There’s no escaping the paucity of City’s performances since Project Restart became more than just a project.
Even the most yellow and green-tinged, happy-clapping, Delia-adoring optimist must be able to admit that the quality of performances have been dire and that something has gone badly wrong?
The fact that some refuse to get fired up over City’s crap-ness because ‘this isn’t real football’ is, for me, missing the point. City were offered the same opportunity as every other team to survive in the Premier League and blew it. Big time.
That the whole thing was played out in artificial conditions with no fans, extra substitutes, drinks breaks and socially-distanced benches shouldn’t dilute the fact that the end game and the prizes on offer remained the same.
Liverpool and Leeds fans won’t consider the trophies they have won any less treasured because they were won in the asterisk season. Nor will West Brom fans feel less elated at securing promotion because it was clinched in an empty Hawthorns.
And, come to that, nor will Brentford fans be any less hacked off that they blew a golden chance to make history because Griffin Park was empty when said implosion occurred.
The ecstasy and desolation endures regardless.
Okay, so it was all a little soulless and artificial, but try telling Jurgen Klopp or Marcelo Bielsa that their respective achievements are any less meaningful.
What happened in the outside world in the first seven months of 2020 will forever cast a shadow over anything, good or bad, that’s occurred since – and will do so until a vaccine is produced – just as those we’ve lost in that time will never be forgotten, but the resumption of competitive sport was intended to be just that – competitive.
Maybe Norwich City didn’t get the memo.
A win is a win. A trophy is a trophy. Relegation is relegation.
That some have felt unable to invest in it is understandable and, personally, by the time I fully ingratiated myself in Project Restart, City were already staring into the abyss (even though I had to write about it), but the end result is the same regardless of your perspective.
We’re relegated. We’ve been rotten. And, despite being told I shouldn’t be, I’m still a little bit narked.
Yes, we have a plan. Yes, we’re financially in a better place now than when we were last in the Championship, and yes, we have made a couple of promising-looking signings with likely more to come. But however hard I try to smile and clap through it, I can’t help but feel it’s been a complete write-off of a season. A huge opportunity missed.
That the club is already looking forward is a good thing, it has to be the way, but there can be no airbrushing of season 2019/20 – a campaign as underwhelming as you could possibly imagine.
I’ll not rake over the same coals yet again, other than to say Stuart Webber’s flawed recruitment was hindered massively by the lack of coins in his ‘war chest’. Daniel Farke wasn’t the only one being asked to perform his second miracle in two seasons.
But, and I make no apologies for it, I’m still struggling to comprehend what’s gone so badly wrong since the restart.
As has been said many times, while we were bottom of the table going into lockdown, there remained a likeability and an edge to this group that kept us all interested. A certain je ne sais quoi that meant they could dig out the odd good win, like against Tottenham in the FA or Leicester on that Friday night under the lights.
Even then, only the supreme optimists believed we could close that ever-widening gap between us and safety, but somehow it didn’t feel like it really mattered because if we were going down, at least we were still swinging a few punches and occasionally connecting.
Quite what did occur (or maybe didn’t) on the fields of Colney as Project Restart gathered pace will remain a great unknown, although I do wonder if it was what happened betwixt agents, players and recruitment teams in the days between lockdown beginning and ending that’s more relevant.
But almost from that first kick against Southampton through to the final blast of Kevin Friend’s whistle last Saturday, the legs and minds appeared unwilling in some quarters – even if the data suggested otherwise.
We expected fresh bodies and minds but they looked stale. Where we hoped for zip, we got lethargy. And where we wanted fearlessness, we were given timidity.
A pale imitation of the team that entered lockdown emerged from it. And while Webber was admirably upfront about wishing to absorb the blame for a pitiful slide to relegation, the answers as to why light turned to darkness as we hit the final stretch remain elusive.
Given the haste with which the club wishes, understandably, to focus on next season’s Championship campaign, maybe it’s one that will remain unanswered.
I’m guessing, as ever, there’ll not be one single, all-inclusive reason. It’ll probably be several small things that collectively turned it into a $hitshow of epic proportions but, either way, there’s been precious little to either excite or make us proud.
- Two goals scored
- 20 goals conceded
- Nine straight defeats
Any City fan who can shrug and turneth the other cheek when faced with stats like those is a better person than I. Yet, I’ve been admonished for being grumpy about it.
But, I’m sorry, I can’t be anything other than a bit pi$$ed off. It’s been dreadful and for all the good things that are being done with the minuscule budget Webber has been asked to work with – and my god he makes every pound work hard – in the here and now, there’s precious little to love.
And Man City to come…
I genuinely can’t think of another set of fans who, even in these bizarre circumstances, would have been so accepting of such an atrocious end to a season with relegation as the prize.
We’re the exception.
But maybe it’s me that’s missing the point.