Tony Mowbray referenced it, and many others operating the corridors of power will have thought about it.
Norwich City’s methodology from the season just gone will be dissected and emulated by aspirational Championship clubs. Many coaches have eulogised around the way City soared to the summit of the Championship, opting against conforming to the rules outlined by traditionalists who adhere to a specific set of criteria to earn success.
Eighteen months ago, electing to proceed down a route that involved a Head Coach and a Sporting Director operating in tandem, seemed an adventurous approach to adopt.
But accelerate down the timeline to present day, and Daniel Farke’s men have been on a magic carpet ride with the destination being the Premier League. It’s hard to ignore what a brave decision it was to head in this new direction.
With the club staring into the financial abyss, its big decision makers walked into a club on its knees, begging for direction and reconnection.
On the second highest budget in Championship history, Alex Neil and his side flopped. How the club was operating wasn’t sustainable. Something had to give. Yet in many quarters, it was simply perceived as Stuart Webber merely replicating his Huddersfield success by picking up his work and dropping it into NR1.
It’s a narrative that was seized upon with gusto by those outside to the Norfolk bubble, once the happenings at Carrow Road became clear to all.
It felt like a radical departure away from the norm, but now it is well on its way to being perceived as the norm. Farke’s squad of unheralded talent have achieved mission improbable; they arrived as unknown entities but have passed their way to Championship glory.
The beauty of the success was in its unpredictability, but now there is a reason why other clubs want to follow suit.
Education is a huge factor in football.
If City’s success teaches Championship sides anything, it’s that being ambitious doesn’t necessarily need to be defined by big budgets and household names. Ambition can also be a self-belief in a particular direction, while recruitment doesn’t need to rely upon these shores.
Financial insecurity is rife within the Championship at present, with the crystal ball predicting more clubs will fall due to chasing the dream by irresponsibly splashing huge sums of money. Derby or Aston Villa will theoretically find themselves staring administration in the face, whichever one fails to reach the Premier League, and if you add in Financial Fair Play, you get a lot of teams struggling to comply.
That City were able to achieve promotion within their own modest budgets and by complying with FFP, serves as a massive glowing light to those clubs who lack resources.
The formula has been mapped out since Webber’s arrival. At no point did it take a significant detour, nor did the fundamentals of it change. Contrast and compare this with other clubs who have declared a bold new direction only to revert to type once doubt seeped in.
City, regardless of the external noises and negative chants, ploughed on with confidence. Even in the heat of some intense pressure on the board, against Brentford in December 2017, Farke introduced Jamal Lewis for his senior debut. A week later, he made his first start.
Blooding youngsters at times of pressure has become a common scenario during Farke’s reign.
Most coachess would opt for experience over youth but the German has drip-fed his young players into the starting line-up. With Lewis, it was that Brentford appearance, with Ben Godfrey, half a season of watching and learning, and with Max Aarons, a cup game before the intensity of an East Anglian derby.
Underpinning that success has been the togetherness in the dressing room and the mentality instilled by those occupying senior positions in Colney.
But we know it’s going to be difficult and anyone who watched the FA Cup Final will have witnessed the level that awaits Farke’s fledgelings.
Pep Guardiola’s side will be merely one obstacle the Canaries will need to contain next season. Now it’s all about to change. We’re now competing in an arena where corporate hospitality is King, where teams spend more on their defences than some countries spend ensuring they can withstand nuclear bombardment. The grounds are bigger, names are more prominent than shirts, and everything becomes more commercial.
The task will be whether Norwich can maintain that togetherness and continue to operate with youthful exuberance while in a setting where defeats could become more common than victories. But the transformation of the club’s attitudes towards the academy, recruitment and a strong identity means they accelerate into the Premier League in a comfortable position.
Arguably, they are in a stronger position than ever before to build a club that can sustain its seat at the top table for a consistent period.
In an alternative dimension, James Maddison’s injury on the closing day of 2017 would have seen him remain at the club for months. That would have inadvertently halted the Canaries assault to the top tier. That reinvigoration wouldn’t have been witnessed; the enigmatic Marco Stiepermann may still have been a left-back option.
So many variables have contributed to a remarkable campaign.
Maddison’s personal numbers are there for all to see. He was the pivot and the team was built around; it was a game plan concocted around extracting his talents. But remove his goals and Norwich would have been relegation fodder. The mistakes of the past meant Maddison’s stay would be a sweet but short one.
A potential financial abyss threatened to devour the club. Sadly, it was the magic in Maddison’s boots which were sacrificed, but in doing so an equilibrium has been reached that has created a cohesive clockwork surrounding the club.
Underpinning it all are several buzzwords: ‘togetherness’, ‘identity’, ‘philosophy’ and ‘culture’.
