It’s no secret that Norwich City is in crisis. By initially refusing to do the right thing and relieve Dean Smith of his duties, Stuart Webber did nothing but amplify the ridicule and toxicity that clouded the non-existent relationship between the head coach and fanbase.
And regardless of the fact that change has finally been made, the problems always ran far deeper than a beleaguered Brummie in the technical area.
Much of the conversation around Smith’s position at City was dominated by worries that we would fail to reach the playoffs if he wasn’t sacked soon enough. Meanwhile, any hopes of automatic promotion were smashed to pieces by recent losses against Blackburn and Luton.
However, I’d argue that this emphasis on going up at all costs isn’t helpful.
While I’m aware that it stinks of an entitlement that ignores the anguish of the Grant, Roeder, and Gunn years, the fact is that personally, promotion to the Premier League no longer fills me with the excitement it once did.
As a Norwich fan who has been lucky enough to spend their entire adulthood (so far) in the hazy glow of the Championship-Premier League yo-yo cycle, the top tier just isn’t that attractive anymore.
This is for a number of reasons.
To step aside from City’s current woes for a minute, the first point is that over 30 years of unchecked greed and commercialism has in many ways ruined England’s top division. It’s near-impossible to compete at the top without the backing of either a despotic regime or an opportunistic American capitalist.
Fan voices are continually ignored, as their power to vote with their feet has been gradually crushed by the might of global TV companies. Meanwhile, VAR strives constantly to suck the remaining life out of the league with its ridiculous commitment to ruining football’s incredible drama by deciding that someone’s arse cheek is offside.
Despite all these issues, the appeal of the Premier League is still clear. A win in that league means everything, and taking points off giants like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal is fantastic. Some of my most cherished memories as a fan have come during these occasions.
The problem is, if we go up this season, does anyone really expect a repeat of Cantwell’s surfing celebrations against Manchester City or that glorious Grant Holt header at Anfield? Because I don’t.
Only the most delusional Norwich fan could expect this team in its current guise to compete in the top flight. The Championship is worse than I have ever seen it, and we’re still clinging onto the playoffs with the loosest of grips, miles off the automatic places.
Our defence, which consists of players who we know are capable of forming a title-winning back line, are a shambles, making criminal errors on a weekly basis. In creative midfield areas, we offer nothing.
Our league position is almost purely down to the ability of Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent to convert the extremely limited chances they get (or conjure from thin air themselves) into goals.
Even with improvements in every area of the pitch, placing this team in the Premier League is like throwing them into a bear pit. Under Smith, I’m confident we wouldn’t have beaten last season’s 22 points or Farke’s previous 21.
Finances are a key consideration, of course. Many people will argue that the money brought in by regular Premier League competition is huge to a self-funded club like ours, and they’re right. At the same time, recent seasons have shown us that under our current ownership, survival in the top flight looks almost like a pipe dream.
The margin for error when it comes to recruitment is essentially zero, and given how poor our Premier League signings have been at the past two attempts, why should we expect things to be any different?
It’s a sentiment that a lot of fans will disagree with but, for me, success shouldn’t be defined purely by our ability to play football in the highest division possible. If somehow we are able to scrape our way into the Premier League this season, which given how poor the Championship is, is still feasible, our reward will be week after week of getting battered by clubs with infinitely more cash than us.
That doesn’t appeal to me very much at all.
Instead, I’d like to see evidence of a long-term vision. I’d like to see a tactical philosophy that unlocks the talent in our squad, a clever recruitment strategy that negates our budget limitations, and a drive to fill in the gaping holes left by various recent staff departures.
If it takes several seasons to build a Norwich City side that’s able to achieve promotion in a convincing way with a clear style of play and evidence of steel and cunningness that might allow us to actually compete in the top flight, then fine.
I’d argue that’s far better than stumbling over the line this season only to get humiliated again the following year. Ultimately, though, an injection of fresh ideas is needed if any of those things are to happen.
Getting rid of Dean Smith alone won’t be enough. It’s becoming increasingly clear that those above him are no longer cut out for the job either.