First came the sight of Jamal Lewis, flailing and failing in Newcastle’s humiliation. Then came the news that Norwich City have brought USA striker Sebastian Soto to England at last. And, finally, there were accounts of the threat of a breakaway European super-league.
Three disparate sets of circumstances, they coalesce to provide an understanding of City’s attempt to get back into the Premier League and make a better fist of staying there.
Lewis looked forlorn, lost even, as Newcastle were swatted aside by Arsenal and the inescapable conclusion, surely, was that Stuart Webber did really well to get £15 million for him in the summer.
Lewis is a fine player, no question, but there was one City game in the Premier League that exposed a frailty, I thought.
At Burnley in September, Lewis scuffed an attempted pass. It drew some heckles from home supporters on his side of the pitch. He made another fluff soon after and those supporters sensed blood. Ashley Barnes and Jeff Hendrick closed Lewis down every time he was on the ball (it’s called a “high press” now), the supporters bayed, and Lewis wilted. He became unsure, not keen to receive the ball, hesitant with it. He’d probably never experienced that before: a sudden loss of self-belief.
It was temporary. He recovered in the second half and did well enough in the rest of that difficult season to command that big fee. But he went to a club whose style and prospects did not suit him. You would have thought Newcastle themselves might have worked that out, and yet they signed that huge cheque.
Ben Godfrey, in contrast, is fitting in so snuggly at Everton – in a position (left-back) where we never used him – that the add-ons in his £20m move to Mersyside could well nudge the total Norwich receive to £25m.
Yet City are better defensively without Godfrey, not least because Ben Gibson has been an upgrade in the position in which we used Godfrey (centre-back). He complements (and compliments) Grant Hanley; together they are part of the reason we do not concede from set-pieces and no longer look likely to do so. Gibson also plays penetrative passes when he advances.
So there is the first of the three facets of the Webber masterplan I’ve been thinking about: if City sell any of their best players, they make sure they get top dollar and strive to use the vacancy in the squad as an opportunity to improve.
The arrival on our shores of Soto illustrates another part of the plan: there is a constant, complex recruitment process going on.
Soto was picked up in the summer when his Hannover contract expired. There was little chance of getting a work permit for him then, and with Brexit about to further complicate the paperwork, it seemed quite a punt by Norwich to give a three-year contract to a 20-year-old forward who might never be allowed to play for them.
But City signed him anyway, farmed him out on loan to Telstar in the Dutch second tier … and rubbed their hands as he scored goals and earned a call-up to the USA senior team.
Michael Bailey reports on the Athletic website that it was progress with the work permit that prompted City to recall him from Telstar, that the permit has now been granted, but that City will probably send him out on loan somewhere else after he has been at Colney a short while for Daniel Farke to have a proper, close-up look at him.
Nobody knows yet whether Soto will be another Teemu Pukki or even another Dennis Srbeny. Or a Josip Drmić.
He might be another Sean Raggett: the defender who was one of the first arrivals of the Webber-Farke era but was loaned back to Lincoln. When City finally put him in a yellow shirt, it was for just two, very brief appearances as a substitute. He was on the pitch for a total of nine minutes, plus whatever stoppage time was added – let’s be generous and say he had about a quarter of an hour as a City defender. After that he was sent on loan to Rotherham and then Portsmouth. Eventually he joined Portsmouth. On a free.
Here’s another case study: City paid £3.5m to Coventry for left back Sam McCallum in last January. We were in the Prem (you know, the season when detractors say we didn’t invest in the team) and part of the deal was that McCallum was loaned him back to Coventry for the rest of that campaign.
Covid struck. Coventry were promoted from League One without finishing the season. McCallum came back to Norwich and played for us in the EFL cup defeat at Luton at the start of this season – and then was sent back to Coventry on loan.
When Norwich knocked Coventry out of the FA Cup at the start of January, Midlands-based journalists asked Herr Farke about the McCallum situation. Daniel said lots of nice things about the player’s ability, but added that, “Yeah, so, yeah… he most probably needs to work on his defensive aspects”. McCallum will stay at Coventry on loan until the end of the season at least.
Another arrival a year ago, in that January in the Premier League, was Melvin Sitti, a defensive midfielder from Sochaux. He’s on loan to Waasland-Beveren, but they are struggling in Belgium’s top tier and he has had hamstring problems.
There are plenty of City fans (probably including the bloke on Facebook who thought the dominant performance against Bristol City involved too much “faffing about”) who regard Raggett, Sitti, McCallum and others who haven’t got into our first team as proof that our club is led by donkeys.
It will shock nobody that I disagree.
