How quaint the ways of paradox
At common sense she gaily mocks
Readers of a certain age and schooling will instantly recognize The Pirates of Penzance. Gilbert’s paradox, in that case, involved contracts and birthdays, but he might just as well have been talking about football.
In particular the past few weeks of Norwich City FC.
By general consensus, the game at Ipswich on 2 September was less than a classic; in truth, it was a game between two poor-looking sides. But for Mo Leitner’s strike, we might well have lost it, no doubt unleashing a toxic mood among the City faithful.
Even the draw did little to lighten the mood. We had five points from the first six games, and now faced a visit from Middlesbrough and a series of away games. It looked worrying, before the hammer blow of Grant Hanley’s injury.
And yet. We’ve garnered thirteen points from the six games between the international breaks, and it could easily have been more. The last two games, Derby and Stoke, could have delivered four points – maybe six – rather than one. Performances have got better and better.
After Ipswich, I wrote begging for more time before we made judgements. I thought our performances were better overall than our results and could see some spirit among the players.
I can claim credit for that, but not for much else. I thought we should give more time to Farke’s new players and tactics, but I wasn’t certain that results would pick up.
If you’d pushed me, I’d have said that any revival would depend heavily on Grant Hanley, Onel Hernandez, Kenny McLean and Jordan Rhodes. Yet three of them have missed the entire period through injury, while the other has been on the bench.
Paradox indeed – and perhaps an element of coincidence. But not a lucky one.
Daniel Farke’s signings this summer – plus the players he welcomed back from loan – were designed to give us more options, especially in attacking roles. In the pre-season game at Luton, three players stood out: Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell, and Marco Stiepermann in an advanced midfield role.
In other words, it wasn’t a happy chance that the selections since Ipswich have clicked. Some may not have been Farke’s planned pick for Middlesbrough, but all had been groomed and prepared for the roles into which they’ve slotted so well.
Thomas Edison put it elegantly:
“Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation”
We’re rightly heartened by the team’s recent performances. In turn, they’re heartened by the kind of support we showed at the end of Saturday’s game. It’s a better feeling all round.
That said, let me defy my “happy clapper” reputation with a big word of caution. If we were in danger of letting negative feelings get out of hand in September, we may be in danger of letting positive ones get out of hand now.
The Championship is a tough league, where plenty of clubs have either deeper resources than Norwich or a fierce physical resilience to the kind of football we play. Just because we outplayed Stoke doesn’t mean we won’t struggle to beat Millwall, Rotherham or Bolton.
To stay around the top six, we’ll need to carry on working as hard as we have, and find ways to make our play a bit more penetrating. We may well be able to do it – we certainly have more options than last season – but it won’t be easy.
In addition to the regular articles on this site, I hope readers are enjoying our match previews based on chats with opposition representatives. Many of them are articulate and insightful; some are disarmingly honest about their clubs.
I’m thinking of the Villa fan I interviewed last year. It’s fair to say he wasn’t taken by the Steve Bruce mystique. Yes, Bruce had presided over several promotions – but he’d had just as many relegations, and often achieved less than you might expect from the resources at his disposal.
So he won’t have been too shocked at Bruce’s dismissal last week. What may have shocked and intrigued him, as it does us, is the Great Cabbage Incident.
Why and how did a cabbage get thrown at Steve Bruce by a frustrated home fan? Did he take a cabbage to the match with the express purpose of throwing it at the manager if the game was going badly? If so, why a cabbage?
Or was it an impulse action – having done some grocery shopping en route to the game, did he reach for the most suitable missile among his various foodstuffs?
Did he go home to an interesting conversation…
“Did you remember to get the cabbage, love?”
All rather bizarre. Paradoxical, you could say.