“I stand for football, and hopefully for beautiful football.”
When he arrived at Norwich City four years ago, Daniel Farke walked into a club that was without inspiration or a footballing identity. In an ever-evolving process, starting with a year of inconsistency and impotence, his second season was used to perfect what we now recognise as Farkeball. Season three was tough but Farkeball returned bigger and better than ever in season four, and the Canaries are now renowned for their entertaining style of play.
In years gone by, City fans were never too far away from a ‘they play decent football’ tag, but in truth, most of these musings were made largely from nostalgia, memories of City’s underdogs of ’93, who passed their way to Premiership success.
These foundations were never consistently built upon, however. A study of the various styles of football played following Mike Walker’s departure actually reveals an assortment of middle-ground tactics, a mosaic of ill-defined, mix-and-match setups.
Credit must first go to Stuart Webber, for aiming to create an identity when improved results were all fans initially hoped for. Webber took on a club in disarray and, already charged with the task of Premier League promotion, added to the mix a need to create a trademark style that fans could feel their club represented. He told the University of East Anglia: “The club had lost its way in terms of knowing what it wanted to be. When I asked the question ‘What should Norwich City stand for?’ they actually didn’t know.”
Off the pitch that identity had already been decided for the club. Perhaps not short term – the club’s set of ‘values’ was not well understood by its staff and Colney was built mainly of portacabins – but longer-term it was clear: a club in bright colours, hours’ drive away from any other league club and owned by a loveable TV chef.
It didn’t fit the narrative that such a unique club would be without a recognisable playing style, and this is perhaps the root of the somewhat forced ‘decent football’, perhaps unknowingly endorsed by many City fans.
Every football fan wants to believe, of course, that their team is known for playing good football, but the evidence simply wasn’t there on the pitch. In fact, without Farke it’d likely still be a popular belief that there’s always been a ‘Norwich way’.
The ex-Borussia Dortmund man has offered the Canary Nation the ability to look down upon more industrial sides, introducing a delightful snobbery that never previously existed. There is, at long last, a true ‘Norwich way’.
Anyone that’s watched the German’s side play knows exactly what Norwich City are: obsessed with the ball, proactive, exciting, technical and entertaining. Webber may be trying to avoid the soft side shown in 2019-20 but any new arrival will have no choice but to play in this way, no matter how physical or athletic they are.
Farke’s also brought an iconic and infectious personality to the manager’s chair for the first time in a long while. Perhaps the only coach to unite the City support so strongly in recent memory is Paul Lambert, whose brave, battling team did his talking on the pitch.
There have also been managers with likeable personas, Neil Adams and Chris Hughton to name two, but nobody has married the two like Farke; nobody has backed up their ‘nice guy’ image with a team that’s easy on the eye and successful.
What Daniel has offered most of all, however, is a crucial knowledge and assurance of City’s lasting individuality in a corporate football world that’s losing its character by the day. There have been some wonderful moments and the results speak for themselves, promotion after promotion, thrashing after thrashing, but what Farke has done that’s different to all the rest is to finally make this unique club off the pitch, totally unique on it.
Long, as the club’s announcement of a new four-year deal gives hope for, may it continue.