Raggett looked good enough for us to sign in the summer of 2017. But now he’s playing for Portsmouth in League One and we’ve received loan fees and partial help with his wages in the interim while he found his level and we concluded it wasn’t at the top of the Championship.
That is how we use the loans system. Just as letting James Maddison, Godfrey and Todd Cantwell improve and prove themselves at other clubs is how we use the loans system.
Covid was an unseen enemy last January, but it is the all too visible opponent which now is driving Europe’s elite clubs towards a breakaway league. Covid has caused such an unexpected hit to finances that many of the super-rich clubs have taken vast, expensive loans.
That is why they have renewed enthusiasm about breaking away. There is renewed attraction in the idea of a closed shop competition in which they would always compete and from which they could pocket even more than they do now.
FIFA and UEFA are sufficiently rattled to have issued a joint warning. If the clubs join an unsanctioned competition, their players will be banned from the sanctioned international competitions, including the World Cup.
But we know how this ends. It is similar to what happened before the formation of the Premier League, and identical to what occurred before the European Cup became the Champions League. The clubs talked about breaking away, and eventually the authorities bought them off: they gave them a lot of what they wanted to keep them in their organisations.
So we can expect the Champions League to “evolve” into something else and for the top clubs in England to become substantially richer.
The Premier League, as an organisation, will fight to remain sustainable, but if the top six or eight pull even further away from the rest there will be pressure from the rest for another reorganisation of the English leagues structure.
Changes are imminent, I believe. The current broadcasting and sponsorship deals for the Champions League and Europa League expire in 2024 and clubs will make their big push (or putsch) before then.
We cannot begin to guess how any of this would affect Norwich, but we do know, already, that our club has withstood the Covid storm better than most and that, remarkably, we have been able to regroup, rebuild, and “go again”.
But I don’t suppose many fans have done the sums.
The club’s accounts for last season, published in November, had by law to include notes about any exceptional spending after the period dealt with in those accounts. So we learned that the purchases of Jordan Hugill, Keiran Dowell, and the loan fees for Ollie Skipp, Gibson and Xavi Quintilla amounted to £6.1m and involved a commitment to another £4.6m depending on appearances and so on.
Since the accounts were released, we’ve spent another £2m on Przemyslaw Placheta and £750K on Jacob Sorensen.
So I make that’s £13.4m, without taking into account any fee to Sunderland for Bali Mumba or the loan fee to PAOK for our latest acquisition: Dimitris Giannoulis.
If we go up, we have to pay £8m for Gibson, and as yet unknown sums for Quintilla and Giannoulis. The latter two wouldn’t be less than £2m a head. So that’s a minimum of £12m already committed if we go up.
The too much “faffing about” bloke will not bother with facts, I know. He decided last July, without much thought, that going up will be a waste of time because the board/Delia “won’t invest”.
But when I fret about Europe’s super clubs, I think about Jamal floundering and Soto arriving and am greatly reassured about the club in the fine city.
martin penney says
Hi Mick – excellent stuff.
I read the latest *top six* breakaway news on the back page of our favourite Red Top this morning and was not surprised to see the breakdown: the predictable PL Clubs plus PSG, Italy and Spain’s acknowledged top three and also Bayern and BVB from Germany.
Plus the *qualifiers* to make up the league of 20. Maybe Leicester and four others I could not possibly aim a guess at. The money on offer seems to be mind boggling.
It wouldn’t break my heart if it happened tbh – Norwich City would surely end up with a competitive chance in a reconstituted Premier League if it did. We’d surely never top it but could enjoy an environment in which we could truly participate with hope and enthusiasm.
Newcastle was the wrong move for Jamal from the outset as Steve Bruce plays a very different game from that which he was used to with us.
If your figure is correct, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, Sorensen looks the bargain of all time.
“If your figure is correct, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, Sorensen looks the bargain of all time.”
Gordon Jablonski says
Completely agree with your thoughts, Martin, on this brilliant article. I am very hopeful that Sorensen will fill Skipps boots when Skipp goes home to Jose but I am not sure that the best deal ever for Norwich will ever be beaten by the free transfer of one Teemu Pukki.
There is no doubt our scouting and players purchasing assessment has been brilliant, although it cannot be 100% effective (see Drmic and Leitner as examples).
It will be interesting to see where the superleague falls. I don’t think my Canary’s will need to worry about that for a while so I will be happy to see them in the Pre.
