“We never get what we want. We get what we expect. Winners are never surprised by the victory. They saw it in their minds’ eye every day while preparing for it. What are you expecting?” – Matt Grotewold.
These words adorn the walls of Colney, and they’ve never been more pertinent for Norwich City. As part of an off-season re-decoration of the Lotus Training Centre, it’s no coincidence the quote was installed straight after the conclusion of the Canaries’ confidence-lacking, soul-crushing 2019/20. That season they accrued 21 points, scored 26 goals and left the Premier League with a whimper, an acceptance that they could not compete.
That sort of resignation is not what Stuart Webber is used to. He’s used to defiance, an ambition that was lacking for large parts of that fateful year, and a confident attitude that’s so key to what he sets out to achieve. ‘Integrity is one of the six values woven into the club’s new home kit.
Acceptance of underdog status is so averse to what Webber believes, he was irritated by the response to Norwich’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester City, surprised by what a shock the people of Norfolk perceived it, and the “over the top reaction” to the upset.
It’s easy to be irritated but it takes skill, drive, and initiative to act, to take the necessary steps to turn that underdog attitude around. The proof, as Webber’s boss knows better than anybody, is in the pudding.
Of course, a season in the Championship helped. Norwich were the bookies’ favourites to win the league and when Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell remained at Carrow Road many believed they’d walk it. They did and there’s no underestimating the boost that can provide, even if it was expected.
But football fans are fickle, and it doesn’t take much to turn title-winning jubilation into misery and negativity. Weeks after City returned to the ‘promised land’ they sold their own ‘football heaven’, as if one paradisiacal metaphor bore enough weight for a small club from Norfolk.
Off-pitch matters also turned sour and there was a feeling that this most vital of summers was off to the worst possible start. Panic had set in among the fan base, but the old mantra grew stronger: “Ignore the noise.”
City fans were not far away from a mood changer, and the knowledge that Angus Gunn was not far away was surely a beacon of optimism within the club; and then Milot Rashica; and then Billy Gilmour; and then Pierre Lees-Melou, an experienced operator on an elite level secured for an absolute snip.
Throw in a widely popular new strip, a fun and familiar principal partner and the transition of Ben Gibson and Dimitris Giannoulis from temporary to permanent Canaries, and it feels like City are emerging from their moment of chaos.
What will please Webber the most, however, is not the excitement ensuing externally but the internal ambition shown by these signings, a direct juxtaposition to his last top-flight adventure. In that window, less than £1million was spent on transfer fees. This time around £30million already has been.
The Welshman has not only brought in a wealth of experience, talent, and recognisability, he’s done it in typical fashion, striking at the right times and securing excellent deals.
Rashica certainly would’ve cost Aston Villa more than Buendia when they were linked with the Kosovan in the summer of 2020, yet set Webber back only a third of the price the Villains paid for the Argentine. That he’s managed to secure a top performer from a Ligue 1 side that had European ambitions for less than £4million is frankly scarcely believable.
Gunn may well progress into a starting role for City and £5million for that is certainly smart business. Webber managed to snatch Gilmour on a season-long loan even with the prying eyes and interference present from the likes of Wolves and Rangers.
Gilmour is a player compatriot Kenny McLean is particularly excited to work with, as he told The Athletic: “I was with the physio when he mentioned we were interested in him, so we googled him. If the videos I’ve watched are things he can replicate here, then we’ll be lucky.”
McLean also discussed the crucial expectation creeping in at Colney, explaining why things will be different this time. “Last time it was ‘We’re going to Anfield!’ Now it’s ‘Let’s go and show what we can do.’,” he said.
“It’s not about going to take in these lovely stadiums and ‘Woah, I’m playing against this player’. We’re there because we deserve to be there. That’s how we need to look at it; that we’ve earned our place back and now we don’t go there to make the numbers up.”
City are not done with transfers, either, and with each addition, the Championship champions will target the same level of prestige as the players already in the building. Depth on the wings is surely required, the club would like to bring in another centre-back and replacing the increasingly-likely-to-leave Jordan Hugill with a Premier League-class striker will be difficult and potentially expensive.
Webber will, however, have confidence that he’s up to the task, and expectation that he’ll complete it well. Expectation that is quietly creeping into this ambitious Norwich City squad.