It’s almost two years since I interviewed Stuart Webber for these pages.
It was before we appointed – and in most cases before we’d ever heard of – Daniel Farke. We now know that Daniel was top of Stuart’s list, but very different names were on our lips.
Thank goodness it was, and is, Stuart making the decisions.
Those of you who’ve heard Stuart since – perhaps at the recent Canaries Trust AGM? – will know the clarity of thought and purpose that shines through when he talks. It can’t fail to lift your confidence, and his words from the interview certainly helped sustain my faith through lean spells last season.
He talked a good game, but the questions remained: could we implement what he described, and if so, would it actually work?
He emphasized some key points of his thinking. First, that it would take three to four windows to create the right kind of squad. We didn’t necessarily need the best players (thankfully, given the financial situation he and Daniel inherited), but the right players for the club’s new philosophy and style.
Nelson Oliveira and Cameron Jerome were good players – just not right for our future.
Second, the new philosophy had to be instilled throughout the club, and especially in every playing level. A youth player coming into the first team (and he knew there’d be some) must know exactly what’s expected and be used to the system and approach.
Because of our straightened circumstances, one of Stuart’s key criteria for a Head Coach was someone who could improve players: ‘He needs to be able to develop players, whether they’re 21 or 28’.
But ability and philosophy aren’t enough, and another point he emphasized has perhaps been just as crucial to our success this season: the need for hunger.
While Stuart was impressed by the quality of the players he inherited at Norwich, he was less impressed by some of the attitude he found. He watched an easy-on-the-eye demolition of Reading at Carrow Road – but also a 5-1 capitulation by our highly-paid players at Sheffield Wednesday. Not to his taste.
Hence a central point of his recruitment: ‘we want players who are desperate to come and play here’. That might be a Max Aarons or Ben Godfrey who’s risen through the ranks; a Tom Trybull or Moritz Leitner whose career had gone off track; or an Emi Buendia emerging from obscurity. The common denominator is a passion to pull on the Canary shirt and show what they can do.
Stuart promised that the team he and the Head Coach were going to assemble, over the next three to four transfer windows, would never give up on the pitch as he’d seen Alex Neil’s team do.
How can we judge City’s progress towards that? Yes, it feels as if they’ve progressed. But I propose an evidence-based test: my BRM Test.
BRM is the away games at Bolton, Rotherham and Millwall.
With some of them being relegated along the way, we had a total of three such fixtures in our first two seasons after relegation. We lost all three.
We’ve had all three fixtures this season – all in the depth of winter, with our opponents fighting and scrapping for the points. And we won all three.
Much has been made – and rightly so – of the silky football we’ve produced this season. But it won’t get you promotion out of the Championship if it’s not backed up by resilience and sheer bloody-minded determination to get results at places like Rotherham and Millwall.
The hunger and resilience of this squad is a big reason for my optimism about the rest of the season. I’m certainly not counting chickens. But if we get eight or nine points from the next four games (Boro and Wigan away, QPR and Reading at home), then I might start dreaming of open-top parades.
Irrespective of the season’s final outcome, there’s another idea that’s grown on me.
Never has it felt so difficult or inappropriate to single out one individual as Player of the Season. For one thing, there are at least five truly outstanding candidates in different ways (Aarons, Zimmermann, Stiepermann, Buendia, Pukki).
For another, this has truly been a team effort – including those not in the starting XI.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Should we consider replacing the individual award this season with a team award? I was sceptical when I first heard the idea, but I like it more and more. There’s some precedent at other clubs, including Bristol City a couple of years ago.
This idea has been floated on social media, provoking strong and well-argued views on both sides. I’m wondering – and it would certainly influence my opinion – what the players might feel about it.
Over to you…
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.