Jim Davies says
I struggle to see why a European super league would want our top 6, while having only 3 each from Italy and Spain, one from France and 2 from Germany, plus topping up to 20 with clubs like Leicester. Why no Dutch sides, or some from the Slovak area? Russia? Too much emphasis on English clubs, and as 1×2 has pointed out below, there’s the complications of Brexit and the growth of the USA league. I can see it happening, Martin, but not with the make up you suggested. I think the only English clubs who might walk into one would be the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool. Spurs, Chelsea, and Arsenal would probably have to “qualify”, and where would those who don’t make up the basic numbers go if they then wanted to leave the rest of us behind? European super league second division?
I guess the use of the term “European” is just a vain attempt to deflect attention from the fact it’s really nothing more than a “Greedy B*st*rds want even more Cash” League. The Dutch, Slovaks and, Chelski aside, the Russians don’t qualify.
Cyprus Canary says
Chelsea have shown that big money signings don’t always bring the expected success. Sorensen looks class in the making to me – perhaps he replaces Skipp when he leaves. But despite our lofty position at the moment we do have an abundance of players who are not premier league quality: Stiepermann, Placheta, Hernandez come to mind as the most obvious ones. So whilst I agree with the bulk of your article I still think some serious investment will be required to secure a more permanent position in the top flight.
Andrew Delf says
It may just bring some sanity back into mainstream football to say goodbye to the big boys, they can take the circus of sky pundits, money laundering owners and VAR with them.
Poor old Jamal he really does look like a little boy lost at Newcastle, I hope it comes good for him but I fear his shot at the big time looks very tough and he will probably end up getting sold to a championship side or below.
As for the “donkeys in charge” they are doing a damn fine job.
Great Insight, Mick. Thanks.
Over the years, nae decades, i always wondered why the focus was on the manager and team, whilst player acquisition seemed pot luck. It’s evident in recent years, aka SW years, that there is strategy to acquisitions these days. Great to see. The increasing professionalism in the club is great to see. And the footie is brill to watch.
Alex B says
Interesting read will much to chew over.
As with Martin I think £750k is a steal for Sorensen surely there has to been appearance related bonuses and sell on clause.
With the likes if Bushini, Siti and Sinani not getting much game time would it be better to get them loans in the UK???
Colin M says
Fantastic read Mick.
Poor Janal looks shell shocked goodness knows how he would be if those geordie fans were present. I hope someone looks out for him, he did great for us.
Colin B says
Excellent article. The club is well run and relatively financially sound. When we go up we will be investing in three loan players by making them permanent, probably as you indicate £12m or maybe £15m. There may be other signings as well. I expect we may spend around £20m. It will be interesting to see what the other two promoted clubs spend. What is reassuring is that the squad is getting stronger at little net cost.
I rated Jamal Lewis and he played well in Newcastle’s first few games. He now looks lost and he does not fit Newcastle’s style. He and his agent should have known better. Maddison and Godfrey both made good moves. Brendan Rodgers has taken Maddison on to a new level. Ancelotti is making good use of Godfrey’s talent and speed. Getting the right fit is important. There are so many examples of players getting better under Farke and his team of coaching staff. Webber is good at finding players that fit our style but he doesn’t get everyone right. Even Alex Ferguson made lots of mistakes with transfers. He struck lucky that he had the benefits of the class of ‘92 sat in the club’s academy.
My concern is that Farke and Webber won’t be around too much longer and will be very difficult to replace.
Mick, a very well thought out article.
Your comments on Jamal Lewis are so very true. When he was here I’ve never truly rated him. Always seem to lack
the confidence to go forward for someone with such pace. He was always looking for a backward pass, or sideways. I was very Surprised that Liverpool showed interest in him, ( if of course that was true) and when we got the money we did for him I thought the much loved Ashley had lost his mind allowing such a fee. SW must be the salesman of the year. In fact the young midfielder taken his place is far better.
Your comments of on Gibson are also true, he can see a through ball pass better than any CB I have seen here for a very long time.
Norwich would have likely got about 10% of transfer fee outside britain for Lewis and Godfrey. Now basically all transfers are free or loans, clubs are waiting for that players contracts runs out.
I dont believe european super league, at least with english clubs been part of it. 1 of the main reasons is that premier league have become financially too dominant and there is more pressure all the time to start doing something against it. Brexit makes whole idea way more intriguing. Brexit is surely going to affect to english clubs foreign player markets even without any european league anyway and its obviously without any sense for european football to give best players to premier league. Players does not want that either.. Also I do believe that mr Beckham is right about US football league getting bigger and bigger, it already interest better players than some years ago and football is growing bigger in US too.
Soto is striker, I dont understand other reason to call him back than Pukki injury. He is surely emergency option.