If you mention the words ‘five-year plan’ to many of the faithful around Carrow Road they will either laugh at you, scoff at you, or insult you. The question I ask is, why?
One of the founding fathers of the USA, Benjamin Franklin, is famous for his quote: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail“.
Baseball player Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up someplace else“.
Alexander Graham Bell, creator of the telephone, said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success“.
Norwich City had a five-year plan to get to the Premier League and stay there. That plan was, I believe, to get promoted at the end of the third season once they had a good strong and reasonably young squad and spend season four in the Prem, using the additional cash flow from that season to boost the squad for season five which would have been 2021-22. This plan started after the arrival of Stuart Webber towards the end of the 2017 season, so commenced it in 2017-18.
The plan hit its first problem when they built the squad (arguably) too strong and got promoted one season too early with a squad that needed three or four more players for which they did not have the cash, and couldn’t cope with the step up.
Unfortunately, if you walk the league, you cannot tell the EFL that you are sorry but you do not want to get promoted because you are not ready to go up
This led to two major issues:
1. The young squad was left suffering from what was akin to PTSD in the casual way they were cast aside by the big boys (even if they didn’t realise it). And…
2. The decisions that were taken for the next season by Mr Webber and Co were simply wrong, but maybe unavoidable, losing players like Jonny Howson (Middlesborough), Jacob Murphy (Newcastle) Ryan Bennett, and John Ruddy (Wolves).
The second decision was made that, as the remaining squad was certainly good enough to go straight back up, the club would go for it again and, as history tells us, they walked the league.
And then the second huge mistake was made. To improve the squad £60+ million was spent on about nine players (if memory serves me correctly) but none of them were good enough to replace Emi Buendia who had been the driving force of the Canaries.
Teemu Pukki never got the same service again and his goals slipped away. The £60 million should have been spent on four players to lift the standard of the squad, not nine players that, at best, replaced some that left but certainly did not surpass them.
We all know the story from here, so I won’t repeat it but suffice to say it has led us to where we are today, with a squad that is possibly good enough to finish top six but without a head coach capable of turning 15 players into a team to make it happen.
They are doing their best, I think, to work for him, which is commendable, but some of his decision-making with strategy and substitutions and his continuing belief in players that simply are not good enough in their selected positions (Gibbs as a #10, Placheta as a left back and Springett…) must have confused some of the squad.
To be fair, we had some injuries at really bad times, the most important of these being Hanley’s and Sargent and it will be interesting to see if they come back firing on all cylinders and improve the rest of the squad with them.
OK, so that is an outline of the five-year plan that went wrong. Had it gone right it could have changed the football world… but it didn’t.
So let’s take a look forward and just for a few moments, I would like you all to place yourselves in the shoes of one Benjamin Knapper, who is already copping flak from some corners of the ground because we haven’t signed a saviour yet and he hasn’t told us what he is up to.
What is his first task? Well, if we are to believe Yogi, Benjamin, and Alexander from the start of this piece, his first job is to sit down with his hierarchy – and make a plan. Because without it we are going to end up where we are planning to be. Nowhere.
He and his group need to consider who will be let go at the end of the year because of the ending contracts or simply age (he has already stated he wants to reduce the overall age of the squad, so he has said something I guess). He has to get his scouts to find suitable players to come into the squad to improve our overall quality, and also which junior players he can bring on (some of whom are currently on loan). He has to develop an overall style of play utilising flowing attacking football (yes, he said that too). And of course, he has to take into consideration the current finances and what we can spend on this plan. Apparently, he has given us some pointers after all.
It seems however that some believe we should already be bringing in the players that will get us to the top six so we can beat third-place Ip5w1ch in the playoff final. But what would that do to the club?
Surely, from where we are right now, it is not expected that we could put together a cohesive squad to get promoted and be competitive in the EPL between now and the end of the year. not with the cash we could throw at it right now.
Now, of course, the voices of dissent will cry out “Delia Out” “Attansio take over” and “Find a Billionaire to fund the charge”. Let’s take those one at a time.
I agree with the thought that Delia and Michael should now be looking to ease themselves out of the club. However, is this not what they are doing? Three years is too long but I get the feeling that they will step away faster than that as the current situation improves and the effectiveness of Mr Attanasio comes more to the fore.
“Attanasio take over.”
He already is undertaking the process and has helped the club to reorganise loans to benefit it via his finance company but there is no reason why this relationship cannot be a win/win. However, he has already made it very clear he is not going to throw billions at the club (which even he does not have) but prefers to work on a slower growth plan utilising statistical data (apparently which is one of Knapper’s strong suits) to find the players that may have slipped through the cracks and were missed by the big boys, just like Emi B.
“Find A Billionaire.”
Not going to happen any time soon.
So here are some thoughts to consider. We are where we are. We cannot change the mistakes that have brought us here, we can only look to the future. Changing the course of our club back in the right direction is not going to come quickly. We do not want to get promoted at the end of this season unless the finances require EPL funding to hold us together. This might be why the transfer window is quieter than some were hoping.
Knapper needs time to set the conditions in place for the turn-around and hopefully, that includes a change in head coach unless we see a marked change in his performance in the latter part of the season.
All I ask is that we stop using various names (“the 20%” and “happy clappers” etc) that only segregate supporters from each other (yes I agree it wasn’t the most sensible thing for Delia to have said and if you watch Mark Attanaio’s body language when she said it, you will see what he thought of it).
Stop publicly abusing the hierarchy and let’s wait a little longer to see when the wind changes. And let’s try to get behind the players at least who do appear to be trying to work with the structure and strategies under which they are being asked to play.
And let’s hope that the Knapper and Co. plan is a fair bit more successful than we have seen over the past five years.