If you’re reading this you’re already enough of a part of the online #NCFC community to have found the MFW site, and so more than likely you’ll be at least regularly aware of the ongoing message boards and Twitter hashtags around #NCFC.
While there is good fun, humour and comradeship to be found amongst City supporters online, there is also enough nonsense, bile and spite to keep a team of mental health specialists busy for an entire career.
The current schizoid fracture in the world of Canaries fans is over the state of the squad. Apparently, the perceived wisdom is that you either have to be a blinkered puppet of the club or a pant-wetting panicker regarding what you make of Norwich’s progress this summer. Alternatively, you could regard yourself as a true fan and supporter by preaching patience, or be a short-memoried underminer of the gospel of St Stuart.
Ultimately, a lot of it relies on perception, and nearly all of it is total b*llocks, as with virtually everything online.
We are at a crunch point of pre-season in terms of the squad building. I won’t add further to the very eloquent points Gary made in his piece, suffice to say the Covid call-offs haven’t helped us one bit.
We knew in May that our newly-minted Championship champions would need to be reinforced if we were to make a better stab at staying in the Premier League than they did last time. Since then we’ve lost Emi Buendia and Oliver Skipp, our two most successful ball-winners, and in Buendia and Mario Vrancic, two of our three biggest creators of chances last season. If Todd Cantwell leaves as well for the hat-trick, we certainly won’t be as good as we were last season, let alone improved to meet the Premier League challenge, unless we make some seriously impressive additions.
But we have made signings. Angus Gunn solved any worries we had with goalkeeping depth in one fell swoop. Billy Gilmour will be a major player for us this season and may well be a key figure in replacing some of the chance creation we have lost, even if he doesn’t quite match Skipp or Buendia’s ball-winning. Milot Rashica is a pace option with some positional flexibility that looks to be an upgrade over Hernandez/Placheta rather than a direct replacement for Emi. And Pierre Lees-Melou has already made a great impression in friendlies for his technically astute and physically imposing style. It has been far from doom and gloom for the majority of the summer.
However, in any walk of life or business, if you give someone a big project over a period of ten weeks, you monitor how they’re doing. Obviously, the real analysis of their performance won’t come until the end of the project, but you’d be keeping up to date with the successes and failures, and you’d be looking for signs that the project is at least on track.
Stuart Webber has a lot of credit in the bank with Norwich supporters, and he’s built two teams that have blitzed the Championship. He also had a really poor summer transfer window the last time we were in the Premier League when he had to deal with recruiting a higher level of player to the football club. As admired as he is, his track record isn’t spotless. I think a certain amount of concerned oversight is probably appropriate.
So in terms of his ten-week project to get Norwich ready for the Premier League, he started reasonably well. Gunn was an easy tick in the box of “just what we needed” and sorted out one question mark for a position within the squad immediately. By week four or five, Rashica, Lees-Melou and Gilmour had been added, and we certainly felt like we’d brought in some value and quality.
Fast forward to week eight of the 10-week project and with no further additions, and we have to question whether this project is going to get completed on time.
As pleasing as the new signings were, it would be folly to suggest that any had properly filled any of the holes we had in the squad. Rashica is not expected to create chances like Emi, but to help finish them, so we are still short of that playmaker. Gilmour and Lees-Melou can both play in the double six position but are not going to shield the defence like Skipp or Tettey did and are more likely upgrades on McLean and Vrancic.
We still have holes at left-back, central defence, defensive midfield, creative midfield/number ten, winger and striker to fill. We may now also need to replace Cantwell.
Those highlighting that we have made the second most signings in the league so far are, by counting Under-23 additions that are unlikely to feature in the first-team squad this year, really only fooling themselves.
And while there is time before Liverpool, and certainly before the window closes to add the players we need, it becomes more difficult by the day.
Firstly prices go up. As much as we would want a premium for Todd because we have little time to replace him, we’d need that premium because we’d then have to go and buy another club’s star player and they’d want more money to do the same with another gem further down the footballing pyramid and so on and so on.
Secondly, from a purely logistical point of view, we could go out and sign the most promising three or four continental superstars next week and they wouldn’t be ready for Liverpool. That’s primarily because of the time they’d need to quarantine for when coming into the country, and also because very few players are capable of dropping straight into Farkeball on day one. Even Emi needed a month or two to learn the system.
Despite the screeches of the Twitterati, nobody is calling for Webber’s head, or ruling him out of completing his recruitment project before the window closes. However, the reality is that we’re not going to be in a good place by the time we meet Liverpool.
A simple headcount amongst the squad will show that we’re not going to be overly blessed with bench options for that game and while it’s not quite severe enough for the likes of Dan Adshead and Jonathan Tomkinson to have to step up, there will be fringe senior squad players that we kind of hoped wouldn’t be that close to the first team who will be there.
While we’re not quite writing off the first three games of a 38-game season, we are giving ourselves a massive hill to climb.
We also need to be aware that new players require time to settle, both on and off the field. For every Teemu Pukki that hits the ground running, there are Vrancic’s that need time to adjust. And there are also Marcel Franke’s and Patrick Roberts’s that can’t adjust.
Fair play to those preaching patience and faith, I genuinely hope you turn out to be right. And while I don’t think it’s at panic stations yet, we are looking increasingly adrift of where the squad needs to be going into the season.
I’m confident that Tim Krul will be good in goal. I’m confident that IF they can stay fit Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley will be adequate. I’m confident that Max will be better equipped than last time if he’s still here, and I’m confident that Teemu will still score goals if he’s not run into the ground and is given decent service.
Beyond that, I think everything is a question mark.
Do we have a midfield player that can stop the opposition running straight at the middle of our defence, and a player that can cover if he gets injured?
Do we have someone who can replace the goals and assists of Emi Buendia?
Do we have a number ten to compete with, and provide cover for, Kieran Dowell whose injury record isn’t spotless?
Do we have PL ready cover for Giannoulis, Hanley or Gibson, who have spent all pre-season injured?
The answer to all of those is currently a resounding no. As it is to the questions of whether we are better prepared than we were for our last PL campaign, or than we were at the end of last season.
I’m sure Stuart Webber is working hard. And he may be about to drag several impressive rabbits out of hats. Nobody should throw in the towel just yet.
But I think a healthy concern at this stage is probably more of a logical step than blind faith.
Well said, I agree with every word. It was the publication of squad numbers that crystallised the parlous state we are currently in, but I still have hope that the rabbits will be pulled from the hat….well, at least for another week or so! Otherwise, you have to feel really sorry for poor Farke.
Good read, and well balanced view, one I can agree with 100%. We wait with much anticipation and a little concern thrown into the pot
Let’s hope at least a CB,DM and striker are added very soon and no one leaves.The squad at the moment is nowhere near good enough,didnt we make the same mistake last time?Excuses about lack of finance’s wont wear well with alot of fans this time around.
Alex B says
A good ready and hopefully a steading influence on all the so call excitable elements in the canary family.
Will we get required cover for all the positions we deem to be short on, can Sorensen get into a starting slot where he can show his true benefit to the team but so far he has done well when asked to cover.
I was surprised to see Josh Martin go out on loan as I hoped this could be his breakout season.
Like many I would be happy to see more bodies come through the door and and as Danny Rose said at Spurs ones we knew not ones we had to Google.
Maybe the loss of a the European and UK head of scouting has slowed down our process and with Keiran Scott taking a less active roll due to him leaving SW is feeling the pressure only time will tell.
Tim Ball says
Excellent piece Andy.
I totally agree that our early work in the recruitment of upgraded players has been very good.
Fionn on the Twitter side panel here really proves that our first eleven of 2021 are better man for man than the 2019 eleven, bar Emi. So that is encouraging.
However there are big holes in this squad. Primarily a holding midfielder, and if Brandon Williams is a strong loan target it seems highly unlikely that Olly Skipp will return as we will have used up our loan slots.
I am surprised we haven’t made that position a priority, unless Farke sees Sorenson in that roll. I would be amazed if that is the case but we all must trust in Farke.
We still need in addition to a holding midfielder a full back ( Williams ?) a forward/wide player and competition for Dowell at number 10 and one more centre-half.
That’s 5 more players. And as you say Andy it is now clear things are not going as planned.
It is definitely not time to panic, a whole lot of good that will do anyway, but it is worrying especially with the injuries/Covid situation.
What does concern me is that Brentford have signed a centre-half and a holding midfielder and in the process out bidding us for Ajer. If we went as high as £12 million I am surprised we didn’t just go that little extra amount to get the deal over the line.
We are already getting the usual tropes that if the board let SW down they have to go. My question is where ? This is NOT their jobs, no one can sack Delia and Michael.
And they are not Robert Chase and do not deserve to hounded out as they have done a lot of good for the club with admittedly some bad mistakes along the way, I am hopeful they will change their minds and consider investment in the future. It would be in the best interests of the club as long as the incoming investors are genuine.
I have real concerns that the self-funding model can work in the long term, funnily enough the Ajer transfer failure enhances this. But calling for the board is a waste of time.
Dont think the self funding model works if we keep getting promoted. After all it’s all about selling your best player/players each year,but you need your best players in the top league to stand any chance of staying up,that’s of course if the club really wants to stay in the premier league.!!With just Buendia gone at the moment then it’s not so bad but another one leaves then imo that’s failure of the s f model.
Totally agree. No one can constantly sell their very best players, when they are needed most in the PL, and expect success.
Sadly I can’t see how a totally self funding club can cope at that level.
What happens if we fail to produce players good enough to sell on?
The self funding dream will be gone, as will the permanent membership of the PL dream.
Agree with everything you write Tim. Excellent summary.
John C says
I have a ‘feeling’ both Rupp and Sorensen will step-up this season
“Midfield Mike” says
What a brilliant and bang on article. Gary, please check your inbox as id composed and sent one similar to you yesterday