As a Norwich fan, you become hardened to disappointment but I think this season has to be up there as one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had over the years.
Coming up we were magic. Unstoppable and unplayable. We had a manager who had embedded a style that was aesthetically sumptuous, and a Sporting Director who had acquired a squad of lovely lads and technically proficient footballers who we all adored.
12 months later and it’s a very different landscape.
I don’t think any of us expected so little last summer in terms of squad investment, but we trusted in Webber’s assessment that the newly-minted champions had the momentum and the mojo to cause a few upsets against the big boys. We felt Farkeball’s fluidity would be irresistible, even against the best teams in the world. So we gave our lads a crack at it.
While we’ve had no luck with injuries or VAR, that was naive. Of both Webber, and ourselves. But it seemed like the right call at the time.
Farkeball worked initially and Newcastle and Man City felt the full force of that initial momentum even as our horrendous run of injuries kicked in.
But it got found out. Teams worked out quickly that if you press high and stop us playing out from the back they can’t then play longer balls as they have no physicality in the attacking half.
Increasingly as the season wore on, we made more errors while passing out from the back, and our forward players saw less and less of the ball. A recipe for disaster.
I’m speaking now as if the season is over, and how we wish it was. A promotion winning season is great at expunging memories of relegations past and the pain of watching your team play pointless fixtures long after the fat lady has made her intentions clear. Every game is an arduous, predictable torture right now and a reminder of what might have been.
So where do we go next season?
I have faith in Farke. As much as I have disagreed with some of his selections this season, he has not had an over abundance of tools at his disposal. Some of that is because we chose not to recruit, and some of that is because we were very unlucky with injuries. If he did have a Plan B that involved, say, three centre backs, then at no point this season could he have utilised it through no fault of his own.
While his substitutions still come too late for most of us, and his faith in some players seems unjustified, from a player’s perspective, he seems to be a coach that really backs you and gives you the opportunity to come good (although Mo Leitner and Mario Vrancic may take issue with that assessment).
It’s part of the reason that I don’t think we’ll have trouble recruiting before next season though. He’s a coach that players want to play for.
Farkeball as we know it needs major tweaking though. While Championship teams won’t have the ability to neutralise our ability to play from the back, coaches will watch our tape from this season and know how to at least limit us.
Our shape will be determined partly by who we have in the squad. While Sam McCallum may be a like-for-like replacement for Jamal Lewis, Sam Byram and Max Aarons are very different full backs, and Byram is unlikely to provide the width to allow Buendia to tuck in the way he likes to.
Buendia is one who may well not be here, so it remains to be seen whether Danel Sinani cutting in from the right onto his dangerous left peg is the answer, or whether we need a straight forward right-winger.
Lots of questions that we can’t answer at this stage, because we just don’t know who will or won’t be here.
One thing I will say, having experienced multiple relegations, is that going into a new season saying “oh, he should be okay for this league” about a player who has had a shocker the year before doesn’t work. Never has, never will.
And as optimistic and loyal as we were coming into this season that our lads were good enough to carry on their momentum, we cannot be so naive to think that the same group who are losing week in, week out and getting their arses kicked, will simply wander out of their malaise and collectively be able to mentally recharge and win the Championship.
Some of the departures at Colney this summer will be enforced financially and that’s expected. What Stuart Webber also needs to do is be absolutely ruthless and rip apart a squad that every one of us fans has an incredible amount of affection for.
Plodding on with players for sentiments sake or based on glories of two years past won’t work. As we’ve seen with this relegation campaign, not everybody is capable of the fight when the chips are down or there is expectation on us.
That doesn’t mean we lose respect or admiration for their past achievements, but we have to be practical and build a new Norwich City. We have to become fearless again, and we won’t do that with a set of players that right now looks terrified every time they concede a goal.
Webber has to get the balance right this summer, and the psychology has to be reset as soon as possible. If he gives Farke fresh bodies and fresh minds I’m confident he can provide some fresh ideas.
Boy do we need them.