Now that the 2022-23 Championship season has drawn to a close for City, the ‘summer of change’, as proposed by both David Wagner and Stuart Webber, looks to be well underway.
Transfer rumours are already doing their usual churn on social media, and we have a confirmed date on Friday 19th May when Webber will meet with the local press to discuss the failings of the season just gone and the plans for the future.
The main name linked with an early summer move to Norfolk is former Burnley forward Ashley Barnes. The 33-year-old first revealed he would be a free agent this summer after his side clinched promotion back to the Premier League against play-off hopefuls Middlesbrough back in April.
On Monday, he played and scored in his 293rd and final appearance for the Clarets against Cardiff City at Turf Moor. It was his 54th goal for the club and took his tally for this season to six.
On Thursday, transfer specialist Pete O’Rourke reported that we have agreed a deal with Barnes to bring him to Norfolk this summer on a free transfer.
On the basis of O’Rourke being a usually reliable source, I’ve taken this as my cue to analyse the positive and negative aspects of making him the first piece of Wagner’s summer jigsaw.
An obvious positive aspect of Barnes’ arrival would be the experience he would bring to not just the squad in general but specifically to his department of the pitch – the forward line.
With the loss of Teemu Pukki, the club have two strikers who are still raw and unfinished products. Josh Sargent (23) seems to be Wagner’s main man currently but he really struggled post-World Cup to replicate his form earlier in the season.
Adam Idah (22), despite recently signing a new five-year contract, has struggled to become a consistent starter in all of Daniel Farke’s, Dean Smith’s and, so far, Wagner’s sides; the latter often using him as a wide attacker.
Barnes would be arriving off the back of his third promotion to the top flight with Burnley, which is one better than some of the current crop have achieved.
Wagner has spoken in recent weeks about adding a stronger ‘mentality’ to his squad, something which Barnes would possess. He is also a player that has a lot more years of experience at a level above the Championship, operating at the Premier League for six seasons consecutively – the level that Norwich are striving to attain.
However with the mentality argument being made as a positive, the flip side of that would be the question of whether Barnes can bring himself to go again with a different set of players and in a different environment. That assumes that the maximum realistic contract he’ll be offered will be a year with an option of an extension – in football terms a short-term stopover for the former Claret.
This poses the question, will he be truly as committed given the context of his age and coming from a club where he spent a large portion of his career and where he was truly adored by the fanbase?
Also worth questioning is whether he will be completely committed to possibly playing the role of deputy to either Sargent or Idah, players who I’d argue are currently inferior in ability to Barnes.
Shifting away from the psychological aspects of the move, I feel Barnes could be a shrewd option for leading the line for the Canaries or even being paired alongside either Sargent or Idah.
I was unfortunate enough to watch Norwich get completely dominated by Burnley earlier in the year at Carrow Road and was pleasantly surprised by how well Barnes led the line for the Clarets that day.
Of course, there is a natural streetwise nature to Barnes’ game, the odd nibble after a heavy challenge and just, in general, bullying the City defence in duels. However, in possession he proved to be an outlet for his teammates, often drifting out into wider areas of the pitch as well as dropping deep to link the play.
I was also surprised with the athleticism he showed that day. He proved to be a real bundle of energy in Burnley’s press against Wagner’s backline and sustained that energy comfortably across the time he was on the pitch. And with the way Wagner has described how he, ideally, wants his teams set up, high energy and counter-pressing are key components.
Linking back to the previous point around Barnes’ streetwise nature, this is also a positive element he brings through the doors at Colney. For far too long with this City team has revealed a soft underbelly when it comes to facing adversity.
They struggle to pick themselves back up when they are down, which culminated in that pitiful relegation from the Premier League and an even worse attempt at gaining promotion from the Championship.
Finally, it is worth noting for the sake of balance that in recent years Barnes’ output in terms of goals has wilted significantly. He hasn’t hit double figures in four years now, with his highest tally being the six he scored this season in the Championship.
So it would be a brave call for Wagner to try and make Barnes his main source of goals during this rebuild.
I’d be pleased with the signing of Ashley Barnes, I like the experience he could bring to the forward line and the physicality/streetwise nature of his game. Alongside this, I feel his attributes will suit Wagner’s style both in and out of possession, and will hopefully provide a real focal point heading into the new season.