Some stand elegantly besuited and booted with a look as inscrutable as that of Confucius sipping a squat cup of his favourite 龙井** on a balmy day back when Beijing was just plain old Peking and the Giant Panda was yet to appear in a Disney.
Others patrol the technical area in the manner of a would-be whirling Dervish, not even keeping still enough at half-time for a soothing Türk Kahvesi, as popular in Istanbul today as it was in the Constantinople of yore. These examples, and there are very many of them, will sport credibility-enhancing muddy white trainers and club tracksuits, a style that has become increasingly popular over the last 40 years or so.
There is a further tiny percentage who delight in breaking the mould, whether it be the long hair and leather jacket of that eternal rocker Gareth Ainsworth, the Nike baseball cap and outrageous dental enhancements of Jürgen Klopp or even the body-dwarfing XXXXXL parka of Daniel Farke.
And this group of worthies all have one thing in common, because where there’s a football manager there’s an excuse. However bad the performance of their side, blame must instead fall on injuries, the referee, bad luck, the paucity of the playing surface, and even the weather if the manager is feeling particularly uninspired. Some managers, occasionally backed or encouraged by executive management at their club, even feel that their own supporters constitute fair game to take the blame.***
But after witnessing Norwich City against Rotherham at Carrow Road yesterday I’m prepared to cut David Wagner a fair few yards of slack.
What he actually did say post-match had that whiff of frustrated honesty about it:
“It is important for me to judge the performance as well as the result. Obviously, this was a frustrating result but I was delighted with the way we played. If we had taken one of our early chances I think it would have been a very different game.
“For the first 20-25 minutes I really don’t think we could have played much better. We created a lot of good chances throughout the game but for a number of reasons – good defending, not staying calm and rushing it – we did not take them.
“We have had two good performances in a row now and we need to keep our heads and be ready for the next challenge.”
With 20 shots [admittedly only 20% of these were on target] and 68% possession, I think it’s a case of fair play to our Head Coach, I really do.
MFW’s Man in the Stands, Don Harold, opined:
“I guess we would all have settled for four points out of six over Easter, but this game left a sense of disappointment.
“We started brightly and had more shots in the first ten minutes than we’ve had in the entirety of many games. But for the remaining 80 we lacked guile and imagination and didn’t have the creative ability to break down a resilient but rudimentary Rotherham side. I get the feeling there are many of this squad who have the mindset that they’re passing through. Certainly, it didn’t feel that there was a massive desperation to get into the playoffs.
“Still, somehow we’re only a point off the pace, so things could still happen.“
Considering the excuses that often make up the managerial litany of choice, I think Wagner had the complete set at his beck and call this time around so I’ll just recap them, this time in some kind of context:
- A seemingly never-ending, overflowing injury list leading naturally to:
- Players in many cases having to cope with being out of their favoured position.
- Referee Jeremy Simpson giving the term “letting the game flow” a whole new meaning at times
- Profligacy in front of goal, sure, but with a fair bit of bad luck mixed in
- And yes, the weather. Bright sun, strong wind and the odd heavy shower were not an ideal mix.
Grant Hanley, Ben Gibson, Marcelino Nunez, Kenny McLean, and Kieran Dowell have all featured prominently and then some this season, but of these only Nunez realistically stands a chance of featuring again in 2022-23. Fringe players Jonathan Rowe and Przemysław Płacheta are in a similar position, as to all intents and purposes are Isaac Hayden and Sam Byram, although after adorning the bench on Sunday we have to say that these two are fit for selection, on paper anyway.
And that, dear readers, is one heck of bodies in the treatment room. There has been no real let-up in terms of injuries all season, regardless of whether it was Dean Smith*** or Wagner at the helm.
All this of course was played out against the backdrop of Teemu Pukki declaring that our intense, at times electric, five-year love affair is over. The pre-nup didn’t include the way in which Teemu would try so hard to get on Sunday’s scoresheet that all his customary cool would desert him when it mattered. I really feel the Pukki of old would have left Carrow Road with the matchball rather than cutting a bemused figure as he made way for Adam Idah halfway through the second period.
But he gave it a real good go, which in itself says shedloads about the man. Or more accurately, was yet another testimony to something we have previously known all along – with Teemu Pukki you get a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and never anything less. That’s what you get if you’re a Norwich City supporter or a football-following Finn, anyway.
I’m not capable of being a football manager. The closest I got was captaining the school’s under-13 B team a few times when I was demoted from the First XI. That’s over 50 years ago now and I can still remember two things from that season. Firstly we never won any of the matches played with me as captain and, secondly, not every side’s leader bore the gift of an armband to indicate his mighty status among his teammates.
But at least I can wear what I like when I like, which is more than can be truly said for the modern manager.
*** Having promised in January that I would not refer to Dean Smith in my columns again, I have by and large kept my word. But I don’t feel I can simply ignore what follows, it’s more a case of my feeling duty-bound to share it with any MFW reader who hasn’t seen it already.
Smith originally said this on Sky Sports while guesting as a pundit on the televised Luton v Millwall match, starting by saying he felt he would have been able to get City promoted to the PL from the Championship had he remained in situ in NR1 back in January this year.
“The pivotal game for me was Blackburn. If we had won that game, then we would have gone third, three points behind Sheffield United.
“For whatever reason, the fans turned during that game, and it was very difficult to turn it around. They went after about 14 minutes. We scored an own goal in that time and Blackburn never had another shot, I don’t think. Their xG that day was about 0.3 or something – it was one of those games where it was difficult to turn the tide.
“But I was certainly believing that we would get promoted at the end of the season still.”
Speaking late on Sunday night, Deano said this about his new-found role at Leicester City – and surely as Norwich fans we’re entitled to a quick inner thought of “we’ve heard it all before?”
“The challenge in front of us is clear, but it’s one myself and my coaching team have experienced before and, with the quality in this squad and the number of games remaining, it’s very much achievable.
“Our [yes, he’s naturally got Craig Shakespeare working alongside him] first job is to rebuild confidence and instill belief in the team and supporters. I’m looking forward to getting to work with the players this week.”
**龙井 is Mandarin Chinese for Dragon Well Tea and thus offers me the tenuous connection to this, chosen in honour of hard rockers everywhere: