.I’m writing with the memory of the Swansea capitulation firmly in mind, so I’m attempting to find the eye of this storm of rage, and focus on how we progress through to the other side, where we can see a football team worthy of the name once more.
I want to look forward, but divining the future takes a certain degree of reflection. So first of all I’m going to look at what we know for certain from the recent past.
- Our football club works best with a clearly defined, transparent plan. When Stuart Webber arrived, he made the direction of the club crystal clear to everyone, and staff, players and fans all bought in. If there is still a plan, we aren’t aware of it, because Webber won’t talk to us anymore.
- One of the key pillars of the original plan was that the team would have a footballing style that was instantly recognisable as the Norwich City style and which we would not change. This was abandoned when we were promoted a second time, and Emi Buendia’s creative inside forward role was replaced with wingers who could cut in (at least that was the plan). There has been zero success from this method of playing and the players bought to replace him are of considerably less useful to us now than Onel Hernandez – a player deemed only just good enough to be in the squad when we were last promoted.
- Daniel Farke was with us for four and a bit seasons. He was only able to get us playing the beloved Farkeball when Emi Buendia was in the team. Before then, even with James Maddison, we were mostly poor, and since Emi left, under either Farke, Smith or Wagner, we have been woeful in terms of creating chances and scoring goals. This has led to ever-descending confidence levels among the entire team.
- Webber brought Buendia and Teemu Pukki to the club, two era-defining players, and added key players like Tim Krul and Ollie Skipp at vital moments to help achieve promotion.
- Since the last promotion season, with the possible exception of Gabriel Sara, every signing has been a major disappointment and is now worth less than they were bought for.
- Despite spending more money than ever before in the club’s history, neither Buendia nor Skipp, the two key players from the last promotion season, have been adequately replaced, and we have increasingly struggled to score goals or pass through the thirds, with playing the ball out from the back into midfield being particularly traumatic.
So what has to happen?
How do we fix this fractious, fragile mess of a club? David Wagner has told us that change will happen and plans are being made behind the scenes. But do we trust them to be carried out successfully? And are Webber or Wagner the right people to lead this change? For me, the following needs to happen as a matter of urgency:
- Webber needs to drop his ego and end his media silence. This club MUST have a plan again, and it has to have everyone together and with transparent, shared goals. We can’t move forward with the club saying nothing and expecting us to trust them not to continue making vital mistakes. If Webber can’t have an open dialogue, he HAS to go. This situation is no longer tenable.
- Wagner must create and implement a consistent playing style over the summer. It doesn’t have to be Farkeball, but it has to be one that doesn’t rest on the ability of one player, and one that our squad is able to carry out.
- We have to make sure that we have at least a first choice and a backup in each position for the newly designed system. When we had Ollie Skipp his backup was Alex Tettey, and that was the last time we had two true defensive midfielders in the squad. This year we got one in Isaac Hayden and the failure to have a backup for an injury-prone loanee led us to have to try and shoehorn more attack-minded midfielders like Sara, Nunez, McLean and Gibbs into a position they have not done well in, exacerbating the defensive errors and nervousness. The last time the squad was balanced and had at least two players in every position was the last promotion season.
- We have to get some mentally tough characters. Players who will fight for every 50/50 ball and not hold back. We are far too nice to play against and we don’t do the physical side well. We need leaders by example, not just players who think it shows leadership to come off the field and accept responsibility in interviews for another defeat. Win the scraps and you’ll have the ball to create.
- We have to buy a striker that can score goals in the Championship. We hate doing this, but it matters and we can’t take the cheap option this time. Pukki was lightning in a bottle, and he can’t be replaced by Abu Kamara through sheer willpower alone. Adam Idah is light years away from being the answer to anything beyond the 2029 quiz question “Can you remember the name of that Irish lad who there was all that hype about and he ended up having a terrible first touch and only scoring a goal every 20 games?”. Josh Sargent has his good points but is he clinical enough to score the 20-30 goals a season you need? To take that technically difficult chance in a tight game? I think he’s good enough to be the backup to THAT guy. But he’s not THAT guy. And we might need to sell Sarge to be able to afford THAT guy.
- We need a number 10 that can create. Kieran Dowell is good intermittently but he can’t handle that role all by himself. As part of a three behind Pukki with Buendia and the good version of Todd Cantwell, he was cracking, but he needs others to share the burden of creativity with and to play off. He is not the lead guy and never will be. We need more.
- We have to stop shoehorning players in that don’t fit the system because we think they are good footballers and will adapt, or buying players just because they might make us a profit because it’s killing us. This summer we threw the majority of our transfer budget into buying Nunez and Sara, two players who are not defensively solid enough to play as a number 6, but not tactically aware enough to play as a number 10. Both need to be playing as a number 8 alongside a true number 6. This is when we already have McLean and Gibbs who also need to play with that same security blanket. That’s crazy recruitment. It’s like buying extra right shoes when you only have one left shoe in the first place.
- Likewise,, the year before we threw our budget on players like Rashica, Sargent and Tzolis, all of whom were investments that were unlikely to hit the ground running while they adapted to a new country, league and lifestyle, and we were led to believe we were investing in them for the future. Well, the future is here, and let me tell you, it’s overrated.
We desperately need to make these changes or next season will be a further regression, and laughable as it might have seemed a year or two ago, we could easily slump into League One at the current rate of travel.
I find it difficult at the moment to see a future where Webber reconsiders his stance enough to make some of these changes possible unfortunately, and he may have to be the first casualty of the revolution if he can’t improve his relationship with the supporters or his record with recent transfers.
Wagner, whilst his record is currently worse than even his predecessor, does at least seem to want to be here and has yet to entirely alienate the fanbase. I wouldn’t be unduly upset if he departed because he has added very little since his arrival, but I also think he’d be a little harshly done by not getting the opportunity to implement his own game plan over a pre-season with players that fit it, and not those he inherited.
We need to get the changes right in the summer, and not just those in the dressing room. Staff, players, and fans have to be together, or else, what’s the point?