“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones”
Julius Caesar, Act III Scene II.
Actually, Mark Antony did come to praise Caesar, and to turn the crowd against his critics and murderers.
Not me. I haven’t come to defend Stuart Webber from deserved criticism. An Ofsted report on our club over the past two years would read “Inadequate”. Stuart must bear his share of responsibility.
But perhaps I’d like to try to paint a fuller picture, with some observations on a man I’ve met a few times (including an interview he gave to this forum in 2017). It’s an entirely personal view.
I don’t know whether he’ll be minded to grant what the fans on Saturday were chanting for – or whether others may take the choice out of his hands. Or alternatively, whether he’ll want and be allowed to oversee the major overhaul of the playing squad that we can all know has to happen this summer.
I can say with some certainty that the challenge would appeal to him.
I also suspect he’s unlikely to win over our fans in the immediate future.
There’s consensus on the best thing he could be now saying to fans if he wants to continue. Something along the lines of:
“We’re all hurting at what we’ve seen on the field. The difference is that I bear responsibility for it. I apologise for my failures. But I’m completely committed to this club and I’ll be giving my all to re-create the great successes we had in my first two years, for Norwich City and its amazing fans.”
Frankly, I doubt he will. Even if for some that will be the last straw.
The issue is this. Stuart is a rare thing: authentically his own man. That comes with upsides and downsides; you’d sometimes like to separate them, but in truth you can’t.
The upside is an extraordinary capacity for clear thinking and action. You can’t be in his company for long without recognising a visionary with a 360-degree view of how a club can move forward, and a burning commitment to making it happen at Norwich.
“Yes”, I hear you say, “but what about the awful transfer business of the last two years?”. And the question is entirely fair.
Just because he doesn’t come and prostrate himself before us, I don’t believe for a moment that Stuart is any less critical of himself than the rest of us are critical of him.
That’s his analytical nature.
One of the things he’s not is a diplomat. It was attractive in 2019 that he didn’t seek praise for his part in the remarkable achievement of that promotion. It’s less attractive that he doesn’t now come and beg our forgiveness for the present underachievement. But that’s his way.
For substance, it’s worth going back briefly to that 2019 triumph, just as we should also face the current low and its reasons.
In that early interview with me for this site, Stuart told us his priorities, which included both shoring up the club’s damaged finances and making the team better. He saw the apparent conflict between the two as solvable because his job was to find and sign the right players for his Head Coach – Daniel Farke as it turned out – just as he had for David Wagner at Huddersfield.
If he was skilled enough, the rebuild could be done while making a substantial profit on transfer dealings.
That’s no common skill or trick, but he pulled it off. In the windows before and during the glorious 2018-19 season, he made a surplus of £30 million while bringing in Tim Krul, Teemu Pukki, Emi Buendia, Moritz Leitner and others. An extraordinary achievement by any standards.
The summer of 2021, after our second promotion, was the opposite. Given the lack of deep-pocketed owners at Carrow Road, it’s logical for us to consider sell-on values and make young talent a significant consideration in our spending. But in the summer of 2021, it was both out of balance and ineffective.
A Sargent or Tzolis could be justified as part of a bigger spending plan, together with experienced operators who could immediately strengthen the team. But instead, we bought both of them and they turned out – together with Rashica – to be the heart of our spend.
The reverberations of that failure have been felt throughout the past two years.
So, where does all that leave us with Stuart?
He’s a proud man, with some reason. Behind the scenes he’s transformed the club – not least in our training and analysis facilities, which have gone from embarrassingly behind other clubs to the forefront. That will be an indisputable legacy.
But when the team performs as we’ve seen recently, it’s understandable that fans will say “What’s the point?”. Only when we stop underachieving on the field will the background stuff matter.
Turning round the ship of Norwich City won’t be easy. I’ve no doubt Stuart believes he’s capable of it. Just as certain, David Wagner wants him to stay; their previous collaboration, given a transfer window or two, was brilliantly successful.
On balance, I can’t help wishing them to have a shot at it. I say that with full understanding of those who say enough’s enough and want change.
One or two of them might wish to comment….
I wholeheartedly concur.
The (local) media blackout is petty and needs to be stopped.
But in terms of what he can do, with Wagner, in terms of reshaping a squad at a profit (and performing better after) means we’d jump at them both if they were available now. Admittedly the difference this time is he built this squad unfit for purpose.
Redemption (or shots at it) and forgiveness are rare commodities these days. I believe they are needed from all, sat around a common table.
Thank you for presenting some of the case for Mr Webber. Quite justifiably; we’ve heard plenty of the case against.
