Let’s not pretend.
We’re Norwich City fans and we’re hurting. It hurts that we got relegated. It hurts that we had ten games when football resumed, and lost the lot.
It hurts that the verve and belief, which had helped us win admirers and overachieve for much of the past eighteen months, has gone.
It hurts that in the end we were relieved that our visits to Chelsea and Man City only resulted in a 0-6 aggregate.
We’re not in the mood to hear excuses and perspective.
Let’s set aside excuses (though surely no-one could claim Lady Luck was remotely on our side this season).
As serious fans, though, perhaps we should have a bit of interest in perspective. Is Norwich City back to where it was after relegation in 2016, or when Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke arrived in 2017?
Whatever the answers, they have implications for our club’s future and what we can look forward to.
In part, we’re dealing here with an issue of short-term versus long-term. Gary touched on it in his recent piece: “There is a case to argue that the long-term plan is being executed at the expense of the here-and-now”. Many fans, even if they share Gary’s acknowledgement of there being a long-term plan, will now be feeling the same.
Let me offer a couple of thoughts. They may or may not be convincing, but perhaps they’ll shed some light on the issues.
To understand where Norwich City now stands, we have to go back just over a decade. To say that our club has had ups and downs since 2009 would be the greatest of understatements. As fans, we’re acutely aware of fluctuating fortunes on the pitch.
Behind the scenes, though, it’s been no less dramatic.
In summer 2009, our financial prospects as a club were as grim as our morale after relegation to League 1. The following years, orchestrated by David McNally, were an astonishing turnaround.
Another turning point, though, came in 2016. In an attempt to hold on to our place in the Premier League, we pushed the boat out – especially in the January window with the acquisitions of Timm Klose and Steven Naismith. It enabled us to be more competitive than this season, and almost succeed.
But it didn’t succeed – and the legacy proved horrible when we didn’t bounce straight back. However well intentioned, the Premier League contracts were a millstone round our necks, and by the time we changed structure and brought in Stuart Webber, it was one of those situations where the Irish advice would be: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here”.
We had to sell our best player (James Maddison) for as much as we could get, the money basically staving off administration. Adding to the frustration, we had little alignment between who was earning most and who was contributing most. There was no possibility of making much-needed investment in our infrastructure and training facilities.
Why does this old history matter? Because of Stuart Webber. One of his characteristic mantras is that he wants to leave the club in a stronger state than when he arrived.
Yes, we could have spent some more money on players last summer. Perhaps not as much as some fans believe – there are many calls on the first tranche of PL money, from hefty bonuses to extra contractual payments to other clubs (eg Emi Buendia’s, but also relating to years of earlier business). We also chose, this time, to invest in upgrading our facilities.
But we could have spent more – potentially increasing the chance of staying up, while definitely increasing the financial risk to the club.
I’ve heard fans say “We should have spent a lot more – even if we’d still ended up going down”. Stuart Webber would strongly disagree. He’s bound and determined not to leave his successor with the kind of position that he inherited at Norwich.
If Webber’s perspective is right – or at least if it’s going to hold sway at Norwich for a while – does that mean our Premier League stays will inevitably be short-lived? Here’s the big thing for me: the answer’s no.
Everything in the long-term plan (actually it’s a medium-term plan, but in football there’s short-term and anything else) is geared for Norwich City to be able to compete in the top flight.
For various reasons – some in our control, some not – it didn’t happen this time. But the promotion of 2018-19 allowed significant changes to be made in the club. All our legacy financial issues are settled. We have training facilities that help our coaches do their work, and help us attract new blood (three of our new signings have already mentioned the facilities as an attraction to them).
We have a Head Coach whose speciality is taking raw talent and moulding it into effective presence on the field. Our first-team and development squads are now loaded with such talent for him to work with.
If we sell players this summer – as of course we will – it will be on our terms. Unlike two years ago, we’re financially one of the strongest clubs in the Championship.
Of course, there’s the little matter of getting back to the Premier League. As Gary rightly said, it’s a short time for Farke to shake out a losing mentality and instil a winning one. History tells us not to underestimate the challenge.
But we have many of the tools. Let’s hope that one of them – the presence of our fans at Carrow Road and beyond – is available to assist.