This article will annoy some – particularly the ‘people with a bedsheet’, as Stuart Webber described them.
I started writing this following the release of Webber’s interview with Alice Piper on City’s YouTube channel, where he discusses the failures of last season, and the plan for next.
There’s no beating around the bush about what 2021-22 was for Norwich City – it was a failure. All of the stereotypical quotes and excuses can’t disguise the abhorrent season we all witnessed.
From minute one, City were behind the curve, playing catch-up. The Athletic’s Michael Bailey described perfectly the club’s lack of a pre-season in his season summary, and that point was re-emphasised by Webber in the interview. That, along with an incredibly difficult start to life in the top-flight, made survival look impossible from the off.
As Webber rightly said, for a promoted club, everything needs to go right to stay up. The recruitment, the pre-season, the start, and if things don’t go as planned, it can be a long, hard season for supporters.
I don’t agree with all of Webber’s talking points, particularly surrounding the fans. Saying that fans ‘gave up’ was a disgrace, and portrays an absolute lack of respect and acknowledgement for the fans’ effort, and money, put in with the hope of survival.
Yet, that isn’t what this article is talking about. You can read Gary Gowers’ piece on the club’s communication failures, for an in-depth look at that.
I’m here to talk about what I think is and isn’t Webber’s fault from how things panned out on the pitch, and the long term sustainability of Norwich City Football Club.
For a lot of the anti-Webber brigade, their main propaganda point was the recruitment ahead of last season.
“We should’ve bought more experienced players” … “We didn’t give it a go!”
Well, we did bring in some experience.
Pierre Lees-Melou joined at aged 28, with Ligue 1 and Europa League experience behind him. Milot Rashica joined at 25 with over 175 European top-flight starts to his name. Ben Gibson (28) and Dimi Giannoulis (25) joined permanently, and Mathias Normann (loan) and Angus Gunn (both 25) were also added to the mix.
These were players with good experience, but who would still be able to attract a good sell-on price, which is always a priority for Norwich City.
Christos Tzolis and Billy Gilmour, despite being younger, had also amassed European and international experience and were being dubbed as the most promising youngsters from their respective nations.
Christos and Billy were just two of the numerous young players signed in the summer of 2021.
Firstly, I’d like to talk about the loanees.
Gilmour, Ozan Kabak and Brandon Williams came in on loan from Chelsea, Schalke 04 and Manchester United respe3ctively. I, for one, was quite excited about all of them. My thoughts on Gilmour, and his time at City are detailed here.
Gilmour and Williams are two players widely cherished by their fanbases. Chelsea fans haven’t stopped talking about Gilmour since his arrival, and United fans love Williams for his determined attitude and fiery temper.
Kabak didn’t have as much love from Schalke, but had rave reviews from Liverpool fans and Jurgen Klopp, and featured in the Champions League knockout rounds – enough to get any City fan excited.
On paper, they were all decent loan signings, with Premier League and European experience who should’ve given a lot to the team. Williams did have a large involvement in the little success Norwich had, starting in every league win this season. Billy Gilmour and Ozan Kabak, not so much.
Additionally, Webber sanctioned the transfers of a number of young players permanently, including Josh Sargent and Tzolis.
I don’t think at the time either of them were bad signings. Yes, they were expensive but expensive only by Norwich’s standards, not in the richest league in the world.
Josh Sargent managed 34 goals in 56 USA youth games, and scored on his senior debut, becoming the fourth-youngest player ever to score for the United States.
He didn’t have the best goalscoring record for Werder Bremen, but still managed 70 Bundesliga games and scored with his first touch for the German side.
Webber said prior to the start of the season that he and Daniel Farke were looking for more physical players and that’s what Sargent brought in. He’s a big, pacey forward and would always run his socks off. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out so far, but you can see the logic behind his signing, and I’m confident he’ll do well next season.
Tzolis was another player largely seen as one of Greece’s brightest young talents prior to his City move. He’d scored not long after making his Greece debut and had netted some crucial goals for PAOK, as well as managing 19 goals in just 23 Under-19 games, coming into the squad aged just 17.
He was surely bought with the long-term vision of getting a big fee in return, and in today’s market he can easily do just that if he comes into his own. At the moment though there are rumours linking him to Club Brugge.
Tzolis’ City career has been considerably worse than Sargent’s and ever since missing the penalty in the Carabao Cup he has just not looked up for it.
At the time of Tzolis’s arrival, Farke said the following:
“There was a lot of interest in Christos from some of the biggest teams in Europe. In his age group, Christos is probably one of the most exciting offensive players across European football.”
The other three new boys were Lees-Melou, Normann and Rashica.
All of these, I’d argue, did well last season. Rashica always looked dangerous, Pierre Lees-Melou brought physicality into the centre of the park, and Normann almost single-handedly won us points in the first half of the season.
Obviously, Normann was just a loan, but most City fans would’ve loved for him to stay in Norfolk another season. Both Rashica and Lees-Melou had fairly positive seasons, and if not sold should be very good in the Championship next season
Giannoulis’ and Ben Gibson’s loan deals were made permanent last summer. The former enjoyed a strong season, coming senond in the squad for whoscored.com ratings, but the latter not so much.
However, reports said that Gibson had to be signed permanently if we went up, and the former-Boro lad was immense in 2020-21 and should be very good next season. He’s a quality Championship defender, and was a big part of the last promotion campaign.
The other key talking point surrounding Webber was Farke’s dismissal.
I’ve seen people on social media saying that they’d take Daniel back tomorrow if they could, but that’s just a reaction to the sh*tshow we’ve seen over the last 12 months.
All City fans, myself included, are grateful for everything Farke did for the club, and he provided many with the best City memories we’d ever witnessed, but that doesn’t make him fit to manage in the Premier League.
While there were certainly a lot of other factors at play, Farke’s record in the Premier League was awful, and iI would argue we’ve looked more competitive under Dean Smith.
Dean Smith has taken a team up to the Premier League and kept them up. That experience, with his own squad, could be crucial.
I agree with many fans and I’ve not been won over by Deano yet, but he deserves the chance, and I think we’ll be a good Championship side under his stewardship.
So this begs the question, what is at the heart of Norwich City’s problems?
For me, it’s the ownership.
Delia and Michael have given everything to the club in the 25 years they’ve been majority shareholders, but football’s changed and they’re no longer able to compete without external investment.
As things stand, rumours are flying around with regards to the possible takeover/added investment of City from American Businessman, Mark Attanasio, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and with a net worth of $700 million.
This could be big for the football club.
In Webber’s in-house interview, he spoke about ‘surprising and exciting’ news coming in two to three weeks so, hopefully, this is it.
To conclude, I think Webber tried everything for Norwich last season. We had a good squad, and should have done better, but a string of mishaps and financial inadequacy made it impossible for the club to compete.
Also, the communication wasn’t good enough, and a number of key staff members’ departures mean there remains lots of work to be done.
But I think some of the hate he’s getting is somewhat undeserved.
This article is trying to make a case for the signings being ‘not that bad really’ when the reality could not be any different.
In reality, the plucky defence of each player by the author can be picked apart fairly straightforwardly, but I’ll just leave it at a comment on Billy Gilmour.
It doesn’t matter if is ‘cherished’ by Chelsea supporters; he was absolutely the worst possible signing for a midfield desperate for power and athleticism – Webber’s own pre-requisites apparently!
Every signing was a failure and literally none of them improved the squad from last year in any way.
As damning an indictment of Webber and his recruitment as you could begin to imagine.
Jamie Lauder says
Take last year’s squad and put it in the Premier League, would it survive? No.
Emi Buendia and Oliver Skipp were cruical in our promotion, but neither of them have been able to cut it at Premier League level, as yet. Besides, reportedly there was no chance of us keeping either of them.
All of Stuart Webber’s signings for this season came in with a high reputation, and were tipped to do well. Did they? Most of them, no. But you can bet they’ll be front runners in the Championship next season, and the majority able to bring in a healthy profit, too.
The problem with Norwich City over recent years, is that we haven’t had the funds to keep our key players, so at Premier League level, they are near enough all gambles.
If we’d have kept Buendia and been able to build around him and Teemu, we’d have done much better, but under the current regime, it was just not possible.
Oliver Skipp has been brilliant for Tottenham. Buendia has done well at Villa too.
Webber basically started the season with a worser team than the one which won the Championship. Farke had the targets he wanted, but instead got his 3rd choice options because Webber refused to pay the going rate.
The buck rests solely with him. The biggest financial outlay in this Club’s history and he squandered it. Instead of owning his mistake, he has chosen to blame the fans and local media. As such, he should resign from his position with a immediate effect.
You can brown-nose the Club as much as you want but the facts are there for all to see.
Jamie Lauder says
Skipp, I’ll apologise for. He has looked composed for Spurs, but there was no realistic chance of the club being able to get him back. Buendia has came into his own over recent weeks but had a massive dry patch, which is why Villa brought in Coutinho.
You say “the biggest financial outlay in the club’s history”, but that’s nothing compared to the riches of 75% of this league. It would be illogical to spend all of this in the hope that we stay up, short-term. We’ve done that before and it put us in an awful position.
All of the players that came in were solid, but not good enough to save us from relegation.
Webber’s communication has been a disgrace, but him – and the recruitment team – did all they could with the resources they had.
Fair points. And crucially we cannot pay the going rate for decent Premiership players. And even if we did for one or two the ramifications for team bonding would be catastrophic. However:
The £60m spend was absolute peanuts in EPL terms. On 9 players? Ridiculous to expect anything more than we got.
SW was between a rock and hard place last summer. With a little humility he could get away with this dire season. Unfortunately he has chosen to double down. I wonder what the Americans make of him?
I didn’t say that last season’s squad would have kept us up. I said that all of this season’s signings have failed and have not improved us. It’s the worst season of recruitment I’ve ever seen.
We didn’t even bring in players in positions that were needed. Where was the defensive midfielder to replace Skipp?
No idea why you think all the signings ‘were tipped to do well’. Even Farke said Tzolis was one for the future (but is now tipped to leave!)
Jamie Lauder says
Daniel Farke said: “Christos is probably one of the most exciting offensive players across European football.”
PLM had years of European and top-flight experience.
Sargent had a good scoring record for the USA, but admittedly didn’t come in with rave reviews.
Rashica was adored by Bremen fans and had top flight experience in Germany and Holland.
That’s just 3 of the signings, without going into Gilmour, Williams, Giannoulis and more.
I’d say City fans and pundits all expected them to do well.
“Saying that fans ‘gave up’ was a disgrace, and portrays an absolute lack of respect and acknowledgement for the fans’ effort, and money, put in with the hope of survival.”
Honestly, you could have stopped ther.e. Any executive of a business business that treats customers with such disrespect doesn’t belong at said business. It started with him blaming the fans over BK8, ended with him blaming the fans for the season.
I have seen nothing to dissuade me of the conclusion I came to five years ago, that Webber sees fans as an annoyance he’d rather do without.
Jamie Lauder says
I fully agree that Webber’s treatment of the fans has been absurd.
This is simply an argument against the suggestion that Stuart Webber’s poor recruitment and ‘90% attitude’ is the sole reason we went down this season.
Invading Ukraine was (is) a disgrace (and more).
As Jamie says, Webber’s treatment of the fans has been absurd.
Andy Head says
Nice piece Jamie. There’s a lot of revisionist history from some, as most people were happy with the squad at the start of the season.
