This season is over, bar the shouting. Or perhaps more accurately, the whimpering.
The “little miracle” Farke was seeking at the restart has grown to loaves-and-fishes proportions, and beyond.
The really disappointing thing – the main reason for sour feelings among fans, and some unprecedented questioning of Farke’s position – is the appearance of our players accepting relegation meekly instead of with resistance.
There are grounds for criticism, of course. Some of it also seems to me wide of the mark.
The point is that lack of confidence can look deceptively like lack of commitment. And, as Gary highlighted here on Sunday, no-one can fail to see or understand our lack of confidence.
It’s no coincidence that our best spell since the resumption was the first 20 minutes against Southampton. As time wore on without us scoring, though – and especially once Southampton went ahead – the fragile confidence drained visibly from our players.
Another thing that’s no coincidence, it seems to me: our best players since the restart have been Tim Krul and Alex Tettey. Had he been available, I suspect Grant Hanley would’ve been in the same bracket.
These are our most experienced players, and have a resilience that goes with it. The bulk of the team (or rather, because of the spate of injuries, teams) that we’ve put out this season have been young and/or inexperienced. The Premier League is unforgiving, and it’s worn them down.
If there’s cause for criticism, then, it should perhaps be more about the shortage of experience in the squad than about player motivation.
Others will have their twopenneth of reflection on this year. Meanwhile, my thoughts are now turning to next season.
Three months ago, I don’t think many City fans would have seriously contemplated that we might be better next season without Daniel Farke. The question has now been raised, and is the first that needs to be addressed.
Let me offer my bit.
Thinking about prospects for next season if we keep Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke at the helm, I see four positives and one big question mark.
- 2018-19 was no fluke. Like this season in the Prem, Farke’s first season in the Championship was a learning experience – sometimes a very painful one. But boy, did he absorb the lessons. The next season, despite financial constraints (see point 2 below), he forged a team to win the division. We won the Champ for a simple reason: we were the best team. Farke and his coaching staff know what it takes, and have proved they can deliver.
- We’re stronger than two years ago, not weaker. Two summers ago, we had to sell our best player (James Maddison), and funnel the money into staving off financial collapse. Our highest earners were still Jarvis and Naismith, neither of whom were contributing to the team. Our finances are now far stronger, despite Covid and relegation. Yes, there’ll be sales this summer; we shouldn’t stand in the way of players who want to take the opportunity of a big career step-up. But it will be on our terms, and Stuart Webber will have more scope to bring in the players he and Daniel want. Don’t forget we’ve already secured the services of a couple of highly-rated additions.
- Webber and Farke are an exceptional combination. I’m not aware of anyone calling for Stuart Webber to go, despite the limited success of his signings in the last two windows for our Premier League campaign. We trust him to find gems for the Championship and for the long term – with good reason. But he’s not finding them for any manager; he and Daniel Farke share a vision and work together to achieve it. Only if Webber wanted to part company with Farke should we remotely consider it; there’s no indication that he does.
- The age of the squad. I don’t know which of our young talents will leave this summer; it’ll be some, but certainly not all. Those who stay are committed to the Canary cause and to Farke’s way; their growing experience will be invaluable to us. That, together with the influence of the Kruls and Tetteys still around, looks a much more solid foundation than we had two years ago.
The question mark, as always, is how Daniel Farke can deal with an unfamiliar challenge. The squad he assembled for the campaign of 2018-19 had relatively little experience of the Championship – but neither did they have the experience of consistent defeat.
However strong your squad looks, it’s fatal to go into a Championship season with a losing mentality. As Martin Penney said on here, hungry teams like Rotherham will eat you up.
Above all – as we’ve witnessed painfully since the restart – you need belief to score goals. It’s true that the promotion season wasn’t based on a tight defence. Our goal difference was outstanding, but because we scored 93.
Shaking off a losing, low-confidence mentality is City’s key challenge. In truth, we don’t know whether Daniel Farke can do it.
We do know he’s surrounded himself with some personalities who’ll help: the influence of not just Tim Krul and Alex Tettey, but also Grant Hanley and Timm Klose will be vital. Hopefully the latter two will be able to spend far more time on the pitch next season than they’ve been able to this time.
All in all, then: there are question marks, of course, and we’re all down (literally and figuratively) at the moment. But I’m still with Daniel Farke. I’ve no doubt he’s privately agonising about this season and questioning his part in it. I hope, though, that he’s fired up for a fresh push from August.
If so, I believe we can look forward to an exciting year.