The highs and lows of pre-season, eh?
There was a time this week – I think around 4 pm on Tuesday – when it felt nailed on that not only would we be signing Milot Rashica, but also Angus Gunn, Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer and Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour on loan.
The most reliable ITK Norwich City account on Twitter had already forewarned us that the announcement of a big signing was imminent (the one that turned us to be Rashica) and also dropped into the conversation that Ajer, Gilmour and Gunn were also “done”.
And, to be fair, by the sounds of it, at that particular time there was good reason to assume that it was a matter of dotting i’s and crossing t’s before the full quartet were announced as City players for 2021-22.
Angus, of course, arrived, which was good, but the arrivals of Messrs Ajer and Gilmour no longer appear imminent and instead we appear to have fallen foul of outside forces, agents and other clubs making equally, if not more, tempting offers.
It was reported in The Athletic that Thomas Tuchel, a former BVB colleague of Daniel Farke’s, was keen for Gilmour to reside in Norfolk next season as he recognised that City play a version of the “double six” midfield pivot he himself uses at Chelsea. That sounded perfect. Tickety-boo.
And then a day and a bit later, the dreaded kickback: “The Scotland midfielder has been targeted by several Premier League clubs”. This was followed a day later by Steven Gerrard’s Rangers™ ominously throwing their own red, white and blue hat into the ring.
Wolves were mentioned in dispatches – presumably as one of the “several Premier League clubs – but yesterday Connor (Southwell) reported on the Pink Un website that it has now seemingly boiled down to an arm-wrestle between City and Rangers for that season-long loan for Gilmour.
In one corner, the chance to grace the Premier League stage on a weekly basis and progress under the tutelage of Team Farke in the way Oliver Skipp did, and in the other the chance to rejoin the club where he had been with since the age of eight, to play in four massive games a season and the chance to win something.
Tricky one, although the lure of Glasgow and living for a season near loved ones must be extremely tempting.
I’m not sure this is a battle we can win.
As far as Ajer is concerned, news of City cooling their interest and a rumour around the Norwegian not scoring highly on a “personality test” (perhaps related to Stuart Webber’s “no d**khead policy”) was followed by reports of the player being “distinctly unhappy” with the way Celtic are handling his potential move away from Glasgow – the suggestion being they knocked back £10m offers from City and Bayer Leverkusen.
That City appear to have moved on to other targets may also be a concession that when clubs of Leverkusen’s ilk enter the fray it becomes increasingly hard to compete.
So, while of course it’s great to have Rashica and Gunn in the house, the excitement-ometer briefly flicked onto 11 on Tuesday afternoon. That it’s now returned to a solid four should not be cause for concern though – Webber’s still got this.
The BK8 saga now appears a distant dream. The huge furore over the announcement that the club was to get into bed with a nameless, faceless, tasteless entity from the Far East was sufficient for the club to do a Matt Hancock ‘I’m not resigning’ U-turn, and just 15 short days later we now have Lotus on board and on our shirts.
For many, the majority even, this was perfect. The news they wanted to hear. And I get it. A brand that screams “NORFOLK” and a company that already has many links with the club, not least the naming right of the training ground. Personally, while I quite like Lotus, I don’t feel as invested as others and I’d have been happy with just about anybody who had some moral decency and coughed up the cash.
That the Lotus deal is considerably smaller than the BK8 one is for the club’s bean counters to contend with and is literally the price to be paid for the monumental cock-up that was BK8. And there can be no debate around how far BK8 fell short of the wholesome family club image that this club purports, even though it has since emerged that Dafabet were not exactly the Vestal Virgins of the gambling world.
But, as fans, we do need to pick and chose carefully when we collectively haul the club into line through a show of solidarity. The BK8 fiasco was an own goal of the club’s making and they were rightly pulled up on it, but as the Premier League’s only self-funded club it simply has to explore as many avenues as possible to fill the financial void that others fill with cash from their owners.
As a result, they need some latitude and we have to be careful not to kick off every time the club makes a decision we’re not fully on board with. Every pound at Norwich City has to work harder than it does at every other top-flight club – something I have to remind myself of from time to time.
Finally, just to touch on the good ol’ Euros, one of the widely perceived highlights so far has been the standard of refereeing and how there has clearly been a diktat encouraging them to allow the game to flow and not stop it for every niggly foul. It’s worked well and, as a result, the football has generally flowed better than I’d imagined it would.
There has even been widespread praise of UEFA’s use of VAR, which has been a clear and obvious upgrade on the Premier League’s cack-handed, heavy-handed and microscopic use of the technology … until left in the hands of the English.
Up until last night, only decisions of a dubious nature had been examined ‘upstairs’ and those selected for a second look were done speedily and with the minimum of fuss. It offered hope that the PGMOL and Premier League could watch and learn ahead of next season. It felt almost palatable.
Then Stuart Atwell happened.
The man in the middle of last night’s Italy/Austria game, Anthony Taylor, has had an excellent tournament – and did a good job again – but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in getting that gnawing feeling in the second half as the words “VAR are having a look” were uttered after Marko Arnautović’s header looked to have given Austria the lead.
It looked offside, and within one replay it was clearly offside.
But Atwell, ably assisted by Chris Kavanagh Lee Betts, had other ideas. Seconds turned into minutes and we were all transported back to that place where goals are decided by the thinnest of thin lines and the length of a player’s armpit hair.
After what felt like an age, Stuart made the call we all knew was coming. No goal.
For good measure, in case anyone was in any doubt around how the English do VAR, we were treated to a repeat for Italy’s second goal – another excruciatingly long wait to decide something that appeared obvious by the naked eye.
We can only hope that someone, somewhere in the corridors of power may be brave enough to suggest to Mike Riley that, in this instance, the English way is not the best way.
But I’ll not be holding my breath.