Daniel Farke’s fledglings are flying under the radar, and despite that being favourable for some involved with Norwich City, supporters should allow themselves to spread their wings and begin to dream.
Ultimately, sitting at the summit of the Championship table in November doesn’t result in promotion or titles, but it does set a precedent for the possibilities that can, potentially, be achieved. League position is irrelevant at this stage, what is more pivotal is the unrelenting points tally they are mounting.
Naturally, eyes will wander towards league tables and statistics that present City in a positive light, and that shouldn’t be discouraged. Especially when they make for compulsive viewing and see us among some esteemed company based on current form.
When Leicester City won the title, Claudio Ranieri kept setting points tallies to reach and benchmarks to overcome, during the 2003-04 season when Norwich lifted the tier two title, Nigel Worthington did the same. It’s therefore interesting to see Farke occupy the same psychology.
But downplaying their obvious ability he isn’t, instead he is ensuring expectations are managed and that City continue to operate under the radar.
Farke is a pragmatic figure – that’s evident from the philosophy he has installed – but he is also experienced in motivating young players. Mentality is a huge factor in football, undeniably so, and setting targets prevents players from getting carried away.
Dare to dream? Absolutely, but always ensuring that doesn’t influence the players’ clarity when operating on the pitch.
Norwich’s current form needs to be contextualised.
They sold their most productive sources of offensive output in James Maddison and Josh Murphy, replacing them with creative signings. They continue to fight against EFL homegrown rulings despite being one of the country’s best at producing young talent – surely the consequence of the former should be discounted for their work with the latter?
Furthermore, when Grant Hanley was consigned to the physiotherapy room for a sustained period, most supporters feared for the ramifications this would have on Norwich and their defensive line.
Adversity has been a prevalent and consistent characteristic of Farke’s stewardship at Norwich.
He’s had to operate with his hands tied within the constraints of a financial strait-jacket, whilst watching his best players being sold and replaced with free, low-cost but high-risk transfers.
Discussions of the need for patience have filled many columns on this site and others, but Farke too has had to show plenty.
The frustration was pertinent in January when Alex Pritchard left the club, admittedly Maddison was an expected loss, but numerous managers would have simply opted to use it as an excuse.
Criticism arrived at his door from all quarters, rightly so in some cases, but now he has sculpted the aesthetically pleasing football with a squad of players labelled as German ‘second division cast-offs ‘and players yet to unleash their full potential.
In my view, Norwich are overachieving – but before the keyboards of the comments section begin rattling, let me explain.
Based on the quality of Norwich’s current football, they are deservedly right up with the Championship’s early pacesetters. That third goal scored against Sheffield Wednesday was poetry in motion. This squad possesses youthful exuberance in abundance, coupled with technical class and a way of playing that is proving adaptable to the rigours of the division.
Make no mistake, City are where they are on merit.
Yet when you consider more so the net spends, recruitment and embedment of academy prospects, the odds for inconsistency continue to rise. Expectation was minimal prior to the kick-off of the league season at St Andrews, with progression on the 14th placed finish of last season being the main thing supporters wanted to see.
Imponderables were everywhere to be seen surrounding Norwich City. The financial clout (or rsther lack of it) did nothing to convince supporters that anything other than incremental gains were the limit of their horizons.
Success required the dice to roll immaculately, cards needed to turn over perfectly. The odds were lengthy.
Youngsters are playing regularly and playing at a level way beyond their years on a consistent basis, that, in itself, is something nobody could have foreseen. Young operators usually bring with them inconsistency, but City’s have provided quality, injected the side with dynamism, and all while adding another dimension.
Max Aarons was being watched by Farke for six months prior to his inclusion in the senior side; Teemu Pukki, an embodiment of a different way, is a player Stuart Webber willingly took a chance on where others simply let doubt cloud judgement and Emi Buendia was sourced from the second-tier in Spain to add grit and another offensive dimension to City’s play.
In adversity, Norwich’s major protagonists have combated risk by embracing it.
There is an acceptance that every new signing may not pay off, but for those who don’t – Marley Watkins for example – they can sell on and make money from.
Webber speaks of marginal gains. Farke isn’t afraid of fighting conventions and opting for the inclusion of an untried and untested 18-year-old over a right-back who has been a consistent member of Norwich’s side for a few seasons.
They’ve been working with raw materials, but have, even when criticism became audible at Portman Road, stuck with their core beliefs and principles in what they think will take Norwich to the next level.
Will they go up? Will they even finish in the play-offs? Who knows, but there is real enjoyment to be had in seeing a Norwich side execute highly sophisticated football; football that’s more associated with teams with deeper pockets and continental success.
Farke is the instigator, the players are putting theory into practice and supporters are embracing the current philosophy. ‘Sexy, Sexy Football’ as the away supporters at Hillsborough acknowledged upon watching their side.
Togetherness between those on the pitch among themselves but also with supporters is an important factor. Let this positivity continue into Milwall and beyond, but context is pivotal, because this isn’t something borne from good luck or investment, but instead from careful construction and hard work.
Long may it continue.