It’s not my norm to begin articles – or anything else – with a Biblical quotation. This time, however, it seems apt.
We now have the fixtures. We have the new branding. Closer to our capabilities on the field, we know of two additions: Isaac Hayden and a new set-piece coach.
Beyond that, it’s all a bit murky. We suspect there’ll be significant changes of playing personnel by the end of the window. But our inklings about those changes, let alone knowledge, are severely limited.
None of this has stopped others from putting in their two penneth about Norwich City. So I won’t let it stop me.
Wish I had some insider knowledge to declare. Instead, let me declare a creeping optimism about the season ahead.
No doubt there’s a subjective, perhaps irrational, element to that. But it seems to me there are some decent reasons too.
One is the ever-widening gulf between the Championship and the Premier League. Not perhaps as wide as we sometimes made it look last year – but a gulf nonetheless.
I’m reminded of it when I talk to friends who support Fulham. This will be the fifth successive year our teams won’t be meeting. Each time we look out of depth in the Prem, Fulham are dominating the Champ; the following year they’re looking out of their depth in Prem while we’re dominating the Champ.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll automatically be challenging at the top of the Championship – we know enough to dispel any such illusion. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be pessimistic merely on the basis of our inferiority last season. That’s another one we should know to be a false premise.
The widening of the gap shows itself in a number of ways. Not just financially – the scary one – but in ways that offer us more encouragement for the season ahead.
I used to point out that, despite pundits’ lazy forecasts, clubs relegated from the Premier League didn’t have a good record of bouncing back. But the record is changing a bit. In the past two years, three of the six clubs promoted from the Championship had come down the previous season (Fulham, Watford and of course Norwich).
The same thing that applies to teams also applies to individual players. Of course, we’ll need at least a couple of further signings – partly to replace leavers, partly to get the squad better suited to Dean Smith’s playing style (something for which there was no scope in January).
After the Premier League experience, though, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our squad would be the envy of many Championship managers. Players like Ben Gibson and Kenny McLean may have looked – well, did look – short of Prem quality, but they’re outstanding at Championship level. I suspect Josh Sargent will fit that bill too.
I deliberately leave out Grant Hanley from that category. Some of our fans aren’t convinced – but to me he didn’t look out of place on the field last season, in addition to his leadership.
(No complaints about Emi and Teemu winning, of course, but I found myself voting for Grant as player of the last two seasons.)
There remain plenty of question marks, of course. It would be a fillip to keep Teemu Pukki, but it seems we’ll have to fend off some strong suitors. On the other hand, we’re better equipped than before to deal with the departure of Max Aarons and of Tim Krul, if they happen.
A number of our players could blossom this season, or not. Will it be a breakthrough year for Adam Idah, who showed signs before his injury? Will Andrew Omobamidele fulfil the potential he clearly possesses? Ditto Jon Rowe. In a different way, Kieran Dowell. And of course He-who-must-not-be-named, the artist formerly known as Todd Cantwell.
Not all of those will come off. But if two or three of them do, it’ll be equivalent to getting the kind of new players who are beyond our financial reach.
At the start of this piece, we skirted over the two signings already in the building. They deserve a little more scrutiny.
Isaac Hayden seems, to me, a major signing. He’s not only the defensive midfielder we clearly needed (how we missed Ollie Skipp last year!), but more. His quotes suggest that, like Grant Hanley, he’s the kind of character we need to help us shake off a losing mentality.
Allan Russell’s arrival is less heralded, but may also have a significant impact. Over the past couple of years as set-piece coaches became more common, two thoughts struck me:
- Given the proportion of goals that result from set-pieces, this makes a lot of sense; and
- If any team could benefit from a set-piece coach, it would be Norwich City
I’m happy to learn Dean Smith shares those feelings and has now had the chance to make it happen.
So far, so reasonably good. Pretty sure I’d be less cheerful if I followed Burnley: relegation has been a financial disaster for them, already reflected in the departures of Nick Pope, Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, the core of their defensive strength of last season.
Plenty more playing issues to dissect, and arrivals and departures to speculate on. But one final thought for now to put on the table.
