It’s going to take a bit of getting used to.
No more Parklife. No more celebratory olés. No more ‘topics’. No more being ‘greedy’. No more trendy parkas.
Life is about to change in NR1 and for some, that’s going to be a toughie. And I get it. Despite being the club’s first continental manager, it felt like Daniel Farke really got Norwich, Norfolk and Norwich City.
In fact, no other City manager in my lifetime – other than Dave Stringer, for obvious reasons – has been able to tap into the hearts and minds of the Canary faithful in the way Farke did.
And it was that, as well as the sometimes-scintillating football, that saw us take him to our hearts. And, typical of the man, never in the history of football has there ever (at least by the sound of it) been a more amicable parting of the ways.
Dignified and classy. That was Daniel. And that’s what has made it doubly tough to take for some of his most devout fans.
The positive, however, is that if you had to pick another manager in English football who shared those same qualities, it would probably be Dean Smith.
And now he’s the one tasked with getting a Premier League-type tune out of a group of players who have so far failed to deliver. One win, albeit in our most recent game, is the slimmest of slim returns from a squad that most of us agreed would, at the very least, be competitive.
They haven’t been.
Team Farke had cracked the how-to-win-the-Championship code but were some way off doing the same for Premier League survival. That particular formula proved elusive.
But, as Smith eloquently explained during Wednesday afternoon’s presser, he agrees with most of the Canary Nation in that he too believes the group of players at his disposal is capable of achieving 17th or better over the next 27 games.
He said all the right things, as you would expect from someone who’s been around the managerial block, but said them eloquently and with conviction. And it’s not the fact that he’s a nice guy that makes him appear a good fit for City; that’s more to do with his CV and his footballing beliefs.
Equally, he’s under no illusions around the size of the task, especially, I suspect, after reportedly watching five City games from this season on his flight back from New York. In the 1980s, they’s have been deemed video nasties.
When asked the obvious, your first priority? question, he didn’t even need to draw breath:
“We want to make defensive organisation and structure stronger,” he said. “I think there’s enough quality … We won’t go away from the type of football that the club has been known for, but fans should expect to see an organised, hard-working team who won’t leave anything out on the pitch. Hopefully, they can enjoy some good performances.”
As so… Southampton. The team that signaled the end of his tenure at Villa Park.
Smith and his assistant, Craig Shakespeare, have just two days’ worth of training to put a team together for the Saints and will, I’m guessing, use as a starting point the XI that won at Brentford.
But Smith did make it clear the door is open for Todd Cantwell and Billy Gilmour. The slate is clean and while we may not see wholesale changes for Saturday’s game, further down the line this team will have a different look and feel to the one with which we have become accustomed.
It will also likely be a different version of 4-2-3-1 we’re used to, but with regards to tomorrow I’m going to go with a similar lineup to that which started at Brentford with, maybe, Gilmour in the central midfield slot currently occupied by Kenny McLean? And if Cantwell’s fitness is of a suitable level, I expect him to be on the bench. He was involved in yesterday’s first training session, so one assumes he’s been handed back his place in the first-team changing room.
At centre-back, the current holders of the shirts are Andrew Omobamidele and Ben Gibson, and judging by the sight of Grant Hanley meeting Smith alongside Christoph Zimmermann in the treatment room, this game may come just too soon for the Scot. He was, however, involved in said first training session so it may boil down to match fitness.
If it comes too soon for Hanley, given that Smith is likely to want an experienced head in the middle of his back-four, it boils down to a choice between Omobamidele and Ozan Kabak next to Gibson. If the Scot is fit, then expect a return of the Hanley/Gibson combo.
Mathias Normann will be a shoo-in, as will Teemu Pukki I’d imagine, but the four players betwixt and between are anyone’s guess, although the fact Smith is a known admirer of Milot Rashica puts him in pole position for a start.
Ironically, as things stand, Dean Smith – with Saints having been Villa’s last opponents – probably knows more about the Southampton line-up than he does his own, but it’s no bad thing that he and Craig Shakespeare have so recently done their homework on how Ralph Hasenhüttl sets his team up.
Against Villa, it was a twist on the traditional 4-4-2, with James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu forming a formidable engine room and a front pairing of Adam Armstrong and Ché Adams.
The Saints’ width tends to be provided on the left side by Normann’s Norwegian team-mate Mohamed Elyounoussi, while on the right side, Scotland’s Stuart Armstrong tends to tuck in and bolster the Ward-Prowse/Romeu axis while in possession, but still with responsibility to offer protection to right-back Tino Livramento when without the ball.
It’s a tried and tested formula and, after a slow start to the campaign, tomorrow’s visitors are in good form. Their three wins and a draw in their last four is the type of form we can only dream of right now but is the type of run desperately needed to kick-start the Smith era.
Quite what’s about to unfold won’t be revealed until 5pm tomorrow but I do already sense a greater belief in the team’s ability to beat the drop now that Dean Smith is in the house – perhaps borne of the new coach’s own bullish belief that this group is good enough to achieve.
Before I go, one final thought:
In season 2004/05 under Nigel Worthington, City had a similarly slow start to their Premier League campaign and didn’t achieve their first win until well into November.
The date: 20th November. The score, 2-1. The opponents…… Southampton.
You never know.
On the Ball City…