There were two inescapable errors for me: 1) The lack of replacements for Tettey/Skipp who could shield the defence, and 2) Whilst we have to take some gambles, spending so much of our budget on a teenager who couldn’t contribute much last season was too big a gamble, albeit I understand why he did it.
However, whilst SW got it wrong, any other Championship team would love the Sporting Director who won the last two titles he was in the division for.
Jamie Lauder says
Thanks Andy, I thoroughly agree with your last point.
I think Matheus Normann was intended to be a direct replacement for Skipp, and showed promise until his injury. He was supposedly the one SW had been after all summer.
Normann’s injury was there when Webber signed him as with Kabak both arrived late due to the injuries so why sign players that aren’t 100% fit in the thirst place especially in the premiership
Normann is not a defensive midfielder and has never played like one.
Jamie Lauder says
Have you seen Normann for Norway? He usually plays deeper and more defensively for them and in a competitive side, I have no doubt he’s more than capable of being a defensive midfielder.
In a side like ours last season, everyone was defensive and lacking, meaning players with drive (like Matheus) shone, and brought the ball out.
Of course people seemed happy at the beginning of the season, we had been on the end of some PR regards players. The proof of any pudding is in the eating the same with players. for so many of the intake to look and play so poor was soon found out. I think fans gave them a fair while to get use to a new country along with the toughest league, but still they were found wanting. I ask a question a while back. How long do with give them to find their game and feet.? surely 4-6 months was enough.
Jamie Lauder says
4-6 months would be enough in a competitive team. When established players who’ve been here for years are playing poorly, it’s no wonder the new lads are.
I think with Sargent’s improvement towards January he’ll be a talent, Rashica’s performances for the last few months and Lees-Melou being fairly solid throughout. Those three, I’d say, have settled. It’s about bringing firepower to the Championship now.
Most people were wondering why we hadn’t bought a defensive midfielder but had instead splashed out on two left wingers.
We were hopeful… but “happy”?
I don’t think that’s true, at all.
Jamie Lauder says
Just found this from when Matheus signed.
“I’m a defensive midfielder, I like to tackle, to win the ball and to use my body. I like to be on the ball and try to dictate the game.”
Surely that does the argument justice that Normann was intended to be the defensive midfielder signing.
You sure thats what Normann said?If so why didnt he show that in a city shirt?Like the rest of Webbers signings,too lightweight,too injury prone and no experience of the premier league,and thats where the problems layed.Dress it up as much as you like but Webbers recruitment was absolutely terrible!
Jamie Lauder says
If you watch his interview on the club’s YouTube channel after signing, that’s where he says it. As I said elsewhere in the comments, In a side like ours last season, everyone was defensive and lacking, meaning players with fight (like Matheus) shone, and brought the ball out.
Gilmour and Williams both had Premier League experience, and European experience along with Rashica and Lees-Melou.
I’m doing a piece on the subject of Norwich’s signing philosophy where I go into this in more detail, but if Normann didn’t have the injury record, or if he did play in the Premier League, we wouldn’t have been able to afford him! These flaws are what made him undervalued, and had it have worked out, we’d all be looking at it as a great signing.
It’s the same as Sargent and Rashica suffering relegation, so their value went down, Tzolis being relatively inexperienced, so his value was lower. The article talks about the problems with City’s lack of funds, and how Webber had to gamble in the summer.
Club Brugge says they are talking to city with 2 options for Tzolis
1 Is a Loan with option to buy
2 A straight purchase
I see neither a good option Dean Smith said that he had to get over his price tag and prove himself, that to me is poor management, the lad was getting good reviews in the U23 he played in yet still not given a chance in the first team.
At 19yrs old he was possible living away from his family for the first time, learning a new language and adapting to a completely new life style, there is a large Greek community in and around Norfolk and he has 1 team mate from Greece but none of his friends he gad grown up with.
