If anybody needed a gauge as to the sheer level of positivity, they only needed to attend last night’s AGM to experience the mood music embracing the club at present.
This isn’t merely because City are sitting of the perch in the division and playing aesthetically pleasing football, it’s materially better than just that with togetherness the overriding emotion in the room.
Stuart Webber was the man tasked with rebuilding a Norwich City side who were lying vacant, in a critical condition. He was given carte-blanche to take a new direction for a football club who had become distanced from its supporters and lacked real direction.
There was competition for power at the top, supporter apathy and a sizeable wage bill for Webber to cut dramatically. A big task, but slowly, surely, he’s implemented of a progressive culture that emphasises more on communication and togetherness and less on who holds the power at the top of the pyramid.
Webber has received praise for his transparency on key issues but also for confronting them head-on, with a rationale born of pragmatism but within that sensible form of thinking there is an aggressive ambition that is apparent in any conversation with Webber.
That transparency is something the club are attempting to improve drastically following the tyrant-like and destructive regime of Jez Moxey. Webber is insistent on the need to be open and create a dialogue with supporters, a characteristic the club need to possess and cherish.
‘I only know one way of working, so let’s just cut to the chase and talk pretty straight about things. As long as it’s not personal, which it should never be, then say it. What’s our purpose? Our purpose is to make the club better, so let’s get on with it.
‘Delia and Michael’s dream, even when I first met them, was about being as transparent as possible. That’s a true value of mine as well, let’s be honest with people, even if that isn’t what they necessarily want to hear.
‘People can deal with it then, if you lie constantly then it comes can back to bite you’, Webber said.
‘We haven’t got all of the answers, we know all the problems, but we don’t necessarily always know the answer. Sometimes we need the supporters to help.’
There is a reason Webber is one of the most highly rated Sporting Directors in the country: his impressive tackling of situations that many wouldn’t have thrown themselves into and the resilience to see through a strategic plan.
Supporters will be encouraged by Webber reaffirming his commitment to the cause at Carrow Road, by dismissing rumours that he is set to join Southampton. When asked in the Q&A, he said ‘I haven’t had an approach and I wouldn’t welcome an approach.’
‘I’m not a Norwich fan and I’m ambitious, one day I want to work abroad in Spain and Germany but right now my focus is on Norwich and attempting to deliver success here’.
Upon reading that response, those Norwich supporters who had manned the panic stations whilst dripping with sweat through trepidation will hopefully be comforted at the firmness of his dismissal of that rumour.
Both he and his selected Head Coach have had to work in the constraints of a financial straitjacket, cost-cutting whilst attempting to produce a competitive team on the pitch capable of writing their own fairy-tale.
In order for that fairy tale to come to have the potential to come to fruition, the working relationship between Webber and Daniel Farke needs to be a constant stream of communication.
‘Daniel and I have a real open and honest relationship ever since he joined. Daniel is a coach like no other I’ve met in terms of his meticulous preparation for matches. He’ll be in the office at 8pm on a Sunday evening preparing for a Tuesday night game’.
When pressed on Farke’s contract, Webber explained, ‘We started speaking about it last Christmas. We went for dinner and did a six-month review, not like an appraisal! But simply discussing if he’s happy here.
‘He’s grateful the club stood by him last season, because he could have been managing lots of other clubs and lost his job last year. He’s not stupid or naïve about that fact. That brings a certain about of loyalty from both sides and there’s a real willingness from both of us to continue on.’
Webber adds, ‘ We’ve been relaxed because we’re both relaxed characters. We trust each other and he trusts the club and the club trust him, so we all know that nobody will get screwed over. To be honest, we’ve not had much time to sit down and discuss contracts. We’ve had to park it and we’ll come back to it. He doesn’t have the mental capability to discuss contracts after the intensity of his match preparation’.
‘We had a private chat in Tampa, and that will remain private, but both parties are in a really good place and I’m confident we’ll get something done soon that is a good deal from both him and club that allows us to build on the positive work we’ve done so far.’
The sales of key protagonists, namely James Maddison and Josh Murphy could have further derailed the fortunes of Norwich. While many supporters have spoken of the new found balance and less reliance on individual talent, Norwich have seemingly possessed more equilibrium.
Although this is a view that Webber disputes.
‘I’d love to see them in this current group. It would be pretty exciting I think.’ Webber adds, ‘What we did do was deal with it. It was never a surprise and we were well aware it was going to happen and it’s why we brought in Moritz Leitner in January if we’re being honest.
‘We had a plan to deal with it. We were never going to replace them like for like, but it allowed us to mould the team with not so many outstanding individuals, but we back our scouting team and the academy to create new heroes.
‘We can’t buy superheroes, but we can make them.’
Misconception is a large part of the modern footballing sphere. The proliferation of social media has caused rumour to spread like wildfire, being consumed like fact quicker than ever and that wildfire ignites into personal abuse.
He spoke at length on the effects this criticism has not just on players, but also their families and children. Social media is a partisan topic in football, and its effect on the game is undeniable if ambivalent.
‘You just want people to be fair. I felt last year there was personal abuse and people slagging you off for no reason. I didn’t want to sell James Maddison either, unfortunately, the social media world gives people a platform to say what they like that they’d never say to your face because you’d do something to them and that would be it.
‘And it’s understandable when we’ve been beaten 5-0, completely justified to say ‘the defending was rubbish, Webber’s signings were rubbish’, that’s fine. It’s when it becomes personal that there is no need for it. They are human beings. Some of the criticism they get is disgusting. We need to educate people in football, I think.
‘I had it at times last year, my uncle rang me, who isn’t particular internet savvy would ring me and say, ‘have you seen this?’ and he’d get upset. He’s like a father to me so it was tough to hear him become upset, but I told him to ignore it. I think it’s a disease in football that we aren’t going to fix tonight.’
The strength of Webber’s opinion on abuse online is telling as to the impact words can have. Some feel as though hiding behind a screen allows them to tweet whatever they wish without regarding any potential consequences.
This links to the Matt Jarvis article I penned last week, and I took the opportunity to pose the question as to the impact of the comments online have affected Jarvis.
‘I think naturally it’ll have an effect on him. Ultimately, he doesn’t choose to be injured and its pretty sad what’s happened to him at this club. You couldn’t meet a better bloke in football.’ Webber said, ‘I’ve had meetings with him and he feels bad for taking money from the club through his body letting him down.
‘As a club, one of the challenges we face is people’s welfare and looking after them in the best way he can. We’ll always look after Matt because he’s a good bloke and he deserves it.’
Comparison to last season is futile in many regards, but as a backdrop to the context of Norwich’s rise to the summit of the division, it’s pivotal to understand how the foundations were laid in order for Norwich to improve.
Last season, we saw Norwich operate with a three at the back system, a four at the back and at points, a five at the back; this season, Norwich have played with the same formation throughout this season.
‘At times last year, when we were leaking goals, Daniel had to find a different solution to resolve that. We only had one transfer window last year when he joined. You’re never going to get your ideal squad in one window.
‘Every window we’ve added players who can add something and help our style of play. Daniel’s methods have had a year to bed in, players went from having two days off to only one. Luckily for us, we have a really experienced ownership who can be that steady constant throughout everything we do.’
Everyone can see a step change at Norwich at present.
At present, it feels like Norwich are in a positive place as a collective. Should they be able to construct a fairy-tale of their own, they possess pragmatic individuals with a progressive outlook and strategic plan to deal will all scenarios.
The longer Norwich can retain the services of Stuart Webber, one of the games up and coming philosophical figures, the higher they’ll climb.
With thanks to our friends at Along Come Norwich, the full interview can be listened to here: