Amidst some good MFW content recently (Sunday morning contributions aside), there were a couple of cracking guest blogs last week.
One was from George Devo, who eloquently and sensibly asked the question ‘do we really want to get promoted?’, and the other was by Radio Times writer and City fan, Hannah Shaddock, who implored us all to embrace and enjoy the football we are watching right now.
Both pieces struck a chord, and shot (cue music) into MFW’s ‘top five’ most-read for the last fortnight, but more importantly generated discussion and debate.
The answers to both questions raised were of course two emphatics ayes, and it goes without saying that for all its well-known ills, the Premier League is the place to be. We already know we would love it and hate it. And Hannah was spot on in saying that this season-to-end-all-seasons simply has be enjoyed regardless of its outcome.
But George got me thinking – pretty much for the first time – of what life really could be like next season if the P word were to come to fruition, and it immediately became clear why, behind the sheer undiluted joy this season has bestowed, there is an almost unspoken sense of trepidation over what may lie ahead.
Let’s not sugar coat it – relegation scraps in the Premier League are grim. Out of the 38 games, there are twelve from which anything other than defeat is regarded as a bonus, which leaves 26 from which to cobble together the 40ish points needed to survive. And, in the spirit of being brutally honest, it leaves scars.
Putting aside for once second the joie de vivre that has engulfed almost every aspect of Norwich City FC this season, the soul-destroying nature of seasons 2004/05, 2013/14 and 2015/16 all left varying degrees of bruising.
From 2004/05, the 6-0 at Craven Cottage on the final day will always be remembered ahead of the thrilling 2-0 win over Manchester Utd in April of that season, in the same way City fans can still picture all 5 foot 8 inches of Simon Charlton lining up alongside Craig Fleming at centre-back as readily as they can recall Hucks’ four brilliant assists in the 4-4 vs Middlesbrough. The thrills were smothered by the nightmares.
Similarly, the Chris Hughton era, despite those home wins over Manchester Utd and Arsenal and that thrilling end-of-season away win at Man City, will be remembered more for the soul-draining style of football and lack of swashbuckle than anything that could remotely be described as joyous.
And less said about the preparation, recruitment and value-for-money that underpinned the Alex Neil Premier League season the better.
In fact, to spin it on its head, of the five seasons that City have dined at the top table this century, only the Paul Lambert campaign and the unbeaten run in the autumn of Hughton’s second season conjure up fond memories, and even they are punctuated with the odd shellacking, usually at the hands of either Man City of Liverpool.
So, yes, there are still some scars and just talking about it fills one with a faint element of dread. The bruising, while long gone, is still tender if you prod it, and so to feel a little reticent about the prospect of promotion is perfectly understandable.
Ask Huddersfield fans. Ask Fulham fans.
But – and thank god there is a but – there have been a couple of very obvious and high-profile reminders that it doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m not even talking about Huddersfield’s successful first season, which looks increasingly like it was the product of a promotion ‘bounce’.
Firstly, the aforementioned Fulham have offered up a classic example of how not to do it. Despite only gaining promotion via the playoffs last season, they were widely recognised as the best footballing side in the division who played with a style that, with a few additions and tweaks, could well thrive in the Premier League.
But no, rather than base their new campaign on what worked well for them in 2018/19, they ripped it up and started again, spunking over £100 million on new players in the process. And, surprise surprise, it didn’t work. Two managers later, they are heading from whence they came.
Yet, if Fulham have given us a perfect example of how not to do it, and how it takes far more than diamonds and pearls to make a football team, last night’s events in Madrid offered up a prime example of how it can be done.
Ajax’s 4-1 win over Real Madrid, to give them a 5-3 aggregate win that took them through to the Champions League last eight, was achieved with a team that included no less than six players under the age of 22. And while they are the Real Madrid of the Eredivisie, they still operate minus a bottomless pit of money and instead rely on nurturing young players from academy to first-team.
As pointed out on Twitter last night, Ajax’s total revenue last season was dwarfed by how much the Premier League’s bottom club – West Brom – received from TV income alone. So, while in relative terms it’s not a shoestring, it’s a budget that’s more Norwich City than Man City, and their last-eight place in the Champions League has been earned via good youth development, quality coaching and some smart recruitment.
All of which means if we do achieve that P thing that we’re not really supposed to talk about, in case it tempts fate, then we should trust Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke to do it differently this time around. Besides, both have more than deserved the chance to operate at the highest level.
The players too deserve that same chance and it goes without saying that, regardless of City’s fate, Messrs Pukki, Aarons, Lewis, Buendia and Godfrey will be playing Premier League football next season. You can be sure their respective agents, if City contrive to miss out, will be busy people.
All of which adds up to the most emphatic message ever that City simply have to make these final eleven games count.
Hannah was, of course, right to say we should be soaking up every kick, header, dribble, step-over and save, but chances like this don’t come along too often, and there’s no rule that says if you just miss out this season, then next season you’re guaranteed to go close again.
This could be a once in lifetime chance to strike for gold and it is certainly the only chance that this particular squad will have to do it as a collective. The time for just ‘enjoying the ride’ is in my view over.
Okay, so the sphincter may twitch a little at the prospect of going toe-to-toe with Man City, Liverpool et al, but let’s not forget how well Farke’s first iteration coped with cup games against Arsenal and Chelsea. Some even argued at the time that his preferred style of play has a natural home in the top tier rather than the second.
Maybe, just maybe we’re going to find out.
So, yes, let’s try and enjoy the next eleven ‘cup finals’ – as much as you can enjoy football when the nerves are properly jangling – and let’s do it with no fear. Minus the fear of what lies ahead over the next two-and-a-half months and, equally, with hope in our hearts that if we were to go up this club has the right people and infrastructure to “give it a right good go”.
Never Mind the Danger.
You may have noticed that in order to *hopefully* safeguard the future of MyFootballWriter, we’ve started a fund-raising drive using the Patreon membership model. If you think you could help, or if you’re at least intrigued as to what it’s all about, please have a look here.
We’ve made a steady start but there’s still some way to go before we can look forward to, hopefully, reporting on City as they mix it with the elite of the English game. We’d really appreciate your help people.
martin penney says
Good one Gary.
I’ve been saying for ages now that with no more than a couple of tweaks this side could survive in the PL and I still believe that to this day.
But some of our supporters apparently don’t want PL survival and quite a few even suggest that to turn down promotion from the Championship to the PL is a realistic alternative.
Drink, feck, ar$e etc. Father Jack knew his stuff.
We will never be able to roll with City, Man Ure. Chelski, Arsenal, Spurs and a few others. But I love it when those teams come here. We are unlikely to acquire even as much as a point against them but don’t tell me it’s not enjoyable to watch the oppo.
But when you look at Bournemouth, Burnley, Southampton and quite a few others (sell Wilfried Zaha and I’ll include you Palace) surely we could at least fight to survive?
Early days yet of course but with Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke at the helm I’d be delighted if we went up and not too distraught if we came down. thereafter.
I’d rather be at City than Huddersfield right now. What do you reckon Alex?
Have to agree Martin.
The top 6 in the Prem as just so much better than the rest – but how good to be able to see them in the flesh…..and sometimes it might just be your day for a point (or three) – remember Man U away and THAT Tettey toe-poke??
As for the rest, for me, Everton, Wolves and probably Leicester will always be in/around the top 10, but with points eminently possible.
That leaves 10 “other” also rans, and given what we saw against Chelski and Arsenal last season, plus the huge improvement in our own performances, surely we would gain enough points to survive?
O T B C
Gary, you speak great sense and Martin you are right to point out the joys of Premiership football. I have a prediction for you: no points lost in the run in, therefore winners of the Championship. I am not superstitious so don’t buy into the nonsense that I’m jinxing the team and, for the record, we play the best football by a country mile in this division and no team can live with us for 90mins. Preston was the anomaly, we could have won that game too but for some poor penalty taking and some very tired legs. When we are up for it, as Leeds will testify, teams can’t live with us. The squad is strong, deep and there are goals aplenty on the bench. Double up on Emi and you create space for Max’s overlap. Double down on Pukkinand you leave the Stieperdude with time and space. Don’t bother trying to plan for Onel, he’s too damn quick for you anyway. Oh and Kenny, Super T, Super Mario, Super Mo,…. I could go on. The championship is ours and the Premiership better watch the f*$k out because our young guns are Leicester City 2015/16 on protein shakes laced with RedBull and amphetamines. They can run through brick walls, Webber just said so!
