The reality has dawned on far more fans than ever before…
We have a woefully inappropriate squad for the Championship next season, let alone the Premier League for the second half of this season.
Note I chose inappropriate.
January is going to be massive for our club’s future. However, my opinion is that under Smith and Shakespeare, we should remain realistic but optimistic.
We all now know that we are at the end of an era. The chapter didn’t close with Daniel Farke leaving because his legacy remains within this squad, which causes a headache moving forward.
A changing of the guard is imminent, possibly starting in January, certainly during the summer but isn’t it amazing how much, all of a sudden, you miss Alex Tettey, Marco Stieperman and Mario Vrancic as much as Ollie Skipp or Emi Buendia. And doesn’t it become apparent how some limited players, like Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell, are without tactically adept squad players around them.
Back in 2016-2017 Stuart Webber and Farke rebuilt and recruited a brilliant, niche team promoted largely on an X-Factor (a compliment not a dig) but much of what’s happened since appears a rabbit warren of errors, perversely contradicted by a second promotion.
However, that being said, I don’t agree with the view that this is the consequence of Delia and Michael’s ownership.
Personally, I believe that many of City’s problems have been tactical. The criticism of Delia and Michael (or rather the preference of having wealthier owners) is understandable but smacks of hypocrisy.
Does anyone consider it ironic that we shouldn’t be sponsored by a betting company from Asia but presumably it would be okay, according to many, for D&M to sell up to a billionaire from Asia or the Middle East, a media mogul or a Russian oligarch?
They are prepared to sell, but only to people they sense they can trust.
Back on the pitch, most recent MFW articles have been about fearing how unlikely we are to bounce back after a probable relegation. For me, the problem remains a recruitment flaw, or more accurately a recruitment legacy.
We went down a rabbit warren with Farke who imposed a tactical template and the sad reality is those players would never be able to transpose a Championship standard of 4-2-3-1 onto the teams they would face in the Premier League. The consequence of that rabbit warren (I’ve referred to it as Pandora’s Box before) is that a huge rebuilding project is now necessary.
There are no two ways about it. Tim Krul will be 35+ and Teemu Pukki 33/34 before the next Premier League attempt, and that assumes an immediate bounce. Furthermore, S&S have an unenviable decisions to make around Grant Hanley and Kenny McLean.
Are they are happy to commit to the long-term cause? There is a consequence for them in that they would forfeit a final lucrative career move.
Whilst we are at it, we need to be realistic about who is deemed good enough from the other senior players. Personally, I do not think Angus Gunn is good enough, Dimitris Gianoullis was kept out of the team by both Jacob Sorensen and Xavi Quintilla last season, Sam Byram is an excellent player whom we can only hope stays fit, but Jordan Hugill, Lukas Rupp and Ben Gibson are average players, not stalwarts – and are the most senior guys possibly remaining.
With the younger players, we have too many to keep happy, and I personally don’t see any extraordinary ability in any of them. ‘Difficult’ teenagers aren’t necessarily going to reach their potential if they aren’t inspired by very average senior pros around them.
Does anyone think a spine of Gunn, Gibson, Rupp, Pierre Lees-Melou and Adam Idah or Josh Sargent is going to cut the mustard?
Webber can buy his kids with potential and sell them on but only after ensuring inspirational leaders and experienced pros are well established into the spine of the team.
Yet as much as I apportion some of the blame on SW, I also get frustrated with the bulk of our non-footballing, matchday attending fans. We’re too nice, sometimes appearing loathed to say boo to a goose and, as a result, we don’t half make it easier for mistakes to be repeated, be they from Delia and Michael, Webber, Farke, Alex Neil or even Nigel Worthington. I yearn for the passion I remember from the Chase-out days and the way Paul Lambert and Grant Holt could get the temperature up.
I miss it. I make no apologies, and I wish more fans truly cared. It’s easy to beat, ‘little old Norwich’ for a reason.
This disheartening season was, from a tactical perspective, predictable in the months leading to promotion but the blinkers were on. Our repeated failures to survive are not about Delia and Michael, they are about Webber and managers who made wrong tactical calls. Again, Lambert got it right.
This is also why Brentford are managing. Pragmatism over glamour. Being the team that wins the Championship sides does automatically stand you in better stead than the team that came second up via the play-offs. The latter is normally the start of momentum, the former usually about a base formation that only needs refinement for the Premier League.
City’s cavalier chargers under Farke were never suited for survival but ‘boring’ Sheffield Utd (Chris Wilder’s) and Brentford are proving to be so. They were better organised in the Championship and were, therefore, easier to refine into being even more organised in the Prem.
Under no circumstances do I suggest it’s viable in the second season, but it’s still an improvement over little old Norwich in that crucial first season.
Farke and Webber were naive with the 4-2-3-1. If you get promoted and you then need players City cannot afford to make that formation work. But so hell-bent were they on proving that way was viable, they left themselves ill-prepared for flexibility.
This came to the fore when Farke started the season with 4-3-3, presumably a panic move, despite having only one central midfielder, McLean, in the squad
On the other hand, establish a more pragmatic base formation while rebuilding in the Championship, get promoted with 3-5-2 or something loosely similar, and perhaps only three or four key signings are needed. Some missing logic there for me.
However, for all that being said, I would still rather watch a bouncing team and enjoy the emotion, actually winning matches and some silverware. I’ve no interest in watching players on £60-400k per week play at Carrow Rd thanks to an immoral billionaire takeover when a betting sponsorship won’t do.
I don’t want to pay the consequential £1200 season ticket and be surrounded by tourists taking selfies at football matches because that is where, with most established Premier League clubs, you end up. Oh, and City rarely win.
But survival in the first season, on a limited budget, within our model is still, for me, doable. I think it just needs an evolution from sporting director to head coach. A more traditional structure to be realised. Ask Paul Lambert. Ask Chris Wilder. Ask Thomas Frank. In my opinion, it’s not doable the way SW has attempted it thus far.
In fairness to Webber, his five-year plan went out the window because, ironically, we had premature success with the first promotion. We couldn’t afford, then, even more signings than what are needed now, namely because the defence hadn’t matured.
And with that success came awareness to players like Buendia, Ben Godfrey, and Jamal Lewis. Things got all out of sync. Give it time. I think S&S have a maturity and experience in the game to bring the stars into alignment.
I’ll leave the final word to MFW colleague Andy Head:
“To do so [to survive] the recruitment has to be spot-on however and focussed on providing the tools needed to achieve that for one season. Buying players who may earn you more in sales long-term is an absolute waste of a war chest. This is Webber’s biggest failure. Buying potential in the Championship is commendable. Adding a future star when you’re already established in the top flight is good planning, but buying for the future when you don’t have enough for the present is foolhardy”.
Bang on 👍🏼