When Stuart Webber was speaking after Daniel Farke’s appointment last summer on BBC Radio Norfolk, he described the German as the ‘best coach in the league’.
In his defence, Farke was responsible for the development of Norwich’s record sale in the form of James Maddison. Admittedly, Maddison may have developed regardless of who was occupying the dugout, but Farke placed an unprecedented amount of trust in a player who was seemingly on the fringes of the team.
Equally, the emergence of Jamal Lewis is something that happened after interim boss Alan Irvine lambasted the club for the lack of talent coming through.
Farke opted to start Lewis in an away game at Birmingham after a turgid run that had pulled City closer to the relegation zone. Regardless of individual thoughts and feelings towards him, that takes bottle.
More recently, Onel Hernandez, a player who lacked end product in Germany, now looks a dynamic winger whose rawness has been exchanged for a more rounded winger under Farke’s tuition. Under six months of his coaching, Hernandez has become an integral member of Norwich’s rejuvenated offensive efforts.
Individually, Farke has improved players. Therein lays the makings of an astute coach and someone whose nature is developing players on the training pitch. He comes from a backdrop of developing Borussia Dortmund’s most prodigious talent, so there is no surprise there.
Farke’s ability to add zeros on a player’s valuations, namely Maddison’s, made him a valuable asset to resolve the ever-increasing financial uncertainty last season. A situation Webber recently described as Norwich being on the ‘brink of financial crisis.’
However, judgement is ultimately going to be passed on what is being played out on the pitch this season. He’s an astute tactician, someone who has rectified in the past, the leaky defensive issues that saw Norwich conceding regularly before recording a record number of clean sheets seen at this club.
That was a proactive coach rectifying flaws.
His decision to change proceedings against Preston ultimately won the game, but the current climate goes way beyond the improvement of individuals and tactical tweaks.
Farke’s logical pragmatism could cost him his job.
He was a sporting director and so the emphasis on numbers, percentages and statistics is perhaps unsurprising. The idea is that if City shoots X amount of times, and repeat that, then they will score eventually. Likewise, if the pass the ball X amounts of times, and repeat that action, they will work openings.
Like I said, all very pragmatic and logical.
What this approach does is places emotion and spontaneity firmly in second place. It’s football orchestrated by a mental approach. If players are so transfixed on playing football in this way, then it is no wonder why runs off the ball and tempo are so lacking.
It’s rehearsed through every phase, constructed to perfection, but it doesn’t allow for emotion.
At Sheffield United, there was a visible difference in how both sides began the game. The hosts, led by Chris Wilder, pressed high and used the emotive response to the fixture last season to take the game to Norwich.
On the contrary, City opted for deploying their own style of football and defeating United by playing the better football.
In this division, which is notoriously cut and thrust, where characters and teams wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, it’s possible Norwich are getting undone by their inability to play off the cuff.
Emotion is such a critical part of football. The mental aspects and emotional compass of a human being shouldn’t be disregarded for a pre-determined philosophy. This explains why we struggle to cope with going a goal behind, emphasised on Saturday.
Not because they lack passion, but because the football doesn’t allow them to express it. Farke’s pragmatism is all about numbers, percentages and statistics, not about creating a highly-motivated and energetic side, but one who can achieve a higher probability than their opponent.
Even when speaking to the press, any response to Norwich’s struggles is met with hand-picked statistics, which indicate they are on the right path. If you dominate in numbers, you will win more games than you lose. That’s the underlying premise to Farke’s style of play.
To an extent, he’s right. In theory, this style of playing football should translate into results but this is a Norwich side with bigger issues. Whilst this football may suit the continental leagues or even, to a lesser extent, the tactical nature of the Premier League, the Championship is a division where teams with limited resources play ugly and dominate scorelines as opposed to possession stats.
It does feel as though City are a one-dimensional outfit. They want to hit their head against a brick wall because if they repeat it enough times, eventually they will break through. But breakthrough at what cost? A broken skull? Serious head trauma?
Why headbutt a wall when you can get a ladder and climb over?
Farke’s inability to discover equilibrium in the side has also been a constant struggle since his appointment.
When he resolves the defensive issues – see Preston – City look inept going forward. When the emphasis was on offensive behaviours and movement, they shipped goals against West Brom. That middle ground is something Farke cannot find.
But balance is key in the construction of any football team.
Right now Norwich have operators who aren’t contributing enough to warrant inclusion but also players who have displayed glimpses. The fruits of their labour have shown with Teemu Pukki, Jordan Rhodes and Onel Hernandez, but this team is carrying too many passengers.
Farke can retain his pragmatic and logical approach to football, but create a more inclusive and emotionally intelligent team. Any rejection of emotion creates a team that lacks character and the capability to respond to situations without rigorous coaching.
At the moment, it’s constant spoon-feeding, but some of the players need to be set free from the formulaic approach in order to flourish.