Once again, Norwich City face a huge summer. For the third consecutive close season, there’s an emphasis on recruitment and after the underwhelming results of 2021, the pressure is on.
Amidst his charitable efforts to climb several peaks including Mount Everest, Stuart Webber will be tasked with refreshing a downbeat squad and increasing City’s chances of bouncing back. These five topics should, in my view, be at the top of his to-do list.
1. Securing Teemu Pukki’s future
Teemu Pukki will not be a Norwich player on 1 July. That’s as things stand, anyway, with the Canaries retaining the option to extend his contract by a year. The problem with that is that Pukki would remain on his Premier League contract, which according to The Athletic is worth £50k+ a week.
This would be one of the heftiest salaries the club has paid while in the Championship and, although there’s no doubting the calibre of a man who’s scored 55 times in two seasons there, it would be a tough pill for the budget to swallow.
On the other hand, £50k every week for a year adds up to just over £2.5million, and if Webber signed a striker with as much proven quality as the Finn for this amount, it’d be the best business of his career.
Many have called for striking reinforcements as soon as possible but it’s worth noting that Pukki and the injury-stricken Adam Idah scored 29 times between them in 2020/21 and now have Josh Sargent to help them where Jordan Hugill had previously been the backup of choice.
Pukki should once again be the main man, however, and for this reason, it’s essential that his future is decided sooner rather than later.
2. Moving on unwanted players
Relegations have become synonymous with mass exodus, as the clubs left in the top flight pick and choose from the demoted squad like vultures. Such has been City’s performance in this campaign that not many players fall into that category, but several look as though their time at Carrow Road will soon be up.
Often these players are the hardest to move on, as Webber attempts to convince other clubs to invest in hefty wages and transfer fees in players deemed lacking.
Dean Smith’s arrival has likely lengthened the list this time round as an effort is made to mould a squad that suits his approach rather than Daniel Farke’s. Instead of the trademark possession-based football the German instituted, Smith’s Norwich City is designed to be much more robust and increasingly will target players of that ilk.
By the same token, previous signings that don’t live up to the required physical standards may find themselves in the firing line, as Webber attempts to trim the wage bill and make room for new signings.
3. Finding the Skipp replacement lacking this season
Thanks to the departure of Alex Tettey, City have endured their first season in 10 without a midfield destroyer this term, and Webber will be keen to avoid a repeat in 2022/23.
Mathias Normann was the closest thing the Canaries could find last summer and even when the Norwegian was on top form he looked more box-to-box than defensive, with Kenny McLean and Pierre Lees-Melou picking up most of the slack.
The Norwich recruitment team will undoubtedly have been working hard on finding a truer replacement for Tettey and his successor Oliver Skipp although, as has been proven, securing a deal for one will be difficult.
Jacob Sorensen has shown signs of hope in his few midfield performances, but given his less-than encouraging injury record placing all hopes on the 24-year-old would seem naïve.
Philip Billing and Kristoffer Ajer were certainly of interest at one stage, but with relegation seemingly looming they now look unrealistic targets and a trademark Webber find may be needed to fill this hole.
4. Addressing the revolving full-back door
No two positions are as uncertain heading into the summer as left-back and right-back.
Brandon Williams has stood out on the left but looks set to return to Old Trafford at the end of his loan spell, leaving a somewhat scapegoated and overlooked Dimitris Giannoulis. Max Aarons appears to have reached the peak of his powers as a Canary and, in truth, probably did two years ago.
If Aarons were to complete the departure that’s felt inevitable for years but seems right this summer he’d leave Sam Byram at right-back, with Bali Mumba out on loan. Mumba has shown promising glimpses in a yellow shirt and pleasing progress at Peterborough but looks less suited to Smith’s style than Byram.
Webber’s solution may already be on the payroll – Mumba is joined in the Championship loan contingent by temporary QPR left-back Sam McCallum – but whether Giannoulis will be keen to stay in NR1 after his lack of game-time remains to be seen.
In a position where stability has been an issue in recent times, Webber must find a long-term solution this summer.
5. Sorting out the rest of the loan stable
Mumba and McCallum aren’t the only City players out on loan – far from it. If relegation is confirmed as expected many players previously considered not good enough for the Premier League have the potential to come back into the fold.
Onel Hernandez has been key in a Norwich promotion campaign before and is on loan at Championship Birmingham. Josh Martin, although on loan in League One presently, looked a creative force at times last season in the second tier. Even Hugill has spoken about his expectation of returning to training at Colney when he leaves Cardiff City.
There are players whose futures appear to have been decided. Todd Cantwell and Danel Sinani have permanent options in their loan deals and Josip Drmic will be out of contract this summer, but there are plenty more in the above category.
In his quest to assemble a strong Championship squad with the smallest amount of money possible Webber will undoubtedly look inward at some of the talent already owned by the club.