It’s hard to decide who put on the braver face – Government ministers in the wake of the recent by-elections or David Wagner following yet another home defeat. Either way, the shared sentiment and insistence that “everything is fine”, appeared equally unconvincing and borderline delusional.
There is a temptation to draw further parallels between events at Westminster and Carrow Road.
The repeated changes in leadership that have failed to bring an upturn in fortunes. The growing feeling that those who have run the show for many years are out of ideas and lack direction. The sense that we’re simply drifting towards what seems like an inevitable handover of power.
Whether a change in ownership (or government) leads to better times, remains to be seen. But there is an increasing appetite for it and we’re all just killing time until it finally happens.
Some are hopeful that Ben Knapper’s arrival will provide the catalyst.
I fear they may be disappointed.
Because, at face value, this is not an appointment designed to change direction or address shortcomings. The club chose not to opt for an experienced Sporting Director with a proven track record but one who is currently being trained by his outgoing predecessor.
It screams continuity.
Evolution rather than Webberlution.
Stuart Webber is leaving on his own terms and, one suspects, against the wishes of all those on the Executive Board. Who among them would have sought, or advocated, a change of approach?
The majority shareholders, who had previously convinced him to stay, on the basis that 90% was good enough for them? His wife, whose remit and influence have grown significantly over the last few years, as one half of City’s new ‘power-couple’?
Like it or not, Webber delivered what the owners wanted him to and probably far exceeded their expectations. So the ‘Snakepit divorcees’ who believe that his departure signals victory in their war of words may find out that the real cause of their frustrations lay elsewhere.
He arrived at a club in a financial hole with owners who lacked the wealth or inclination to spend their way out of it. He overhauled a squad of overpaid and underperforming players into one that claimed two Championship titles. He oversaw the transformation of the training ground and supporting infrastructure – all achieved under the tight constraints of a self-funding model, exacerbated by the significant financial impacts of COVID-19.
Critics will point to the current league position and conclude that he leaves the club in much the same state as when he arrived.
It is a compelling argument when looking at a squad comprised of average and ageing Championship players, a handful of promising youngsters and Gabriel Sara taking the James Maddison mantle as the jewel in the crown.
But how can you build something, beyond fleeting success, when the premise of our self-funding model is to take repeated punts in the transfer market and bring through youth players in the hope that one or two will develop into the sellable assets needed to balance the books and negate the need for owner investment?
The short answer is you can’t.
The aim of the model is simply to survive and play the infinite game.
It requires the crowd to accept abject performances and home defeats on the basis we’re actually winning because we’ll still be around to do it again next week.
While it’s cathartic to chant, “We want [insert current Head Coach / Sporting Director’s name] out” from the stands, the fundamental problem is the model and you can’t blame Stuart Webber for that.
Equally, it would be disingenuous to completely ignore the progress made off the pitch.
It’s easy to fire cheap shots at vegetable patches and SoccerBots when results are poor. I’ll freely admit to doing it myself for cheap likes on social media.
However, the club has built a training centre that is the envy of many Premier League clubs and while those facilities are clearly not enough to turn average and ageing Championship players into world-beaters, they do help convince the likes of Gabriel Sara to leave his homeland and commit his immediate future to a club he hadn’t even heard of before the call from his agent.
It is a vital component of the model and the transformation is incredible. It deserves respect.
Perhaps, more importantly, the infrastructure that Webber has delivered was surely instrumental in attracting potential investors and creating the impression that Norwich City is a club with sound footings, rather than one that is instantly set to drain your bank accounts.
It’s hard to imagine that the Attanasios would have retained any interest had they been greeted in the portacabins that previously graced Colney.
While the process is excruciatingly slow, the indications are that the transition to new ownership is underway and perhaps, ultimately, that will prove to be Webber’s legacy.
We don’t know in what direction they will take the club but it remains the dimmest of lights in a very dark tunnel.
Until we find out the answer, we remain passengers on H.M.S. Limbo, lying dead in the water without paddles or a rudder.
On the Ball, City!