It’s nearly upon us.
As ever, the five or six weeks that constitute pre-season pass almost in the blink of an eye, and the weekends are about to get serious again.
It seems only a few days ago that Ashley Barnes was pictured, on the pages of the Club’s official site, arriving at Colney for the first time carrying a cardboard box containing all his worldly goods, but evidently not. Try 36.
(I know… it’s an age thing).
So, like it or not, and whether we feel ready or not, season 2023-24 is just about here and, as mentioned above, those lovely Saturdays free of angst and anxiety are about to end.
Those who can ‘take it or leave it’ are the lucky ones. For most of us, as hard as we try to appear indifferent to the outcome of a particular game and/or where Norwich City stands in the footballing pyramid, it matters. And I mean, really matters.
All of which makes it doubly difficult when trying to rationalise why we so desperately want our team to win every single game it plays, yet we (or at least some of us) actively dread the prize on offer if we win enough or too many games.
A club that’s ill-equipped to handle the big prize on offer if it’s successful is a little difficult to throw your whole weight behind, yet we do so unconditionally.
No wonder we’re such a stroppy, highly-strung, and befuddled bunch 🙂
But, it has to be said, the off-field uncertainty and lukewarm summer transfer window – lukewarm only compared to the one we were promised – has had little bearing on what’s happened on the grass, with the pre-season completed minus any obvious disasters or defeats.
That, of course, means absolutely nothing if we proceed to stink the place out against Hull – am fairly sure David Wagner would settle for seven friendly defeats out of seven if it meant an opening-day win – but given how this group (minus the new players) had forgotten how to win a game of football, for once a win or two in pre-season did feel important.
As well as there being plenty of technical ineptitude, the Class of 2023 badly lacked heart and cajones, so the arrival, in particular, of Messrs Duffy and Barnes made perfect sense. That both have figured heavily in the starting XI as game time approaches has to be a positive as both form part of that once-brittle spine.
Credit: Norwich City FC.
If both can help engender a positive mentality around this group, one befitting of a Championship side with playoff aspirations, then that in itself will be a sizeable step up from where we were in May.
In fairness, both Jack Stacey and Christian Fassnacht also appear the types who will add to the positive mindset of the group, and so in terms of those who have entered the building, there’s been little to moan about. 🙂
The only complaints have been around numbers and the fact we were promised a massive refresh rather than a few additions but, as we know, this was predicated on the basis of one, two, or three of our most saleable assets being sold for sizeable sums.
Of the three said assets – Max Aarons, Andrew Omobamidele, and Milot Rashica – only Omobamidele has featured so far, and while Aarons is a famously trouble-free character, the presence of a brooding, scowling Rashica, who clearly would rather be anywhere other than Norwich, helps no-one.
In the case of Omobamidele, the injury to Jonathan Tompkinson and the absence of Grant Hanley until 2024, makes any sale tricky. We’ve been caught too many times short of centre-back options when injury strikes, and so whoever’s currently in charge of transfer strategy will I’m sure be acutely aware of the consequences of a sale without an adequate replacement.
Also, if the notoriously unreliable rumour mill is to be believed, the club has not exactly been swept off its feet with offers for the young Irishman. Neither, come to that, has there been a deluge of offers for Aarons and Rashica.
So, despite previously having had a good whinge about Stuart Webber and his broken promise of big changes that clearly haven’t happened, I have some sympathy for the Club. In a nutshell, it has zero funds to play with if no one of value departs.
And let’s not, for now, revisit why we operate on such a shoestring. We all know why.
On a positive note, those who have arrived all appear, on the face of it, to have made us physically stronger, a bit more resilient, and, dare I say it, a little more solid.
I accept that taking such a leap of faith based on friendlies alone is dangerous territory – I was excited by the signings of Marley Watkins and Ben Marshall – but the four aforementioned newbies appear to be dependable rather than sexy signings and so, for that reason, appear relatively low risk.
The wildcard is Borja Sainz – the relative unknown who we hope will have a small sliver of Emi Buendia about him – but to find out if he’s going to be a little bit Emi or a little bit Sinani, we’ll sadly have to wait until October (at the earliest).
Unlike the other four, he has an element of the unknown – for us and also our opponents – and that offers a tinge of excitement that you don’t necessarily get through signing grizzled veterans and/or steady Eddies.
As ever when you’re a City supporter, significant chunks of patience are required. Hopefully, when young Master Sainz kicks a ball in anger it will be worth the wait.
But, a slow churn of players and injuries aside, it does at least feel like Wagner’s current group is good to go and that, on this occasion, any opening-day catastrophes won’t be down to them being under-cooked.
It looks and feels like they’re ready and that the double (and triple) sessions have at least delivered us a squad that is considerably fitter and more durable than the shower that finished 2022-23.
If pushed for a prediction, my answer would be the Championship is the Championship (yes, I know) and almost anything can happen, but both my head and my heart are telling me the same thing: that mid-table anonymity beckons.
I’ll go for twelfth – not threatening the serious playoff contenders but also steering just clear of any relegation nightmares – with the huge caveat that my predictions are notoriously terrible.
Also well worth noting is that the starting XI on any given opening day is rarely one that endures. Even if there aren’t any permanent new signings through the door, we’re told by those who know to expect a Premier League loanee or two to join us before the window closes.
As ever, time will tell.
C’mon lads. Time to deliver.
Please let us know your City prediction in the comments below.