Inside Right says
My personal view is that Webber is toxic and the club needs a fresh start. His hostile behaviour would have been a P45 at any other club, professional or otherwise, but that in itself is the problem of the way the club is structured as I have mentioned in other posts.
Having no Chairman and Chief Executive, with the Sporting Director’s wife as a board member is highly unorthodox and a severe conflict of interest. This should have never been entertained.
The club is run like a game of bridge and that is not in any way a compliment.
Where Stuart Webber went wrong is that he was never here for the longer term and he made that very clear on record that he was ‘just passing through’ as he wanted to work in Europe. That has not materialised and maybe, just maybe, in a world where timing is everything, he knows has missed the bus and is a man of frustration.
While I can appreciate what he has achieved, the last 2 seasons has shown he is a man of limitations and he has met those head on. I see no way back.
David Nobbs says
I agree with this. What we have to do at Norwich is difficult, it may well be impossible but if we are to try I’d as soon have SW at the helm.
We’re all frustrated with what we see on the pitch at the moment (and that includes those at the top of the club) but calling for an exit is the easy part, be it of a manager or a football director. I would love to hear suggestions as to who the replacement should be . Not many have experience of trying to build a top team on a shoestring.
Short of finding a billionaire sugar daddy we will continue to sniff around for hidden gems in the world’s more remote footballing markets. We will find some, but we will also make mistakes along the way, no matter who is in charge.
On a side issue, the sulking between NCFC and the local press needs to stop. The club needs a relationship with the local media and that media needs to be able to report objectively on the club.
Mike Betts says
David, I so much agree when you say that in trying to bring in players (coaches/sporting directors too) mistakes at times will be made. We just have to look at what Chelsea have spent recently. I accept that they are in a better position to afford it, but have they been wholly successful with those signings?
I remember a player called Mike Sheron coming to City and, to put it mildly, as a striker, he couldn’t hit a barn door! If my memory serves me correctly he moved on to Stoke City and couldn’t stop scoring! The transfer market, whilst not a total lottery, certainly has some risks and nobody will get it right 100% of the time.
As an old work colleague of mine used to say, “If you are looking for perfection, you are doomed to failure”
MYSTIC KEV says
You make fair points, Stewart. I just wish Webber had spent nearly £20mil on Peterborough’s Harrison Clark instead of Rashica and Tzolis – both bang average. We would be in a playoff position I’m sure instead of having this downward spiral feeling.
An interesting read
We all know that keeping good staff in any business is difficult, and those that shine will get headhunted.
In a matter of a couple of months, the city gave lost 2 top recruitment analysts one to Brighton and now a Data analyst to Newcastle. We also lost Kieran Scott to Middlesbrough who was seen by some as Webbers replacement in the future and who Webber says had an excellent eye for a player ie Buendia who Webber didn’t want.
Would Scott have been a claiming influence on Webber plus a sounding board on possible recruits, Neil Adams seems to be a shadow a yes man for Webber a sounding board that agrees not question the whys about a recruitment.
Hughs our loans manager/first team coach/set piece coach is another I feel is under the Webber influence and our loans out seem to be just that out of the club most aren’t getting game time to improve other justto get them off the wage bill.
2 loans this season doing well Mumba at Plymouth and Mcnair at Notts County
Josh Martin, Dickson-Peters both out of contract this summer
Tomkinson, McCracken at Stevenage and Barden at Maidstone very little game time.
Webber not only has overseen poor first team recruitment but has mismanaged academy recruitment and loans.
He needs to consider his future and that of city we are now in a worst position than when he arrived, great training facilities don’t win games on a saturday good recruitment to utilise great facilities win games.
His legacy will be could have achieved so much more but his ego prevented him
Agree 100% with this insight. We should give them (both) a chance. One thing I would wish for is a little more understanding of what’s going on in the ownership / money side of things. Hoping that the major rebuild will be properly financed not propped up by borrowing against future income e.g. parachute payments. The other thing I would wish for is far less tangible. Fighting back on the field. Never giving up.. Probably the lack of spirit is by far my bigger worry as a fan than mere money.
martin penney says
A very good article that I thoroughly enjoyed reading – originating from a position of perspective which I guess comes from actually meeting the man, albeit a while ago now. Tempus fugit indeed.
If it were not such a serious issue [the very future of our beloved club] I could derive some amusement from recent articles on MFW as in:
It seems to me like Gary, Andy, myself and indeed your goodself this morning have temporarily adopted a touch of the paralegal in the way we have been writing. This is only an impression, but many of the comments [and they really have been top notch of late] seem to be phrased along similar lines as well!
