“I stand for football, and hopefully for beautiful football.”
Daniel Farke may not have delivered Premier League survival, but there’s no doubting the fact that Norwich City’s first ever foreign manager delivered on his promise of beautiful football.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Farke’s decline was measured not solely by its results but by the style with which his side had begun to approach games; it’s as though the City board had been measuring him on the entertainment provided rather than points on the board, and perhaps they were right to.
As passionate as football fans are about their clubs, the truth is that sport is ultimately an entertainment business. It’s not created for its players, or its governors or statisticians or journalists. Sport is created for its fans, and it’s created with the watching audience in mind.
Judging by cold, hard league positions, Chris Hughton was at the helm during Norwich’s most successful campaign this century, taking the Canaries to 11th place in the 2012/13 season. Judging by enjoyment, thrill and that crucial word; entertainment; there’s no denying that 2018/19- surely Farke’s peak thus far as a coach- was the greatest year to be a City supporter in recent memory.
No manager has created a style of play more recognisable and enjoyable to watch than ‘Farkeball’. For the first time, City fans were able to take pride not only in good results but in the way in which they were achieved.
Even when things weren’t going well, Farkeball was the reason behind the ‘best bottom side ever’ tag, one of few morsels of positivity in a difficult 2019/20 season.
In order to truly appreciate Farke’s time with City it must also be noted that although the club were patient with him, he reciprocated that patience and more.
Very few managers go into clubs knowing that they’ll not only need to spend frugally but sell their best players, and yet Farke stuck around through the sales of Alex Pritchard, Josh Murphy and James Maddison when what he was left with barely looked Championship standard.
Stuart Webber may have led the recruitment of a fresh squad in the summer of 2018, but Farke pieced it together, and in that 2018/19 season coached one of the most likeable teams, on and off the pitch, to take to Carrow Road.
It’s no wonder that Norfolk’s footballing social media output had been awash with nostalgia during the tough recent weeks; the ‘NCFC’ hashtag has regularly featured mentions of Marco Stiepermann, Emi Buendia and late equalisers against Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday.
When the horizon is bleak and the surroundings even more so, moments of bygone happiness provide comfort. It’s a shame that very few are able to recognise the ‘good old days’ when they’re actually experiencing them.
Tempting though it may be to wallow in trophies past and titles of yesteryear, it must be recognised that this is an exciting time to follow Norwich City. The future is confusing and unknown but it’s also full of possibility, and the three points Farke earned as a parting gift certainly help provide hope in the top flight survival stakes.
But for now there’s a dampener on the atmosphere at Carrow Road, a juxtaposition to the “great mood, confidence and self-belief” Farke referenced in his final meeting with club media. It was smart of Webber to allow for an international break to allow that atmosphere to clear.
There’s no doubting how difficult a decision it was for the Welshman as he decided to pull the trigger on the Ying to his Yang. In City’s official statement confirming their head coach’s exit, Webber said: “In continuing to demand the very best for our football club, this decision was not an easy one. I know how determined Daniel and his staff were to succeed at this level.”
Arguably the only more shocking development than Farke’s departure after a Premier League win is the fact that Webber will remain in NR1 without him. The 37-year-old has agreed a new deal to extend his time as sporting director, despite previously being open about his desire to leave the club in the summer of 2022.
Throughout his tenure Farke has been backed by Webber, their successes and failures equally apportioned. Quite what Colney looks like with the latter in place and the former absent remains to be seen, but it’s difficult to picture at present.
Rumours have already started circling around who will replace the German, with names ranging from Lucien Favre to Darren Huckerby. One thing is for sure; if Webber finds somebody who works as well with him as Farke did, the Welshman owns the best personality test around.
In Farke’s own personality test, there’s no doubting how high consistency would rank- the ex-Borussia Dortmund II coach is a man who has sported the same hair and beard combination and addressed every single media interaction in the same way since his arrival at City.
That trademark calm demeanour may not have inspired Klopp-like moments of excitement and elation, but dignity was Farke’s main priority when presenting his character to the world, despite the regular comparisons to the Liverpool manager or the almost equally eccentric Thomas Tuchel.
The 45-year-old’s famous moments were therefore more impactful, more worth savouring. From the hilarity of his mock throw-ins to the class of his anti-Ipswich wink and the pure ecstasy of his celebrations during that Forest game, the quality is high even if the quantity is not.
Right to the end Farke clung on to his dignity, his patented style. Normally it would feel a shame that a manager failed to properly celebrate the final goal his team scored, in this case it’s almost heart-warming.
In retrospect the stone-cold look on his face at Brentford feels slightly eerie, especially when twinned with the worn looks on the faces of Delia Smith and Webber even when leading the game. They knew what was coming, and it brought them absolutely no joy.
That’s what sums up this sorry affair. It’s been widely accepted that this was the right decision, the only way of giving Norwich a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League. Absolutely nobody wanted it to end this way.
There’s always a human at the heart of a sacking in football, it’s always an emotional affair. But with Daniel Farke, after what he’s done for this football club, it stings just a little more.