Do you know when your mettle is being tested? It’s really rather subtle. It’s not a timed written examination nor does it involve a large cotton swab being shoved unceremoniously up your nose after being forced to endure a 450-mile round trip.
It’s about spirit and resilience. An ability to cope well with difficulties. In a period of extreme unfamiliarity, where everyone’s lives have been changed enormously in less than a year, your mettle is taking a proper hammering every day.
And it’s against the restrictions arising from the pandemic that key figures, players and fans of Norwich City Football Club find themselves being examined. Nerves are frayed. Temperatures are rising. With the shuddering impact of Wayne Rooney’s free kick last weekend, we’re close to finding out whose character is made of tin or tungsten.
The pressure on the club’s coach and leadership team has ratcheted up after the previously winless Derby’s smash-and-grab victory. Every move, every decision, every comment by Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber is now being forensically examined as the feel-good summer transfer jolly is overshadowed by poor performances and the flogging of the family silver.
Unsurprising as Jamal Lewis’ and Ben Godfrey’s departures are, they have become corrosive due to the results not being as expected and the clear discontent seen in the City camp.
The dramatic scrapping of Todd Cantwell and Emu Buendia ahead of the Bournemouth clash, before the Argentine was later recalled from the Carrow Road reclamation yard, caused widespread confusion and divide.
Given Daniel Farke’s comments surrounding his decision to drop the pair but then recall only Emi, it’s fair to say the German’s frustration and annoyance is no longer restrained. He’s feeling the pressure. The serene, humorous, eloquent and confident communication Farke specialised in during the Championship title-winning run-in has disappeared. We have something a little edgier, less controlled, with his heart worn closer to his sleeve.
Clearly, emotions are running high. This is a test for the German who started in 2017 with little or no expectation of success, but now faces huge expectancy to win promotion in 2021. If his performance was being marked by the growing number of disgruntled fans on social media, then he can only expect to fail.
Sporting Director Webber, Farke’s great ally, has been famed for his brutally honest rebuttals of critical viewpoints since joining the club. And who can blame him? His transfer policy has been akin to alchemy. Yet last season’s wretched dealings and the player sales merry go-round we’re currently on is beginning to tarnish his reputation.
Letting Tim Klose leave for FC Basel on loan with a view to a permanent transfer looks slightly eccentric in the light of Godfrey’s club record-breaking departure and with no obvious replacement lined up. If Norwich have to limp to Christmas with just three injury-prone centre backs and Alex Tettey filling in for them where needed, then Webber’s mood may well be so defensive he could end up partnering Ben Gibson. All eyes will be on him and his recruitment team to now quickly find gold where others see pig iron.
Where once there was unity now there appears to be discord. Confidence in the squad appears to have given way to doubt. Sparkling football and mental resolve dissolved spectacularly during Project Restart as if they been thrown into a bath of acid. Why this happened and when we might catch a glimpse of the football seen during the epic 2018/19 season again isn’t currently being answered by the majority of players.
With Tom Trybull and Moritz Leitner on the scrapheap, Emi and Todd looking for all the world like they are on their way out, it’s quite clear there isn’t total and unequivocal belief in Farke and/or the club’s current trajectory. Until this can be resolved, we all know the end result of differences between players and a manager – it’s a desk being cleared rather than a dressing room being emptied.
The pedestrian start to the season has set a growing number of fans on edge. We’re not in the ground to support the team and that is utterly frustrating. Football is a passion and an escape. It’s raw and emotional. It’s community and family. A huge part of our lives has been robbed from us – and there’s no clue on when it’ll be given back. We’ve been left powerless. Not just because we cannot choose when we go to a game and when we don’t, but because we cannot personally influence the result of each match.
It is my strong belief the 3-2 defeat of Manchester City at home last season couldn’t have been achieved without the fans. The noise in the Barclay and across the ground was intense. The passion pushed tired Canary limbs and minds on to a higher level of performance.
The home games against Millwall and Forest during our title-winning season were played out against an indefatigably positive atmosphere. The emotional electricity generated by powerhouse crowds took the team from losing positions to a sensational win and scarcely believable draw. Not now. We’re socially distant. Removed. We have no influence.
The frustration with this and the performances have seen calls for Farke to go. To dismiss the last few seasons as a product of an amazing fluke and to scrap everything and start again.
Now is not the time to rip things apart, but to pull together. For club, Head Coach, Sporting Director, players, and supporters to find unity. To listen, to accept criticism, to heal rifts, and accept we’re in a bloody difficult situation – even more so off the pitch than on it.
Football clubs will go to the wall before Covid-19 is controlled. Coming through this and still being a strong, financially stable outfit will be priority.
Coping with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune both on and off the pitch represents a huge challenge for all of us, whether we are employed by the club or tied to it by emotion and loyalty. Things may well get worse before they get better, but only together will we pull through successfully.
It’s time to show your mettle because there are still 42 matches left of what can still be a golden season. The Farke and Webber era has shown us that anything is possible – don’t decide to leave early.