Ask any side gunning for a promotion, and those players currently occupying the periphery of the matchday squad play an integral role in any search for consistent upward mobility.
Football is increasingly becoming a game where teams are reliant upon a large pool of players that extends beyond the 18 selected on a matchday. Historically, sides would operate with one substitute, who would only be brought on if completely necessary.
But now, pundits, analysts and even us columnists discuss frequently and reiterate the importance of squad depth.
That said, some squads perform with greater oomph under a cloud of adversity – see Birmingham as an example of this. When Daniel Farke and his contingent of German coaches arrived, supporters were informed they would work with a smaller squad, one that would allow them to construct a foundation of togetherness.
That togetherness has been critical to the flurries of late winners that have been witnessed, possessing a depth of operators who are invested in the philosophy and principles which this side is attempting to assert onto games consistently.
Togetherness is a factor that Farke has emphasised. It is the reason City have dipped deep into their reserves and found last minute goals that have snatched points in situations where odds were stacked against them.
Perhaps that’s the best metaphor that can be married to this side: they are performing against the odds constantly.
They’ve bucked the trend in numerous ways and adopting a strategic approach to player development and retaining squad harmony will prove critical in both the short and long term. Opting to operate in a unique way is bold, a step into the wilderness.
Last season was proof that this project needed time.
Players like Tom Trybull, Mario Vrancic and Ivo Pinto were integral players as Norwich sought to lay the foundations of Farke’s masterplan. To contrast with this season, Pinto is yet to make an appearance, Trybull has been used as a rotation option and Vrancic largely from the substitutes’ bench.
From major protagonists to a watching brief, a reiteration of how this squad is being adapted and constructed in line with Farke’s beliefs. Moreover, it serves as a testament to how positive this half of the season has been, as those who possess their own chants and are ‘fans favourites’ have this season been given an understudy role.
Yet, keeping them onside and singing from the same hymn sheet is critical to any success City will have this season.
Jordan Rhodes acts as a prime example of how keeping these players content can be exchanged for points.
Upon his arrival, many expected Rhodes to be the talismanic figure who’d lead Norwich’s offensive surge in the quest for more productivity. The reality has been somewhat different, and Teemu Pukki’s emergence has subverted Rhodes to a more bit-part role, but one that doesn’t hold any less importance.
Use his influence against Millwall as an example, keeping those on the bench and beyond onside has the potential to win points. Rhodes is a glowing example, someone who has benefitted the side positivity with his cameos.
Evidence his role in Pukki’s late winner against Bolton, whereby he uses his body to ensure the Finn is the man who gets to the ball first rather than his opponent. That is not the conventional work of a player consistently on the bench, but rather one who has totally bought into the ethos and culture.
Be it Onel Hernandez’ instant impact against Bristol City, Ben Godfrey’s celebrations despite having a watching brief for the majority of the season or Mario Vrancic’s crunching tackle in the build-up for Norwich’s third goal against Rotherham, all are graphic illustrations of the importance of those who have been on the fringes.
Management of those players is crucial for Farke.
This relentless surge of points currently being witnessed isn’t down to the first-team squad entirely, contributions from elsewhere will pick up points also. Maintaining that positive atmosphere and ensuring Colney is a place players want to go to work is crucial for this togetherness.
The togetherness extends to recruitment. Norwich have proved the benefits of ensuring personalities within the squad complement one another and blend well to ensure that togetherness extends beyond the first eleven.
For too long, the bridge between first-team and academy has been almost non-existent.
The club’s category one status for its academy hadn’t been used to affect the first team picture for far too long prior to the club opting to take this new direction.
On Thursday evening this week, the academy scholars were responsible for cooking and serving a Christmas meal to members of the press, directors and first-team coaching staff.
The idea is to improve them as human beings, to ensure they possess the life skills to complement their footballing education. The club is attempting to develop offensive talent, with the realisation that these positions are becoming increasingly more costly.
Those who occupy the corridors of power are pulling in one, united direction and that translates directly onto the pitch.
Norwich City is operating as a cohesive, united entity right now, pulling in the same direction both on and off the pitch. When it comes to the redemptive powers of hard work, our club is proving itself to be converted.