There’s been no collusion, it’s just fallen from the tree that way 🙂
Whatever our views on the powers that be at Carrow Road, it shows the passion that courses through Norwich City supporters and may that never change.
Thanks, Martin. The 2017 interview was my first meeting with Stuart, but I’ve spoken with him several times more recently.
David Bowers says
“The issue is this. Stuart is a rare thing: authentically his own man.”
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your meaning, but I find little authentic about Stuart Webber.
He throws out criticism (at past players and fans), but throws a tantrum when asked the simple question “do you still want the job”.
He says ignore the noise, but we know he doesn’t, having to be led inside the building because of ‘a few people and a bedsheet’.
He talked about communication when he arrived, but when things are difficult the club went full Jez Moxey with in-house staged and edited interviews.
He blamed the fans for the BK8 deal falling through, rather than those in the business for doing deals with dirty companies.
He said that those not in the ground don’t get to have an opinion, yet he wasn’t even in the country during transfer windows.
He said passed regimes had p!ssed money up the wall, but we’ll never hear him talk about the vast sums he’s squandered.
He’s somewhere between a salesperson and a politician in my book. What he doesn’t appear to be is a very good sporting Director, because the club lacks decent sport or a sense of direction.
I rather suspected this might be your response, Dave.
As I say, I’ve tried to step back and take a balanced view – not shying away from deserved criticism, but acknowledging positive things too..
The recent comments from Tom Smith in his interview for the Canaries Trust, and David Wagner in his press conferences, leave no doubt about their views of Stuart.
A balanced view won’t be good enough for some, I understand.
David Bowers says
I see no reason for balance. This isn’t a situation where you take the good, the bad, and decide everything’s even. It’s not.
Stuart himself is the least balanced person in the club. Someone writes a headline (after he said in an article that he could leave) “do you want the job” and Stuart went full North Korea. No interviews with ANY media, in-house staged interviews, saying “the media turned on us”, suggesting the fans gave up, removing the press from the AGM. All because of one headline, in one publication.
If you want to pontificate on balance, you could start there.
Happy for others to decide. Thanks
Tim Ball says
A very analytic article on Mr Webber there Stuart.
He is indeed a complicated man. As you say his overhauling of the squad for Daniel’s first Championship winning side was indeed a fantastic achievement by both men.
Again getting back up after a poor, but with some caveats, season in the EPL was another good piece of recruitment.
The trouble is the man behind a lot of that Keiran Scott is long gone and when Stuart was left to his own devices for 21/22 it was an unmitigated disaster.
This article in Film Review I feel mirror’s our current problems with this one man band;
The new “Avenger Assemble- Wrath of Swansea” movie has been a total flop.
Director and all round supremo of the movie, Stewart Brewwer, says it is all the fans fault.
“We had to replace Chris Evans with James Corden as Captain America and Chris Hemsworth with Peter Kay as Thor. The original actors decided to Skipp off to do other movies and as we are self-funding we had to make do and mend, we are not in a position to do an EMI scheme and I thought young Peter and even younger James acquitted themselves well, if a trifle camp”
When asked as to why he did all the paper and on-line reviews for the movie himself he explained, That the press had it in for him and he wanted to do a fair summary of an excellent summers work, taking into account the self inflicted hardship he had suffered at the hands of these rogues, best kept to reviewing Pirates of the Caribbean, where they had more in common with the subject matter.
He saved his biggest outburst for the fans ” They deserted us, gave up on us, and after all that wonderful entertainment I have provided over the years. Especially the last two”
Stewart is now working on a movie for next season “Avengers Assemble-Revenge-agation of League One”
What a way to treat your fans🤬
The problem as I see it is ‘The Club’ aren’t making the correct decisions when it comes to coach appointments and player acquisitions. I know SW likes to use number crunching analysis to determine who’s a good fit for the club but sometimes you just can’t beat a real look at these. When he appointed DW he expected the coach to perform miracles and get the players to play his way. These players just don’t seem to be able to do that and we’re not a club where money is no object and we can go out and buy a new squad. I follow the NCFC analysis quite carefully and for the Swansea game we absolutely appalling in all areas (as the result suggests) Although I like DW I think a coach who would have got the best out of the limited abilities of our squad would have been a better appointment. However we look at it though, Mr Webber is responsible.
Andrew Delf says
I have called for Stuart Webber’s head. However with some checks and balance, he could probably do a great job, but and this is the big but, there must be someone to hold him to account. If the Attanasios take over then surely a proper structure would be put in place. A proper channel of communication is the bare minimum required to start healing the rifts. Stewart, you have written a well-balanced article in a difficult time for the club. Most of us contribute to this column from an emotional viewpoint and it is good to get a differing perspective,
An excellent comment, thanks. In 2017 Stuart explained to us the role of the Sporting Director (a relatively new concept back then), inc giving support and guidance to the Head Coach. It may be that Stuart would benefit from some equivalent support and guidance.