Placheta and Tzolis could be the stars for city next season if one ie Placheta is sold we could make a small but clear profit but with Tzolis city paying £8.5m+ for him I see no way of making m9ney on him or those others Rashica, Sargent, Gibson, Giannoulis, or Lees-Melou.
So the question is stick or twist if we stick we have to hope that Aarons or Cantwell can bring in much needed funds to bolster the squad.
Huddesfield has an option to buy Sinani while Charlton have the same on Famewo then the rumours of Krul back to Holland for £2 to 6m and Turkish clubs wanting Pukki both would be greatly missed but age is the defining factor for both one last big pay day.
Unless we get investment Webbers remark about little to spend will haunt our promotion hopes, the other thing is with any investment will they allow our Yodelling Welshman to climb any mountain and run the club at the same time with his wife being a director help I doubt it.
Jamie Lauder says
I hadn’t really considered how the potential investors might take to Webber’s shenanigans, and agree they might not be best pleased.
I think Placheta’s time at City is done but, like you, hope Tzolis stays – he’ll be dynamite in the Championship.
I don’t think we’ll make a profit on Gibson or Lees-Melou, but there’s still lots of life left in Sargent, Rashica and Giannoulis, so who knows what might come if they have a few good seasons.
Tim Ball says
The trouble is Jamie none of the players you defend had any consistency.
Pierre and Matthias both had a couple of good games, Milot a few more but all three were flops in truth.
The loans all bar Brandon were a disaster.
But despite my criticism of the recruitment you are correct in your piece that the two owners Delia and Michael are more responsible for this than SW.
He was doing the job with one hand tied behind his back, due to the financial constraints imposed on him by the board.
But his dislike of the fans will be his downfall.
To say they “gave up” is rubbish.
They saw the poor quality of players brought in but still got behind them until Crystal Palace away.
Personally I felt the reaction that day was slightly unfair on the team that day as it was a reserve team, but enough was enough for those poor hardy souls who have followed City away in no thick just thin in 2 dreadful EPL seasons.
I think Stuart has done some amazing things for this club, not least Conley, but I feel his heart is no longer in it.
Jamie Lauder says
I’d argue no one, other than perhaps Teemu Pukki and Grant Hanley, were consistent this season.
I fully agree that it seems Stuart isn’t as involved as before. It seems Neil Adams is taking more of a day-to-day role at Colney.
Tim Ball says
That could be interesting Jamie as it does seem Neil Adams is being fast tracked for Stuart’s role.
What I find so strange about Stuart’s behaviour in all of this is when he done the inhouse interview with Alice and had just shown a little bit of humility by admitting he got a lot wrong last summer, but it is difficult in our financial situation, I feel a lot of us fans would have excepted it. As you say the “blame” if that is even the word, does lay elsewhere but Stuart still oversaw all of this.
Had he not emphasized the parlous financial situation at Carrow Road I would have thought he maybe trying to deflect us away from blaming the owners for the situation.
But if you look at what he actually said he made it quite clear that with our current model, therefore ownership, it was almost impossible to stay in the EPL.
Personally I don’t think he meant to land Delia and Michael in it but he did.
I was shocked that he thought that the recruitment was “alright” but I suppose quite a few of those players are still in the building and there is next season to consider.
I really wonder if Mick Dennis believes that the recruitment was “Alright” ? I think Mick has been as honest as he can this season but I would love to hear his views on that.
Jamie Lauder says
This is just a guess, but Stuart’s willingness to call out the club’s model might be an indication of how far along investment talks are.
I speculate Stuart has said this, knowing that a ‘takeover’ of some sorts might be near.
In terms of Stuart’s relationship with the fans, I think that, for the majority, broke down last summer with the BK8 deal. He was obviously disappointed that “the biggest commercial deal in the club’s history” wasn’t able to go through and blamed fans. That, along with his interview with The Times and fans’ reactions, lead me to believe his heart is no longer in it. However, going into Stuart’s dumping ground for next season, I hope it’s not the case.
