Yes, I did say BF. Before Farke.
There are still practitioners of the traditional approach, notably Tony Pulis at Middlesbrough. All season he fielded experienced players, several of whom individually cost more than our entire team. And true to his principles, they conceded 16 fewer goals than we did.
They also sucked the life out of their supporters, and finished seventh.
We inspired ours, and finished first.
Conventional wisdom is pretty clear. If you have, say, a talented 18-year-old right back, then (a) you find a non-pressure game for his debut, and (b) after a handful of games you take him out of the firing line.
Whatever you do, you don’t throw him into the white heat of a local derby, then play him for the next 41 games.
Unless you’re Daniel Farke and he’s Max Aarons.
It’s a cliché to call our season a fairytale – but so many aspects of it defy any other description. It would be an impressive fairy godmother, for instance, who matched Stuart Webber’s magic of selling Alex Pritchard and the Murphy twins for £35 million and replacing them with Mario Vrancic, Onel Hernandez and Emi Buendia for less than £5 million.
Not to mention Teemu Pukki (baby). An underwhelming free signing – until he became the first Norwich player for over half a century to score 30 in a season and walk away unchallenged as the Championship Player of the Season.
The aforementioned Max Aarons, just as unfamiliar to us in August, rightly made the Championship Team of the Season, as well as being the league’s Young Player of the Season.
Christoph Zimmermann, one of Farke’s Under-23 team at Dortmund, became the elder statesman of our back four as we went to the intimidating backyards of Leeds, Millwall, Rotherham and Middlesbrough – and won the lot.
We turned losing positions at 90 minutes into wins, and pulled back a three-goal deficit in the last ten minutes.
Did it all really happen?
Like all good fairytales, it requires some belief. In our case the belief stemmed from the Board, Stuart Webber and – especially – Daniel Farke. If there’s one thing that’s underpinned our success this year, it’s Farke’s unshakeable faith in his methods, his playing style and his players.
After barely playing for three years, Tim Krul was going to make mistakes. The young defenders too – in truth, each of them has been responsible for at least one goal conceded. But Farke had unwavering belief in his choices.
“I have faith in you” is a powerful message to give to someone. Its impact reverberated through the confidence, togetherness and consistency that we saw grow before our eyes.
Farke has caused us fans some problems, of course. It’s usually straightforward to pick POTS or that other standard, six key moments of the season. Near impossible this time – so I expect plenty of comeback, but here’s my offering:
- Moritz Leitner’s equaliser at Ipswich, 2 Sept. We were losing well into the second half, a defeat that would’ve put us in the bottom three. We now know the hierarchy would have stuck with Daniel Farke, but the unhappiness of fans would have made life very difficult for all at Carrow Road
- Another equalizer, this time Onel Hernandez vs Forest, 26 December. If ever a draw felt like a win, this was it. And achieved by unswerving belief in our football (Timm Klose’s ice-cool dummy to set up the goal deserves a mention in dispatches)
- Yet another late equalizer (these draws really mattered, both for points and confidence): Jordan Rhodes at West Brom, 12 January. It looked a simple finish, because that’s what outstanding strikers do. A goal that shifted the momentum of both teams
- This time a goal that put us ahead: Christoph Zimmermann’s majestic header at Millwall, 2 March. Perfect exemplification of the leadership that made him a strong candidate – and surely a winner in any other season – of our POTS
- Tim Krul’s save to prevent Wigan going 2-0 ahead, 14 April. As became increasingly apparent, this season was as emotional for Tim as for anyone at the club. For aesthetic value I’d have preferred to nominate the one that stopped Forestieri scoring two ‘worldies’ in one game, but the Wigan one was key; even Norwich wouldn’t have come back from two goals down that day
- Mario Vrancic against Sheffield Wednesday, 19 April. Everyone knew it was the last kick of the game; everyone knew that maintaining our unbeaten record might be crucial. A goal of beauty, that sent everyone home with spirits high instead of low
After selecting those six moments, I realized something which perhaps also illustrates our season. Only one of them involves a player who finished in the top three of our Player of the Season.
There’s never been more of a team effort.
Two snippets to finish. After last week’s article where I admitted I was struggling for words to describe our season and people, I was helped out by two people offering le mot juste. One of the catering staff at Carrow Road said the players are a humble group (that was before Kenny McLean proclaimed himself Mayor of Norwich, of course, but the point stands….).
And my sister-in-law Holly summed it up by saying our club these days has soul. Indeed.
The very final thought must go to Daniel Farke, though. While characteristically downplaying his own part, he had some spot-on words for the achievement of our club this year:
It’s not a sensation that Norwich will be playing in the Premier League – we’ve done that before. But to do it in these circumstances is a sensation.
Thank you, Daniel – and everyone involved.