“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….