In our past two Championship seasons, we started rockily. It took us four games in one, five games in the other, to reach four points. That led – another Biblical reference while I’m in the mood – to considerable weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Both times, we went on to win the division.
Next season will be something of a new start – certainly our first real look at Norwich City in the Dean Smith mould. Can we give it, if necessary, a little time? His track record suggests he knows what he’s doing.
Enjoy the rest of the summer, and OTBC.
Whooppee. Optimism from MFW! The key for me is the gulf in class between the two top divisions. All the glass half empty crew only see the Canaries’ abject failure in the other world that the EPL inhabits; now we are back in the real world surely it is time to polish up the green and yellow specs?
Nice to see an article leading us out of forty days in the wilderness (sorry!) for a change after the flood (another one?!!) of stuff both here and on the Pink’un forum. Time will tell whether it’s onwards and upwards towards the promised land (no more, I promise) or the doom and gloom of a protracted stay in the Championship, or worse, as some people seem convinced of, swapping places with our near neighbours.
The comparison with Fulham has been made before. It’ll be interesting to see how and if that continues.
Stew, I think you’ve been reading my emails to other Canary MOGs. Tis’ indeed a wide gap between the two Divisions and most of our players have been superb in the Chump but fallen short in the Prem. I’ll go with the bookies and say Norwich will be in the promotion mix again this coming season even though our idols have feet of clay. Danny was an unlucky Manager hopefully Deano will get some good luck.
Dave Huck says
Optimism is high in my household for the coming season. Two major areas jump out from last season – the lack of Ollie Skipp and Emi Buendia. If we had replaced both of those, maybe our season would have been slightly less painful.
Ollie now has a replacement in Issac Hayden. If we can get a playmaker in before the end of the transfer deadline, i feel we have enough to be pushing for one of the two automatic playoff spots.
I think Todd Cantwell’s days are numbered – he had a one year contract extension last year – if we keep him this year, he is entitled to leave on a free at the end of the season – I think the club will look to cash in any value he still has this summer. If I am wrong – then good luck to him and I hope he does enough to regain the confidence of the manager and can deliver the types of performance he did a couple of years back.
I am with you on Grant Hanley – like some, I had my reservations early in the season – but he showed his leadership and without him, those painful defeats may have been a lot more painful – like you, I think he ended up there pushing for Player of the season.
With Rowe, Springett and Gibbs gracing the bench at the end of the season and actually getting good game time for Rowe and Springett, we have an exciting batch of youth pushing to get a regular start in the first team.
The sound of silence is dealing for a club that prides it’s self on communication with it’s supporters there is a great lack of it at present and the longer it Continues the more speculation on incoming and out goings will hit the headlines.
Other stories on investment have gone quiet so more speculation.
Burnley lost nearly all their defence since relegation, having to negotiate repaying a £65m+ loan due to a relegation clause yet have recruited a new manager and backroom team now £8m spent on 2 player building a new defence.
City have players that hopefully can tear the championship defences apart if they stay the latest story that Webber and others have told some of last summers recruits to find new clubs shows no patience or forward planning it also knocks the confidence of said players but the kick is in the fee’s the club will receive for these players.
The board and those below have not been fit for purpose for many years time to go in my opinion
Thanks for the comments. Nice to know the pessimists aren’t the only ones with voices.
Confess I was bracing myself (and still am) for some pushback. Actually I’ll welcome it – abuse isn’t healthy, but robust debate is!
Inside Right says
‘Norwich City in the Dean Smith mould’ can only be judged if he is allowed to bring in the players he wants. Until then, he has to make do with a lot of Webber’s magic beans and I don’t think many other clubs will be envious of that.
On current evidence, I see this season of consolidation rather than a club that is interested in getting promoted.
Understand your view – but let’s see what the rest of the window brings.
We may need patience, because significant arrivals are dependent on departures. But a quiet transfer window isn’t Stuart Webber’s norm!
Nice to hear an optimistic view. I too think potentially we have a good starting 11 with a decent squad. The only issue is can the players recover from another disappointing season in the PL. There must be some psychological issues, particularly with some of last years recruits. Farke was able to get the players through the same issue a couple of years ago. Can Smith do the same.
Anyway keep the glass at least half full.