To blame the fans for last season is unforgivable. To say they gave up early when the ground was full for nearly all the season is crazy.
Recruiting several loan players with a history of injuries was at best careless.
Overall Webbers performance was very poor and to try and cover it up with a controlled interview on his own tv channel is taking us all for fools.
Jamie Lauder says
I agree that Stuart’s relationship with the fans is a disgrace, at the moment.
I would say that in a sense, he had to take gambles on some of the players with a history of injuries. Had they not had that, their value would’ve been higher, and we wouldn’t be able to afford them. That is the point I’m trying to get at, in this article.
While Webber’s recruitment clearly could’ve been better in some areas, he was restricted by the lack of financial muscle, and had to take gambles.
I have argued in the past that Webber’s job is made difficult by the need to gamble each year on unearthing a Maddison to subsidise the owners inability to fund the club but to continually sign players who spend more time injured than playing is extremely costly and of no assistance in the premiership.
He’s had a bad year and should just admit it rather than broadcasting these feeble excuses.
Derek P says
SW’s relationship with the fans is not a “disgrace”.
We asked for him to speak and he did so. Whilst it may have been an easier ride than some other journo’s may have given him, it’s not actually his job to explain himself to us anyway. I don’t see other Clubs SD’s fronting up the way SW does. He is answerable to his boss, not us. As regards recruitment, it is clear he gambled on quantity over quality but he can hardly publicly say that the players were recruited were failures. Some may still be with us next season and the one’s who will be moved on, we need to get good fees for.
My main beef with last season was the sacking of Daniel. I was in hospital at the time and my wife wouldn’t tell me what had happened in case my reaction set my recovery back! I thought it was poor, given what he had achieved and his replacement has, to date, shown nothing to suggest he can improve us. It was a desperate appointment and I don’t believe we ever, as a fanbase, recovered from that.
Finally, people really do need to start listening what people actually say. SW never said he would only give 90% whilst with Norwich, just that he would have outside interests as well and the interpretation of the “give up” line is similarly wrong.
He’s not perfect, he’s made some mistakes but, if we were to leave us, there would be a queue of clubs in for him.
“Whilst it may have been an easier ride than some other journo’s may have given him,”
You’re not kidding, Grueling questions like…
“You talk about needing a perfect pre-season and we absolutely didn’t have that, the trip to Germany was cancelled at short notice, and off to Yorkshire, was it 9 or 11 positive cases on arrival, you knew the task in hand with the four fixtures in hand to start the season. With that in mind how difficult did that make the start of the campaign.”
That’s not even a question. It’s a list of excuses from the interviewer.
The question should have been, “Why, during a pandemic, were we planning to travel abroad, and why weren’t we able to ensure our players remained safe.”
It was a Moxey level joke of an ‘interview’. In fact, it wasn’t an interview, it was a PR/marketing video.
Stuart Webber is a young man in business terms, he’s an unusual guy who’s used his skills to gain some success thus far to add to his C.V. He’s on a journey and has no intention of stopping at the Canary station much longer. In fact the Pandemic has delayed his departure, not football.
Professional Football, mirrors society, the desire to accumulate greater and greater wealth ends up ruining everything. We’ve a tendency to envy those with wealth however it’s achieved. When things go badly we complain about players, managers, owners, sporting directors, etc and when things go well we laud them all, hero’s the lot of them.
Things turn out best for people who make the very best out of the way things turn out, which is where I believe our club is at right now. Good people don’t all of a sudden become bad people. When SW vacates his position let us remember the fantastic success he part engineered. When Delia & Michael stand aside they deserve our heartfelt thanks and we’ve still yet to properly thank Daniel Farke.
I for one have loved watching Norwich City F C thrive without falling into the hands of avaricious owners. Alas, the P L is a step too far, sadly to compete means taking that step to inevitable ruination.