I think Stewart SW has gone completely of plan with the original idea on how it should work
SW’s plan for the club’s identity from top to bottom and his 5-year plan was ditched after 3 years.
A Sporting Director sets out how the club should play from the youngest team to the first so that all know the system.
Recruitment works when you buy players that are comfortable with the system – other have to adapt and must be given time to do so.
Managers come and go again replacements must be comfortable with the club’s playing style with as few changes as possible.
At the present, I see nothing that takes us back to the original concept of the Sporting Directors plan – its a mix-and-match approach. Maybe that’s due to finances or we are looking in the wrong market?
Brexit is a small problem that the club, likes others, needs to over come and, yes, the South American Market needs tapping but concentrating on just one leaves you open to miss young and available talent. But there are more higher mountains to climb in the Andies than in Europe.
I’m afraid Webbers track record is very fragile. At Huddersfield, as at City, there was initial success followed by failure.
As far as I can see it was Kieran Scott who was responsible for the successful player recruitment and since he’s left recruitment under Webber has been a multi £million pound flop ( all be it that recruitment was limited by the owners refusal or inability to finance the standard of player required to meet premiership standards).
I don’t think Webber will be able to recover from recent disasters which are not only financial but also his relationship with the fans who I don’t think will ever forgive his arrogance.
Presently I think we’re in such a mess the only way out is new ownership as the current regime has lost all credibility.
Sax yellow says
Sorry but the last 2 years has been a disaster. We have spent £60 million to build a squad, so to now need a total rebuild is negligence.
Nearly everything he has stated in the last 2 years has not come true and failed, from the weapons on the pitch, making the squad stronger and harder to beat, [then signing light weights], a set piece coach giving us an extra 10 to 15 goals a season.
He doesn’t buy players the squad needs, instead he buys to sell. Whatever he says will not be believed – the fans don’t see any positive future in the model or the people running the club. If he stays it just gets worse.
People are saying who do you replace him with? Well the bloke who he said pi$$ed the money up the wall had more success than him. And if we are judging on infrastructure, I would compare where we are financially at the end of the season and the playing assets we have left at the club.
I can only see us being millions worse off. No Murphy, Maddison, Lewis or Godfrey. He set the bar too high when he sacked Farke and went with the fans who thought we are a Premier League club. Nothing about our model is Premier League.
MYSTIC KEV says
Everyone seems to blame webber for recruitment right or wrong nobody’s can tell me that said manager at time didn’t tell him that he wanted these players finances down to webber but can’t see the players only being his choice .
I seem to remember Farke wanting a CDM to replace Skipp – we still need one. We, as a club, realised after “relegation 1” that we needed more physicality and did we get it? No. We didn’t buy players to help us stay up but to make a profit – where has that got us? It helped Farke be sacked and the next 2 managers can’t get a decent tune out of the squad either.
As far as I am concerned, Webber has had his time. He seems more a “change manager” than a steadying hand. We need change but that means he has to admit to massive failings and start again – I can’t see that happening.
As far as I am concerned, he should fall on his sword but that is unlikely so who is going to ask him to go – his wife?
Though I’ve only specifically responded to a couple, thanks for everyone’s comments. Some passionate and well-argued views, both pro and con my own. All appreciated.
An important debate as the club finds itself at a crossroads. .
Crossroads had shakey foundations with nothing screwed down but we’ll loved by its TV supporting view just like outr club is.
As someone mentioned most of the ill feelings comes from the lack of openess and the condemnation of its the supporters that the problem take 26k of season tickets money away and just see how big that hole becomes.
Blaming the paying customer for what’s going on is poor management SW and all the others should take note where the salaries come from the paying customer
Fair points, Alex.
David Bowers says
Webber threw that plan out the door almost immediately when he said “As long as I have a job, Daniel does”. Which obviously wasn’t true, but also goes against the point of an SD.
First rate, Stewart.
18-19 was blissful, remarkable and completely unexpected. I’d say, though, that the 20-21 title was every bit as astonishing, coming as it did after a dismal Premier League campaign. — at the end of which SW told the players: “Go on holiday and get this season out of your system. I’’m going to build a squad capable of winning the Football League again. Come back ready to be part of it.”
The two titles were huge achievements, yet now they are taken for granted and discounted..
Your appraisal of SW is similar to my own: a uniquely driven individual, No diplomat, and committed to the task in hand this summer..