with the sweeping changes in the summer. In the absence of a more fundamental change at the top (which we know is not an option), then the club has to demonstrate its commitment to the present course of action and continue with the overhaul of the squad.
City’s recent January dealings have left a lot to be desired (although the same could be said of our summer activities). A notoriously difficult time to do business, with inflated fees driven by clubs chasing success or safety, there is little value to be had in the market at this time of year.
Then of course there’s the other ‘small matter’ that the club is basically skint and with a well-publicised self-funded model, any forays into the transfer market will require further out-goings from the current squad.
But fail to act in this transfer window and this season, alongside the club itself, starts to stagnate – hardly ideal when the season ticket renewal forms begin landing on people’s doorsteps.
News that Tom Trybull has been offered a long-term deal is a positive step; his performances validating the notion that there are cut-price gems to be found in Webber and Farke’s preferred markets.
The emergence of Jamal Lewis supports the increasing inclusion of our academy’s starlets. James Maddison and Alex Pritchard are demonstrating they can work in tandem and Josh’s display against Millwall suggested that a penny had dropped.
Grant Hanley looks increasingly assured and with Sean Raggett finally joining his new teammates to battle it out with Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann at centre-back, there are reasons to be hopeful… depending on what happens in this window.
With funds so tight, Webber must try to ease the pressure by moving on more of the high-earners who are currently sitting on the fringes; the likes of Steven Naismith and Russell Martin for example.
If we need to cash in then I’d sacrifice Nelson Oliveira. Controversial perhaps but his body language and recent displays point towards a player whose goals and reputation mask a difficult character to manage and play alongside. Cameron Jerome, for all his faults, shows a willingness and application that is currently lacking in his Portuguese colleague.
Lose either Pritchard or Maddison, as discussed in Will’s article yesterday (or god forbid, both), and it’s hard to see anything other than a prolonged period of Championship mediocrity. They represent the heartbeat of this team and if the club has any genuine aspiration to once again challenge for a place in the Premier Promised Land, then the team simply has to be built around their undoubted talents.
Over to you Mr Webber.