Football people – not least we fans – are notoriously poor at learning from history.
But there’s one mistake I’m determined not to repeat.
At this point of previous Championship seasons, with City still having a prize to play for, I decided it would help to predict the final outcome if I listed our and our rivals’ remaining games and forecast each result.
Anyone who’s tried something similar will know it’s a disaster. Even if it gives some indication of the final table – which it usually doesn’t – individual results along the way will bear little resemblance to a logical forecast.
Upsets also happen in the Premier League, of course. But they stand out. In the gloriously unpredictable world of the Championship, they’re almost the norm.
Let me illustrate with a few sets of quick-succession results this season:
Huddersfield 1 Cardiff 0 – Middlesboro 2 Cardiff 3 – Middlesboro 1 Huddersfield 0
Watford 0 Coventry 1 – Coventry 1 Blackpool 2 – Watford 2 Blackpool 0
Swansea 4 Watford 0 – Swansea 0 Norwich 1 – Norwich 0 Watford 1
…and most recently
Sunderland 1 Stoke 5 – Norwich 0 Sunderland 1 – Stoke 0 Norwich 0
Other than the odd consistently good side such as this season’s Burnley, the Championship is – depending on your point of view – either wonderfully competitive or an unholy mess.
Hence the rollercoaster of hope and despair for fans of the teams fighting for playoff positions – and not just City’s.
After a strong run, West Brom will be feeling deflated at losing to Hull and drawing with Cardiff. Hoping for their regular new-manager bounce, Watford fans will be grinding their teeth at losing to QPR (quite an achievement at the moment) and drawing at home to Wigan.
A good win at Reading seemed to put Millwall back on course after losing to us, but that momentum has halted with a surprise (if it wasn’t the Championship) defeat at home to bottom club Huddersfield last Saturday.
The win at Millwall, of course, put us in the playoff positions and raised hopes we’d consolidate our place there. We didn’t expect to get only two of the next possible nine points.
In contrast, Luton and Blackburn will be feeling good about recent results – but we know how quickly things can change.
Three points separate us from 6th place and four points from 5th, with 24 points to play for. This isn’t over yet – not by a very long (and winding) way.
None of this, of course, exonerates City from criticism. On paper, we have one of the strongest and deepest squads in the division. Of the two current theories among fans – the players aren’t actually that good, or they are that good but have underperformed – I lean towards the second.
They may not, however, be the right set of players for David Wagner.
In his early days at Norwich, I interviewed Stuart Webber for these pages. One of the things I clearly remember was his point about matching the players to the Head Coach. We didn’t have to try and sign the best players, he explained, but the right players for the way the Coach (in this case the recently-appointed Daniel Farke) wanted to play.
His actions went on to illustrate the point. We spent little on the likes of Tom Trybull, Marco Stiepermann or Mario Vrancic, but they fitted Farke’s model.
Above all, perhaps, Teemu Pukki.
In the summer before the 2018-19 promotion season, we made a surplus on transfer dealings of some £30 million – and created a more effective team for Daniel Farke’s way.
The relevance is pretty clear.
Whichever way our current quest for promotion works out, this summer will surely see substantial player turnover. Should we go up, we’ll spend – with an aim of better short-term effectiveness than the dealings of summer 2021.
Should we stay down, we’ll face two apparently conflicting imperatives: to make money on transfer dealings, and to give our Head Coach a better squad for him to work with.
It’s a tough trick to pull off, but in Stuart Webber we have a man who’s done it for us before.
If he repeats it, that would (or should) win over those who – for understandable reasons – have questioned his judgement in the past 18 months.
And it would be a fitting achievement for someone who, while not everyone’s cup of tea, has unquestionably put his considerable talents to the service of Norwich City.
At last a brilliantly balanced, thoughtfully constructed and utterly realistic piece from a regular My Football writer👏👏👏. So pleased to hear from someone who can translate that often used “it is what it is” saying into the context of City at the moment. Most specifically, Webber lost his way totally recruitment wise after the 20/21 promotion, but his overall contribution to NCFC has been more than any since the late Robert Chase (who also divided opinion)
Tim Ball says
I agree wholeheartedly Stewart that the championship is completely bonkers, as it quite often is with bottom beating the top but I do not believe it is as strong as the first time we won it under Daniel Farke.
And that is why this is a opportunity missed.
I agree that SW has “done it before” but many of that recruitment department have since moved on and when it was left to Stuart the summer before last I think we can all agree it didn’t go well.
Me and my dad had this conversation years ago when I was a kid.
We had lost at home to bottom of the league Sheffield United and I was right jarred off ( it was worse than Jarred 🤣) and kept on about how because how we had beaten so and so and they had trounced Sheff Utd we should beat them easily.
My dad laughed and said ” it’s about time you realised that football isn’t at all like that”
I soon did.
Tony Mowbray explained far better than I could on how a team can lose 5-1 one week and then win 1-0 the next against supposedly better opposition.
A team needs to be better than the sum of its parts, with an inspirational manager.