Yet, perhaps the most pertinent is bravery.
Whether that’s in recruitment, youth development or through their patterns of play, City’s bravery is what stems right through the heart of the club’s operations.
It’s embodied in the work of Webber and Farke, but is also tangible around the feel of Colney through the building works.
No longer is this a club that fears being in the shadows; it’s now one that is frantically attempting to create its own light.
Rebellious, adaptable and exciting – that’s the challenge Norwich pose to the Premier League. Fundamentally, they need to retain those values among the prawn sandwiches, inflated transfer fees and corporateness of the Premier League.
As Webber said, they’ve climbed Everest, reached the summit and now it’s time to do it again.
Who would bet against them?
Jim Davies says
As I’ve pointed out before on MFW, Connor, the bold plan has come to fruition two years ahead of schedule, so there’s time ride the relegation-promotion roller coaster again, and still keep the project on track, though I hope we don’t need to do that.
I’m sure we’ll have some tough times next season, and possibly have to accept the odd hammering, but as was so often pointed out by commentators last season, we have been playing Premier League quality football, so we should be able to hold our own.
Michael D says
We’re all feeling relatively complacent about next season, ie we’ll avoid the immediate relegation trapdoor we went through last time round. But that’s because this time we have a) a clear philosophy that can work in the PL, and b) we trust DF, SW, and support team, and indeed the players themselves, absolutely NOT to be complacent about any of this. In fact I expect DF to double down on his pre-season preparations even more this year, but hope that doesn’t as a result lead to too many pre-season injuries. We had a fair whack last year.
But, and this is the big but, it is really important to start the season well, as once in the PL basement it is much harder to get out of it again. So it will be really important we try and start the first 6 weeks in a much better way than we did at the beginning of this last season. What a ride it’s going to be – again.
Alex B says
A great summary on cities successful season, at the present time city are living the dream and long may it last.
At the present time Webber and Farke will be still the unknown factor in the Premiership and all eyes will be watching firstly the recruitment process prior to the big kick Off in August.
Secondly once the season starts all the eyes will switch to see how quickly city adapt to life in the Premiership.
Thirdly will be if city has a poor start will the board panic or keep the faith till the next transfer window to try and get extra bodies in.
It will be another exciting season all round with many clubs in both the Championship and Premiership casting envious eyes not only on our young players but also the management team in Webber and Farke if thing prove to start well.
Onwards and Upwards
Tim Ball says
Great piece Connor.
I never thought the playoffs were likely and even my great mate ever the optimist Marty only went as far as to say he felt a playoff finish was a possibility. Lets not forget we had lost Maddison, Pritchard, Murphy, Gunn and Reed.
It was when Eddie Howe said after our league cup tie that he felt ” Norwich will take a lot of stopping ” that I considered promotion. What the club has achieved is unbelievable, on our budget to be Champions is nothing short of miraculous.
I also think Farke and Webber have educated us supporters, I rarely hear around me “boot the thing” these days. Farke realised that last seasons play was too slow and it had to be faster. Plus we needed a goal scorer, and the club certainly did that with Teemu Pukki (with Jordan Rhodes an excellent back up)
I would love the club to say Daniel Farke will be here whatever (if he chooses) happens next season. I know that maybe difficult but we are ahead of schedule as Jim Davies says.
Also over the years a lot of us have felt we have lacked ambition, but just look at Bolton, Coventry, Charlton etc. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the loser of Villa v Derby gets into big trouble with FFP.
We dodged a bullet in not signing McCormack but not with Naismith, perhaps those days when we can risk a big purchase are some years in the future, but I like the present system with academy players getting their chance and looking for young hungry bargains here or abroad.
Of course there is no guarantee it will always work, and we will lose Webber & Farke one day but I do not want to end up like a Coventry fan whose club’s very future is at stake. And look at our dear friends down the road, Maurice Evans is reputed to put in £7 million a year and they have ended up in the 3rd Division ( lets be honest that’s what it is )
I do not want us to risk the very future of the club on mad spending and it was a massive relief to hear both Webber & Farke to say we will not be doing a repeat of what Fulham did last season.
First class article Connor and really sums up the season we’ve been privileged to witness unfold. Whilst MANY fans had fingers hanging over the ‘eject’ button for SW/DF after the humiliation by Leeds, the board stayed true and HOW have we all been rewarded.
I think I’m right in saying that since that abysmal day in August, we have suffered 3 defeats (one of them being ‘floodlightgate’) and another by yet another missed penalty and some inspired goalkeeping. We were also responsible for halting Villa’s incredible winning streak.
Bring on the PL top 6and I expect to suffer some serious damage to our GD against them, but I’m also confident that we have enough to be looking forward to a 2nd season in the PL!!