The latest City fan to grasp the MFW guest blog baton is Ben Hodges, or @Loafingstone as he’s known on Twitter, who looks at a potential summer of change at the Club.
All yours Ben…
This is, without doubt, one of my favourite times of the football season. The breathless build-up to a brand new season full of hope and possibilities. The squad is still being formed, rumours fly about the latest piece of the Norwich City jigsaw – a time of endless promise.
For a moment though I want to focus on the promise that has surrounded Norwich and, in many ways, defined our club over the last decade. A promise that has not always been born out in first-team success.
Back in 2013, our young Canaries were leading the Club to glory in the FA Youth Cup. With that victory we felt the promise of a new generation of talent and the promise of the swashbuckling football these young professionals could bring to our team.
The steady increase of young players like Josh and Jacob Murphy in our first-team squad seemed, at the time, to bear this out.
As a club, we began to recruit, train and give first-team experience to a host of young players – James Maddison, Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Todd Cantwell to name a few. All, with the exception of Todd and Max, departed for pastures new with a healthy transfer fee in the Club’s proverbial back pocket.
I think as we look back though, as a club, we may have become too focused on developing and profiting off of young players full of promise. As we know, it has been part of our ongoing strategy and has been a focus of Stuart Webber and his team’s recruitment.
We have brought in (and loaned out) a host of players, many of whom have gone on to other clubs without even pulling on a City shirt. In many ways, it feels like we have gone through a phase of quantity over quality.
If you bring in enough young players eventually we must uncover another Emi Buendia, right? We don’t have the financial muscle to compete with the big clubs, so buy players who are a work in progress and cash in on them later. On paper (or Football Manager) it sounds brilliant, but our recent record in the Premier League shows that this model has not worked in practice.
In recent years we have used the resources we have to bring in players such as Emi, Christos Tzolis, Milot Rashica, Josh Sargent – all players who showed enough promise to warrant sizeable transfer fees. With the exception of Emi, all wilted under the intense pace and spotlight of the Premier League.
This is why I find this summer so intriguing. As a club, we lost our way last season. A rather muddled summer led to 10 defeats in a row and Daniel Farke’s sacking. Dean Smith came in and, in my view, did the best he could with the cards he was dealt.
Smith has now had seven months to work with the squad. Seven months to really get to know the players, their strengths, their weaknesses and where the squad needs some fresh faces.
I believe that this will be a blessing in disguise.
It’s no coincidence that our first signing was Isaac Hayden – a tough-tackling midfielder of Premier League quality. It’s a statement of intent – a realisation that for all the promise young talent can bring, sometimes you need a round peg for a round hole.
I believe, particularly in the Championship, that one or two key signings can really elevate your season. You only have to look at Steve Cook’s introduction to the Nottingham Forest team which helped them kick on and deliver a fairytale run to promotion. Or, if we go back one season, the impact Oli Skipp had in the centre of our midfield.
On the evidence I have seen so far, I expect Dean Smith to be nothing less than pragmatic. He has been willing to change formation, rotate personnel and give youngsters a chance where he felt that they could contribute.
While pragmatism should be the name of the game, I do hope that we leave enough space and time for some of the promise that we have already got in the squad to shine through.
With a fresh start, I hope that Christos Tzolis can show some of the promise that caught the eye of our recruitment team. I also hope Andrew Omobamidele gets a chance to build on his impressive performances before his season was cut short by injury. And I hope Jonathon Rowe and Tony Springett can force their way into the first-team picture again.
But, however this summer pans out, I hope we can be as efficient and effective in the transfer market as we have been in recent Championship seasons and give the fans something to cheer about.
There is plenty of talent in this squad for another Championship tilt. It is up to Smith and Craig Shakespeare to mix a bit of that promise with a healthy dose of pragmatism.
I suspect Isaac Hayden won’t be the last one through the revolving door of Colney and there will be plenty more change to come.