Well, here we go.
The transfer window is open, from now til 9 August. Stuart Webber, we know, has been making his plans for some time and laying whatever groundwork he can.
Though we have a spectrum of views about the state of our club, I think we all share a sense that this window is a pivotal one for us. We know there’ll need to be a surplus of income over expenditure – can we manage that, while moving forwards rather than backwards?
The interesting news: we’ll be bringing in several new players. I’d guess 4-5, maybe more.
The challenging news: they probably won’t be familiar to us.
The days of Norwich City signing the likes of Steven Naismith, Matt Jarvis, Robbie Brady, Lewis Grabban, Gary Hooper – all known to us from their previous clubs – are over, at least for now.
We’ll be signing more of the likes of Christoph Zimmermann, Tom Trybull, Mario Vrancic, Onel Hernandez. Hands up everyone who’d heard of all four before they joined us. Three? Two? One?
As before, our fans will divide into two groups of reaction to the new signings: “I’ve never heard of him, it’ll be interesting to see what he can do” and “I’ve never heard of him, he must be rubbish”.
Despite the financial constraints, expectations will be high of Daniel Farke’s team going into the new season. Some of those expectations are reasonable. While our new-found resilience in many away games was very welcome, we want to see a more dynamic and exciting approach at home. We didn’t win enough points at Carrow Road, and we didn’t deserve to.
Farke has indicated that his hands were tied by the attacking players he inherited and hasn’t yet had the chance to replace. He says he wants to play a more positive style, but needs pacier strikers to allow play to develop more quickly. That sounds reasonable, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
There’s another key strand to the reshaping of our team, of course.
We all know that the Academy, and whatever programmes we’ve had for developing young players, haven’t delivered enough in recent years. While first-team changes are understandably higher profile, Stuart Webber has actually been just as decisive (and arguably more brutal) with those areas behind the scenes.
The team running our youth department has been swept away and replaced from top to bottom – the top now being our Head Coach. Developing young players is a known specialty of Daniel Farke, and he’s imposed his views and judgement on what he clearly saw as a mess.
In a recent interview where Farke talked about what he found at Norwich, perhaps the most remarkable comments concerned James Maddison. Seeing that previous managers – not just Alex Neil but also Alan Irvine – didn’t consider Madders ready to play for us, Farke expected he’d follow suit and send the player out on loan. But one look at Madders in training was enough to change his mind and pencil him onto the City team sheet for the season ahead.
We know the rest.
The new investment in the Academy won’t pay off properly for some years, of course, but Farke identified some other existing players who, with tailored attention and management, were close to contributing to the first team.
The individual programmes varied. Jamal Lewis (never noticed by Alex Neil or Alan Irvine, as far as I can tell) was ready to be blooded straightaway. Ben Godfrey would benefit most from playing – and starring, as it’s turned out – at Shrewsbury.
Todd Cantwell’s development would be best served by playing in Holland. His confidence and maturity will have been boosted by his success at Fortuna Sittard.
Meanwhile, the rave reviews for Remi Matthews at Plymouth suggest that we may not need another keeper, and can devote one of our loan slots to an attacker.
Those clubs would love to have our players back next season. But it won’t happen – they’re ours, and we have plans for them.
Some of these young players are “our own” in every sense. Todd Cantwell was born in Dereham; Remi Matthews (like me) in Gorleston. My one plea to City fans would be to give them a chance. Young players make mistakes, sometimes from trying too hard – let’s have a little patience and show them, for their sake and ours, that we’re behind them.
There will be departures, of course. As finances stand, selling James Maddison is an imperative to compensate for the final withdrawal of parachute payments. Beyond that, though, the departures will be at our choice and on our terms.
I’m not ducking the issue by avoiding specific names. Just mindful that I don’t have any inside track and my record of speculation leaves a lot to be desired. A year ago I thought – and probably said – we’d sell Timm Klose and keep Jonny Howson.
Anyway, only the most cynical and malicious of our fans won’t be wishing Stuart Webber well in the next couple of months.
Even knowing that most transfer rumours are unfounded, many of us will be following them with at least as much passion as the World Cup.