In this article, my goal is to compare Stuart Webber’s tenure against the previous regime under David McNally. I will be focusing on:
- Footballing success.
- Recruitment efficacy.
- Transfer revenues.
There are many limitations to this analysis, so here are all the caveats up front:
- Data is from Wikipedia and Transfermarkt. These two sources don’t always align.
- Transfermarkt transfer fees I would consider estimates. Perhaps with a 20 percent margin of error. However, I see nothing to suggest that error impacts one MD/SD more than another.
- Transfermarkt fees are in Euros.
- I have included the seven seasons of Webber (the last being partial), and the seven seasons prior to his joining. This excludes the League One season. You may argue this is the correct/incorrect method for many reasons.
- I refer to the pre-Webber period as “McNally”, fully appreciating it includes a little Jez Moxey too. I say McNally because the most important events in the seven years preceding Webber were performed by McNally (recruitment, manager changes, etc).
- It is hard to obtain loan fees for both periods, so these are excluded. Needless to say, Webber has vastly outspent McNally in loan fees.
If you’re already sceptical, don’t read on.
Firstly, the football…
During McNally’s tenure, City achieved greater success than Webber, specifically four seasons in the Premier League compared to two under Webber. What makes McNally’s tenure even more impressive is that he started in League One, with debts to clear and a weak squad. Webber’s peak finish (20th in PL) is nine places behind McNally’s best (11th PL). Webber’s worst finish (14th in the Championship) is six places lower than McNally’s (8th). At the time of writing, we sit 17th.
In moving to a Sporting Director set-up, they intended to create a Norwich-style of play that ran through the academy to the first team. A style that would withstand the changing of coaches and ensure major resets weren’t required. With that in mind, McNally had four managers in eight seasons, Webber has had three in seven, potentially soon to be four.
We remain no closer to a Norwich style of football now than in 2009. Under both regimes we have moved from manager to manager, never benefiting from the squad or style set up by the previous one.
Overall, in terms of footballing performance, it’s difficult to argue anything other than a decline under Webber.
A key selling point for the incoming Webber was his ability to use data and innovative methods to improve our recruitment.
Looking at the number of signings by season, we see Webber immediately increased the number of players entering the club, with an on-average increase of 31 percent more signings per season. I have no data on the optimal # of signings to allow squad improvement while retaining continuity, but in three of his seasons, Webber signed 16+ players per season, which feels high.
To ascertain the efficacy of these signings I looked at the number of players in Webber squads with 10+ appearances per season, meaning they played a significant role.
The chart above shows that despite Webber signing 45 players in his first three seasons (two whole squads), during Daniel Farke’s third season half of his outfield players were still in the club prior to Webber.
This can be seen in the 2019-20 top league appearances:
- Tim Krul (36)
- Max Aarons (36)
- Teemu Pukki (33)
- Kenny McLean (32)
- Ben Godfrey (30)
- Emi Buendia (28)
- Alex Tettey (28)
- Jamal Lewis (25)
You could, of course, argue the youth players were developed by Farke and Webber, which may be true, but they weren’t brought into the club by either and cannot be attributed to a recruitment strategy.
Webber has now signed 87 players for Norwich (vs 60 in the previous seven years), with this season being the first 100 percent Webber squad. His blunderbuss approach certainly unearthed some gems, but like any gambling, eventually, his luck ran out.
Webber was not without his successes, but his failures far outweigh them as can be seen in…
There is a perception that McNally had (as Webber put it) “pissed the money up the wall”. That perception is incorrect.
In the first three seasons of my comparison periods, Webber and McNally spent approximately the same (30m vs. 31m respectively). McNally was dealing with the club’s debts and climbing out of League One to the Premier League. In comparison, Webber still had the comfort of a season of parachute payments and plenty of assets to sell (more on that later).
When looking at the revenues obtained for players sold, it becomes clear that McNally-era signings were vastly more successful. Looking at the below chart it’s easy to see pre-Webber signings funded his first four seasons, with over £110m in revenue from McNally signings after McNally left.
If the chart wasn’t enough, here are some interesting stats:
McNally – gross revenue from transfers: £207.5m
Webber – gross revenue from transfers: £60.5m
McNally – revenue generated per player signed: £3.4m
Webber – revenue generated per player signed: £0.7m
McNally – net profit/loss from transfers: £49.3m
Webber – net profit/loss from transfers: £-63.8m
To be fair to Webber, some of his players may be sold after he leaves. Gabriel Sara, Josh Sargent, and a couple of others may yet turn a profit, but being a bottom-half Championship club in known financial peril means we’re unlikely to command the high transfer fees we once did.
I have been a vociferous Webber critic since long before it was popular to be one. I saw a man with a big ego who was living off the back of one purple patch from six years ago. That was a blip in an otherwise failed recruitment policy that failed us in the Premier League, left us languishing in the Championship, and financially crippled.
I’ve seen nothing to suggest the Sporting Director set-up has proven more innovative or more successful on or off the pitch. Hopefully, Ben Knapper can take a different approach and shake up our football departments.
In retrospect, McNally’s era was not perfect and it was time for him to depart (after resigning to a fan on Twitter no-less).
For me, McNally’s crime was loving the club too much, not wanting it to fail, and almost trying too hard. But Webber’s crime is loving himself too much. He can’t see he has failed and it’s time he moved on.