Look at Nottingham Forest. Would anyone else win two European Cups ( Champions League) with Frank Clark, Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns etc ?
I don’t think so.
Don Harold says
Webber has gone from hero to zero. I hope, but doubt, that he can regain his hero status. Perhaps he knows of an Argentinian genius playing in Spain whilst being anonymous to other English clubs’ European scouts, or some determined and technically proficient players in the German lower leagues who would like a couple of years in the Fine City.
Let’s hope so.
DoF role as Webber explained it in his more open period with the press was that the Coach should suit the players at the club.
Smith had no idea how to get the best out of a team recruited to play Farkeball, yet we are told that these players can adapt to Wagnerball.
DoF role is to build a squad and identify then recruit a manager to get the best out of that squad it’s suppose to stop a mass clearout every time a manager changes.
But some how in the English football community it doesn’t work and you see clubs going into a big black hole to rebuild a squad to suit the manager.
That makes some sense – but it’s not how he explained his view to me! Stuart Webber’s never shied away from relatively large-scale changes in a transfer window, esp the summer. He pushed back on my suggestion that you could have too much change: the key was to do the business as early as possible, so that the Head Coach had as complete a squad as possible for his pre-season work.
Excellent article and responses Stewart……but he didn’t exactly “do” the above for Farke during summer 2021. We (apparently) huffed and puffed and missed out on our major target in central defence, and then scrabbled around for half a dozen unproven wide/midfielders (some with injuries) who turned out to be rather less good than we were led to believe.
O T B C
P. S. I fully accept that he HAS been responsible for turning Colney into a first class facility…….but I’m still not convinced about the investment in Soccerbot.
Fair points – thanks.
I honestly believe Webber has run his race.
I cannot imagine where else in the business world a major official in a most crucial area of the club would be allowed to take some months away to climb mountains whether it is a laudable, charitable project or not, would be allowed to proceed in that manner.
It has always seemed to me that Webber impetuously bought players quickly, plonked the list down in front of Farke, and told him to deal with it.
We all know the result of that period in the club’s near-history, and its fair to say that an alternative scenario free of of mountains might have played out differently.
I have always felt Webber behaved unprofessionally during that period of the club’s time.
I don’t necessarily think there was anything wrong with the players or Farke, just a fractious disconnect which couldn’t be overcome.
If, as seems likely, we do not get promoted this year I am hoping that the Club will give serious consideration as to whether Webber is the right person to oversee this player turnover.
Yes he has achieved promotion before but that was both times with Kieran Scott on recruitment. Since he left our recruitment, as mentioned by others, it has not gone well. With what is happening at Middlesbrough Scott could be the only one involved in our promotions in 2019 and 2021 to achieve 3 promotions in 5 years. Perhaps we let the wrong person go in 2021, perhaps it would have been better if Webber had left to pursue achievements elsewhere as he originally planned to do after 5 years.
David McNally, as Chief Executive, despite achieving two PL promotions and, arguably, achieving more than Webber was not given a 3rd chance before he made way for Webber. And similarly, Neil Doncaster, who oversaw promotion in 2004 could not repeat it and made way for McNally. In football, everyone has their time.
The Kieran Scott point doesn’t get raised enough, we were led to believe that he’d was being groomed to take over from Webber when his initial 3 years were up. Bar Skipp and maybe the early impact of Gibson and Giannoulis, well………
Interesting and thoughtful comments! Thanks, everyone.
One-time away season-ticket holder says
“It’s a tough trick to pull off, but in Stuart Webber we have a man who’s done it for us before.”
I would argue that the last really successful transaction arranged at Carrow Road was the loan signing of Ollie Skipp two-and-a-half years ago. If a manager had gone that long with a poor record he’d have been out on his ear. I find it hard to believe why it shouldn’t be the same for other footballing staff. To continue Stewart’s theory – though I appreciate he didn’t mean it in that way – to its logical conclusion perhaps some might even suggest we should have re-employed Alex Neil. After all he’s “done it for us before”.
Understood. But I wonder if Stuart’s early recognition of the Brexit impact, and his switch of emphasis to South America bringing us Nunez and Sara, might suggest he hasn’t entirely lost his touch?
Gary Field says
Webber’s whole recruitment process was holed under the waterline by Brexit, although it’s interesting that the Premier League are now looking to have it relaxed.
The other thing that occurs to me is that the departure of Kieran Scott to Middlesbrough seemed like a big loss at the time. Whatever happened to him! 😉
Unfortunately, after 6 years in charge, Webber has failed by any measurement set by himself or the fans.
Long term PL survival: Fail
Short term PL survival: Fail
Be a “top 26 club”: Currently failing
Create a consistent revenue stream from young talent: Fail
Create a balanced squad: Fail
Create a Norwich City style of football: Fail
Consistent and open communication with the fans: Fail
Don’t.”p!ss the money up the wall”: Fail
I’m sure someone will chirp up that he upgraded the training grounds. That’s fine, but if what’s coming out of it is rubbish, that’s a fail too. There’s plenty of teams with good training facilities in League One…