I only met Stuart Webber once. Nearly twice, but once.
The nearly time came when, after an awful lot of badgering, City’s then Head of Comms, Joe Ferrari, granted MFW an audience with Stuart. It was January 2019.
The request was for a sit-down chat that would be relayed to our readership by the old-fashioned medium of the written word, but as we concluded our chat Joe said, “Oh, by the way, you’re welcome to video it if you want”.
It had been my intention to do the interview, but I had to be honest with myself.
What I didn’t have was the necessary equipment needed to video such an interview.
What I did have was too many chins for video and a habit of rolling too many Rs for audio – hardly the perfect skillset for what we hoped would be a landmark moment for MFW.
So it was to someone young and eloquent I turned to do the assignment, and the rest is history. Connor’s interview with Stuart has, to date, clocked up over 14,000 views.
All the way through the process my dad was telling me to forget my concerns and, “Just do it!” but I’m glad, for once, I didn’t listen to him. Connor and Ben (MFW’s videographer) did a brilliant job.
It was Stuart’s first interaction with MFW and it was impossible not to be impressed. The vision and the hunger to go with it were there for all to see.
The time I did meet Stuart was on a gloomy Sunday afternoon at Colney in the autumn of 2019. The day before, in the early stages of Daniel Farke’s first Premier League sojourn, City had drawn 0-0 with Bournemouth.
I’d been invited, along with a few others from Along Come Norwich and Talk Norwich City, to meet with Stuart and the club’s then-new comms manager, Dan Houlker, to discuss the access the club was going to grant us that season and to be shown around the new-look Colney.
The Webber we met was the one we’d all seen on the MFW video and others – pleasant, super-confident, sharp, driven, knowledgeable, and all over his brief – and it was with understandable pride that he gave us a guided tour of the new, space-age training ground.
Since then, further changes have been made and there are more taking place as we speak, but even in the autumn of 2019, it was an awe-inspiring place – one now regarded as among the best in the country.
And this, for me, putting aside the rubbish stuff that’s happened on the pitch in the last two seasons, will be Webber’s greatest legacy. In terms of infrastructure, his vision of what a world-class training facility for elite sportsmen should look like will endure.
He inherited a basic, tired-looking, outdated, and limited training ground and made it into something that, as well as now having its own vegetable patch and swimming pool, will help drive our club in a forward direction; something with the wow factor, which is a particularly big deal when prospective new signings are given the tour.
But his influence extended beyond bricks and mortar. At least initially.
In terms of the organisation itself, it looked for a while 21st-century ready. Before he arrived it didn’t. In a digital world, the club was still working in analogue but that changed once Webber entered the building and got to work.
Unpopular decisions were made and some much-loved names were sacrificed as off-field activities and coaching structures were streamlined, but it was all done in the name of efficiency.
That word – ‘culture’. And, for a time, Webber changed it massively, and for the better.
The self-funding model meant that there was no room for slack and every pound had to work bloody hard – infinitely harder than they did at all Premier League and most Championship clubs.
It was ugly at times, painful too – especially for those in the firing line – but the end result was, at least for a time, a structure and shape that made things better, sharper, and more focussed.
The loss of some key personnel in the summer of 2021, including head of recruitment Kieran Scott, appeared to rock the boat and, whether related or not, the recruitment ahead of Farke’s second crack at the Premier League was abysmal.
And during that campaign, almost for the first time, was saw a side to Webber that – rightly or wrongly – alluded to a less than total and absolute commitment to Norwich City FC.
There were explanations and mitigations aplenty but the sight and sound of Webber talking of stuff that was important to him but was nothing to do with our football club, made for a tricky spell.
That tricky spell never really came to a end.
In truth, it was no more than confirmation that, unlike most of us, Webber doesn’t live and breathe Norwich City Football Club. To him, it was only ever a stopover on his career path and while there was never doubting his commitment to the cause in the early days, it was only ever a job to him.
To us, it’s a passion. To him it was a job.
But, regardless of the paucity of two Premier League campaigns and the shocker of a Championship campaign endured in 2022-23, the section marked ‘Norwich City FC – Sporting Director’ on Webber’s CV will still make for impressive reading for any prospective employer. Like Leeds United.
Those three disastrous campaigns will always need explaining as they represent significant blips on what until then had been a career trajectory of only upward, but part of that mitigation will come in the phrase. ‘self-funding’.
While Webber knew the score when he arrived at the club, it’s one thing putting together a shoestring squad to compete successfully in the Championship but putting together a Premier League squad on that same basis proved an impossible task.
Even now folk will point to the circa £50 million we spent in the summer of 2021 but most of that was funded by selling our best player – Emi Buendia. And so Webber had to fill a Buendia-shaped hole before he could even think about making the rest of the squad bigger, better, and stronger.
As I said, it was an impossible task.
But, there’s no doubt that Webber’s stock has dropped in the last two seasons. Big time. Among other things, the recruitment has been terrible.
Most supporters had little beef with his decision to say thank you but goodbye to Daniel Farke because even before that away win in Brentford, there had been the abandonment of Farkeball. The very thing for which we loved the German was no more and it was time.
Where it all got a little cloudy was when Dean Smith – one week earlier head coach of Aston Villa – was introduced, alongside Craig Shakespeare, as the new City head coach.
It didn’t feel right at the time and didn’t until the day he departed.
We were expecting a continuation of the young, hungry, innovative theme but were delivered what was deemed by most to be a safe, steady but not particularly inventive pair of hands.
Up until that point, every decision, whether or not we liked or agreed with it, was made assertively and in line with the plan. Dean Smith didn’t ever feel like part of the plan and so it was almost the first time that Webber saw his decision-making being questioned.
Until then, and pardon the expression, it felt like he’d got all the big calls right.
But the mask of invincibility had slipped. Webber had been exposed as fallible and prone to error. Or, as it’s known, human.
His decision to appoint David Wagner is yet to prove the right one. The jury is till out.
But for all the anger and wrath that’s been fired in his direction over the last couple of years, I still see him as someone who made a difference to our football club. Someone who picked it up by its bootstraps when it was broken and directionless, and made it fit for the 2020s.
For me, as I said earlier his legacy will be Colney. The teams he helped build in 2018-19 and 2020-21 were great for those two seasons but teams evolve, and players come and go.
Colney will be with us for a long time and will continue to impress those who set foot inside it long after its current inhabitants have moved on.
That we went on a rollercoaster ride that included two Championship titles, while Colney was being transformed into the elite facility it is today, is predominantly down to Webber and those he appointed.
And let’s put it this way – if his replacement is able to have a similarly positive impact in his or her first three years in post, then this club is going to be in a very good place.
On a personal level, I’ll forever be grateful to Stuart for a small act that made a big difference, namely when, as part of the Club’s initiative to reach out to its older fans during the pandemic, he picked the phone up and had a 10-minute chat with my dad.
It made an old boy who was feeling lonely and had been struggling very happy.
I can recall the conversation vividly: “Boy, you’ll never guess who I’ve been chatting to on the phone”.
So, thanks for what you’ve done, Stuart. It’s been bumpy at times but never dull and on a pittance, you delivered us two Championships and, along the way, thrills aplenty.
I hope you and the Club can come to an agreement that doesn’t necessitate you serving out a 12-month notice period. No one wins then.