The Dean Smith sacking is an article for others to write. I was an advocate, a big fan. Then I was patient, flirting with the benefit of doubt. Then I was sceptical. Then I was confused. Then I got bored and, eventually, agitated.
It was worth a punt, it failed. We move on. I was wrong and he was the wrong choice.
Anyway, back to that painful winner at Kenilworth Road. Cauley Woodrow finished that move with his first touch after spending three months injured. Then rewind to Riley McGree equalising for Middlesbrough in November, and then 19-year-old Pat Jones scoring on his debut for Huddersfield at Carrow Road.
Firstly, the quality of these goals is beyond the technical ability of any Norwich City player, despite us having no fewer than a dozen attacking midfielders at our disposal. Such goals ought to dispel the arrogance that runs through Carrow Road and bring home the fact this squad lacks the quality it is assumed to have.
Secondly, watch those same goals again with an analytical eye. Watch Grant Hanley or Isaac Hayden and their attempts to stop those goals. On other days it will be Ben Gibson. But, “we have one of the best teams in the league, players promoted from this league, sometimes twice”
Actually, we have the leftovers.
Maybe I could add Jordan Hugill to the list. Ditto Dimi Gianoullis and Kieran Dowell. And then there are our two South American midfielders – two attacking players with no quantifiable pedigree in the English game signed for a combined £6 -10 million, who have joined the list that contains the names Sinani, Tzolis, Rashica, and Placheta.
Ultimately, we have a Pandora’s Box of players who don’t suit each other on the pitch. Anyone who can tell me that Gianoullis or McCallum defend better than their stand-ins, Jacob Sorensen, or Kenny McLean is watching a different game.
Has anyone seen either of our left-backs deliver a decent cross? Does anyone think any central midfield grouping is balanced? Can people see the compromises imposed on both players when Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent play together? And does anyone think it’s a good idea to play two right-footed centre-backs?
There’s a reason why we’ve struggled to break a high press with Andy Omobamidele and Grant Hanley playing together. We are yet to see Gibson play alongside Andy O as that would mean dropping the club captain.
Some things just won’t ever happen.
I think that’s the defence, midfield, and attack all covered but there remains one underlying problem that ties all of these issues together.
Put it this way…
Dean Smith couldn’t get this group to work. Daniel Farke couldn’t get this group to work. But who was it who put this group together?
For me, the core problem is and has been, Stuart Webber. His recruitment has been an utter farce, and that includes identifying Dean Smith who has played 4-3-3 at every club he’s ever managed.
Stuart, on what planet did you see a viable 4-3-3 with this squad?
Webber is a man who has engineered a niche career for himself and, in my opinion, is a man whose CV lists achievements that do not merit his actual input. I am pleased with what he’s achieved off of the pitch, but I’m afraid he’s a man whose true legacy is his incompetence in recruitment and the subsequent consequences he’s imposed on the pitch.
I would also say he has tried to be ambitious, although some will argue otherwise. I think he’s tried but he’s failed.
Webber started as a coach at Wrexham and after a few other jobs, acquired the sporting director role at Huddersfield.
I think he saw an opportunity, one he’d later see at Norwich, where he could impose his personality and dominate proceedings, and where there was just enough money to play with.
He was effectively given grace to play “Fantasy Football” in the real world and on a Championship stage.
Once appointed at Huddersfield, Webber headed to Dortmund for David Wagner, a trick he later repeated for Daniel Farke.
Getting your head coach from Dortmund is not football rocket science, but it was novel then and credit to him for such foresight.
Thereafter, I remember ‘his’ Huddersfield team destroying us at Carrow Road in December 2016 – a team that included Aaron Mooy. Kasey Palmer, Rajiv van La Parra, and Elias Kachunga.
In total, in one season, Webber authorised David Wagner to choose an entire first team from scratch. It is essential to remember that. Huddersfield took six points from Norwich on their way to promotion.
And then between 2017 and 2019, he allowed Farke to buy a dozen perfectly matched players after he had blown some cash on players like Marley Watkins.
The second promotion was the best and worst of Webber because he acquired Oliver Skipp and we kept the services of Emi Buendia.
Without either player in the team in that 2020-21 season, the team struggled to deliver but with both in it, it excelled.
It was easy to predict where we would be in 2021-22 if our sporting director was unable to replace either player. As it transpired he made a complete dog’s ear of compensating for their loss.
Instead, he went down a rabbit warren of recruitment that baffles me to this day and made decisions that compounded where we’d be in 2022.
Thereafter, Dean Smith couldn’t get this group to work either.
The biggest problem we have with sacking Dean Smith is that it will be Webber, who himself is unsackable, who decides his replacement.
I can only plead that we appoint someone who will go through this squad without mercy. I’ve loved watching Hanley and Pukki, and I’ve no doubt that Gibson, Hugill, and Hayden are important in the dressing room but drastic action is required this summer.
Maybe Placheta, Tzolis, Rashica, Gianoullis, Dowell, Cantwell, Sara, and McCallum will end up being top-level players but it looks unlikely that it’s going to be here at Norwich.
Therefore, in my opinion, the first thing we need is a hatchet man first who will get rid of the dead wood, so that any new manager will have some freedom to build his own squad to suit his own style.
Webber needs to start proving his worth by ripping up half the contracts he signed because if he doesn’t, any new manager is going to be flogging a dead horse.
