Eye-watering transfer fees, sleeve sponsors and VAR.
Welcome back to the Premier League, Norwich City.
The gulf between the Championship and the Premier League is vast – we’re told that constantly – but it’s in terms of money where the different ballparks become obvious.
For a community football club whose current model sees it operate within the constraints of a financial straitjacket, it’s easy to join the dots and see why Norwich City is not a natural fit for the Premier League.
‘Little Norwich’ is the tag that has been, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so, attributed to this football club by its supporters, but is also implied by national outlets, pundits and opposing supporters.
Given the general rhetoric adopted in the Premier League, it’s terminology that will be repeated continually next season. Whether it’s Gary Neville, on Sky Sports, bemoaning Norwich’s lack of transfer spending compared with fellow newcomers Aston Villa or the constant belittling by opposition fans, we all need to take the advice of Stuart Webber and ‘ignore the noise’.
The level of scrutiny will be tenfold that of last season – that much we do know.
An international audience brings expectation. A game against Norwich will be viewed as a must-win for all sides, yet the criticism will come if City don’t pull up trees and survive while conforming to Premier League convention. Unlike Sheffield United and Aston Villa, they don’t have an English coach to swoon over, but what they do have is a potent style of play and a squad that represents everything that makes the league so intoxicating.
The Premier League offers a cocktail of footballing philosophies from around the globe. From Guardiola’s tika-taka to Klopp’s gegenpress back to Dyche’s traditional result-getting football.
Daniel Farke and Webber have constructed a broad-church of European talent, some discarded by previous owners, and transformed them into league winners. Operating with a possession-based, aesthetic and practical footballing philosophy, this is different Norwich City than those that have previously tackled the top-flight.
But retaining the togetherness is the challenge, both on the pitch and on the terraces.
Norwich City FC replicates Norwich as a city. The values the two entities share exist as one: the community, the openness and the welcoming nature. The people stand in unison, celebrating together or comforting each other. But global corporations and world-class operators will test those values.
With those challenges needs to come more colour, more patience and a greater sense of perspective.
Last season, City embarked on a challenge to display tangible signs of improvement but fast-forward a year and they are preparing for an opening day trip to Anfield to face the European Champions.
So expect the lazy comparisons between Jurgen Klopp and Farke, and the fascination around a lack of Premier League experience, but this the new Norwich City way, and we’ll l plough on regardless of what the league throws at us.
The successes of last season, while stored in the minds of everyone forever, will be soon be replaced with hopes and fears for the season ahead and the new task in hand.
To shake the tag already ascribed to them, they will have to ignore the critics who fail to understand the route they are creating. Luckily, the Canary fanbase has already been educated in the new way, the best example being how the Carrow Road crowd no longer demands a direct pass in the dying embers of a game when a goal is needed.
Being ahead of the curve allows the players some space to operate.
A new training ground and investment in youth players who could become first-teamers in years to come have been the primary usage of City’s budget to date. Webber has constructed an environment where pragmatism and graft are top of the agenda, all shaped around the tight financial model, but which is never used as an excuse.
Contractually, they are showing faith in those who won the Championship title and are refusing to stoke the flames of transfer sensationalism by chasing names that will sell shirts. Recruitment is critical, but it’s also fair to say they haven’t got every transfer right. For every Teemu Pukki, there’s a Marley Watkins, but the structure of the recruitment process is solid and has delivered.
‘They’ll need fire in their stomachs, but ice in their heads’; a quote from Farke’s book of footballing poetry. Multiply that by 38. Defensive grit will be a new facet needed, and key will be how they respond to not being the active team – at Anfield for starters.
That’s the big test.
Eye-watering transfer fees will be a regular occurrence for the duration of Norwich’s stay at the top table but, most probably, it’ll be others, not City, spending that money. The temptation will increase, especially if on the pitch results aren’t what many hope, but resisting that temptation and maintaining their ethos will be integral to the medium and long-term future of the club.
These questions will be answered soon enough, but they’ll need to shake off the ‘little Norwich’ tag by doing it their way and by refusing to conform.
This is exciting. Bring it on.