Michael D says
A very thought provoking article Gary, and a lovely response Spudgunner! I think the challenge for Webber and Farke will be how to strengthen the squad whilst maintaining the current team togetherness and dynamics. There are a few players that may not make the transition back to the Premier League – Alex T is probably the most obvious – but yes, I would be surprised if the W and F approach is anything other than a few very careful, strategic additions – another striker, goalkeeper, winger (goodbye Ben), and 1-2 more defenders (Pinto and Passlack will go, so we will need at least another RB). But I would expect 5-6 additions probably maximum, with any further strengthening happening at the Academy level. With these kind of additions added to the youthful zest and rejuvenated technical expertise of the moneyball players of the current group, one thing I’m sure next year will be is an exciting ride, more akin to Lambert’s season in the PL than other of the Hughton or Neil seasons. Whatever happens this group and manager won’t leave one wondering what might have been.
Alex B says
Full agree with you and Gary a season or more in the Prem would enhance the self financing model, add a few zeros to the fees on a couple of the young players.
As for A Pritchard well he will possibly cry home sick for London and get a move south maybe to CP for a goid fee hope city have a sell clause.
Poor old Brendan his home broken into since his move I hope no one was in or got hurt but it seems someone didn’t like him up there. Reports say it was all his football medals taken.
Alex B says
Just incase someone thinks I might be gloating about this mishap to clear up I am not suggesting he or his family deserved this just that some supporters take actions that are over the top which is out of order.
We all support a club managers come and go same as player and at some club owners but once they leave give them respect for the period they have been at the club not threaten them or their families.
David Bowers says
Count me in. I’ve always said Lambert’s PL success was attained through attitude rather than raw skill or big signings and I don’t see why this group would be any different.
However, should things go south and I see a post on this site saying we don’t have the money, we’re not big enough, we should expect to be going down, I’m quitting reading Norwich websites. Too Groundhog Day for my liking!
Dan Rear says
Wasn’t that great Hooton unbeaten run in his 1st season, not his 2nd?
David Bowers says
Refuse promotion? That is certainly not desirable, even if it is possible. The PL have a not so hidden agenda, the fixed-franchise, no relegation/promotion model with the “correct” teams in place. Refusing to go up would just hasten that day. There might yet be a break-away “super league” for Europe’s top boys…
Float in Celtic and Rangers, remove the chaff by shrinking the PL to 16 teams, and bolt the doors. Every other team can just whistle. It is not some pipe-dream. Serious consideration is constantly given to an approach like this. Money talks…your own TV station with full control over rights and revenues…
The fixed-franchise PL or the Euro super-league are constantly on the boil…perhaps with a one place promotion/relegation link between the two. Time will tell…
Don Harold says
If we go up I hope the squad doesn’t change too much and that the playing style doesn’t change at all. Gary mentioned Huddersfield’s successful first season; their success was that they stayed up but this was achieved by playing some of the worst football I’ve ever seen and West Brom not sacking Pardew till too late. Fulham played great football last season (not as good as Wolves) but have changed everything this season and look terrible. Cardiff played Colinball and continue to do so; they might just harvest enough points to remind the world that even the EPL has ugliness attached.
I first really thought that something special was happening this season in the home defeat against Stoke. At the end of the game it seemed that every man, woman and child stayed to show their support of a team that played brilliantly with huge effort-we all knew results would come.
If we’re in the Prem next season I am sure that style and effort will keep the crowd happy; if we get enough points to keep us safe it will be the icing on a very tasty cake.
Ian Thompson says
6 wins and the dream becomes reality for me…
Come March 31st 2019 we will almost know for sure – I’m guessing Middlesbrough away done and a couple of tricky home games played, hopefully, points in the bag and Rotherham fighting for there lives -always a tough place to visit.
Personally, hate the Premier League and everything that goes with it but money talks in every walk of life and that is where this club needs to be to survive season after season.
This bunch of young men have given 27000 every week such joy over the past 7 months, something that this time last year we could only dream of. Just 6 home games to go and 5 away for the class of 18/19 to become part of City’s history and have their names talked about for many years to come. All of us are lucky enough to be part of this amazing journey at FCR this season!
Great write again Gaz – always enjoy MFW and the pieces. Catch you soon bud
Spudgunnercanary is spot on and we need to sign up to his optimism. We have every reason to be anticipating promotion and this team and management will give the Premiership a real go.