Without a proper shake-up, our club is going back down a rabbit warren that was explicitly forecast 18-24 months ago, when it became clear Buendia and Skipp were leaving and we catastrophically failed to replace them
Unless these next few weeks are dealt with correctly, we should prepare to wave goodbye to our youngest and brightest for pennies to the pound and watch the club slump into short to mid-term obscurity.
Let’s hope, therefore, the big calls are made correctly.
I wish you all a very happy New Year.
TIM Ball says
I was like you Mike and thought Dean Smith would be a good fit here. I went through the same stages of
disappointment as you did as his reign got worse and worse.
Personally I do not think all of this sorry situation at Norwich City FC is all Dean Smith’s fault.
And while Smith and Farke have been removed from their posts Stuart Webber still doesn’t take any personal responsibility for the failures of last season and this.
Last season’s dreadful recruitment must be in part the reason the club have had to take out a loan against our final two parachute payments.
I see no one has fallen on their sword or been removed for that debacle.
To me that seems very unfair.
Bertie Granger says
An absolutely first rate analysis, Mike, but I have zero confidence what you yearn for will come about. That’s why I didn’t renew my season ticket this year after 20+ years. Enough was enough….
While you were penning this, Mrs Webber was emphasising how important it will be for the ‘new man’ to reconnect with the fans ….. Agreed 100%, but it seems to me that neither Mr or Mrs W ever look in the mirror and ask: “Could it be that I’m the problem?”
As I said yesterday, those 2 cuckoos in the NCFC Board Room nest are untouchable. And, whilst must cuckoos arrive uninvited into a nest, our club owners welcomed them in and said “Help yourselves”….. which they are certainly doing.
At last someone who understands was saying this last season .
For me Webber can’t be trusted anymore and surely has to go let’s get a better sporting director and a recruitment team first then a decent manager .
Excellent article Mike and sums up the disaster that has befallen the club with its recent recruitment.
This begs the question that apart from Farke what other decisions has Webber got right?
“Daniel Farke couldn’t get this group to work.”. Er, he did. It’s not his fault the Club is self financing. Nor his fault that the Premiership is a plutocracy. He transformed Carrow Rd in spite of the lack of cash & Webber. With relevant resources he is doing a great job in Germany right now.
Hi Richard, specifically, when Buendia was absent (through suspension), in the last promotion season, DF failed to pick up points either. Cheers
The best analysis I have read of the current situation at our club.
All of the focus has been on Dean Smith, which is understandable given he is head coach and his dismissal was certainly warranted. But he had undoubtedly become a lightning rod for fans’ deeper frustrations with the club. He said he couldn’t understand why the fans were so negative towards him, and the answer probably lies in the fact the anger directed towards him was also felt with others – not least the two power couples running the club.
The local media have spoken obliquely about deeper problems at the club, without being specific about what is meant by that, possibly because they realise that the door Webber has slammed in their face will be barricaded shut if they did so.
Webber’s well documented comments towards the fans should have been enough to see him leave long ago. In no other organisation would any employee get away with being so derogatory towards its key customers/stakeholders. But it’s his actual performance in the role that makes him unfit to hold it.
After every relegation from the Premier League, our lack of resources is understandably cited as the main factor. But the facts are that in 2021/22 we were in the top ten of net spenders on transfer fees in the division, and were not in the bottom three when it came to the wage budget. We spent large sums of money – and have indeed continued to do so since relegation – on players who have largely, so far, been failures. The same Sporting Director famously said when he arrived the club had peed money up the wall the last time it was in the Premier League. I don’t know what the euphemism would be for his own record last season – for the sake of public decency I won’t go there.
In many respects, Webber has the perfect job. He has more power and influence than possibly anybody in the history of our club, but with none of the accountability and responsibility that a head coach has. His reward for failure is total loyalty and support. The club let it be known after the Board met this week to discuss the future of Dean Smith that they had granted Webber free reign to make whatever decision he liked. In politics, parties are fond of saying in elections that voters shouldn’t give the keys back to the lot that crashed the car. But this is precisely what our Board keep doing, and they will undoubtedly continue to do so until the point when Webber has a hissy fit and flounces off – inevitably blaming the fans as he does so.
Like Mike, I hope that lessons can be learned from the last 18 months. However, for people to do that then they need humility and self awareness as qualities. These are not attributes our Sporting Director appears to possess.
MYSTIC KEV says
We’re had some of the best football ever seen at carrow Road under farke and webber definitely not all been bad no different under other leadership when we have been in Premier it’s all been poor except lambert rein .
Really good article. I think you have got this absolutely spot on.
My only disagreement was that my initial thought on getting Smith was that we had sacked Farke and replaced with a manager who was not as good, ergo it would fail. Sadly I was proved all too correct.
I’d have kept Farke and it still rankles me that he was sacked. His two premier league tilts were with either no money to spend, or some Webber mis-fits. As you rightly point out, when he was given carte Blanche to bring in his own signings, it worked very well.
We now find ourselves in the unenvious position of needing a total overhaul whilst at the same time needing to get promoted!
It’s going to be interesting!
Great article. Personally I think we can go to the first year back in the EPL (2019/20) for where recruitment went wrong. Big investment should have been made then rather than sticking with the players who won the Championship. Drmic and Amadou brought in were never going to help us in the cut and thrust of top division football…. you never know Buendia may have stayed longer if the right investment had of been made!