By Jon Punt
The increasingly hyped up wankfest that is deadline day came and went without a single signing made by Norwich City, somewhat of a surprise in most quarters given Alex Neil’s repeated indications 2 strikers would be incoming. Meltdown subsequently commenced and Jez is rolled out before the various local news outlets to calm the shit storm. Well, that was the plan anyway.
The business we managed to do was solid but not spectacular, however we all know where we missed out.
What this has highlighted however is the step change in the way the club has recruited players over the last few years, something that has gone unnoticed by me in particular, probably due to our Premier League status. Analysing the signings shows a common theme. We’ve either chosen to go down the route of scouring Europe for the best(?) in class, or we’ve opted to bring in previously proven talent. On the face it of, no bad thing. What’s striking however is that we’ve chosen not to recruit domestically from teams lower down the pecking order than us.
The results have been variable. For every Timm Klose there’s a Johan Elmander, or for every Robbie Brady there’s the white elephant that was Ricky Van Wolfswinkel staring you slap bang in the face. Our scouting has, at times, been less than successful.
The adjustment in approach was first initiated under Chris Hughton. He largely went with players he knew could do a competent job, in the short term at least. No calculated gambles, no risks taken. Fairly similar to his management style then.
This has continued under Adams and now Neil. A glut of largely continental imports and players who’ve “been there, done that” in the past have bolstered the ranks and the wage bill along with it. Now this hasn’t been a complete disaster, our continued flirtation with the Premier League will tell you that. But it hasn’t transformed us from perennial yo-yo-ers to an established top flight team and it usually doesn’t leave you with much room for return on investment.
The notable exception is Nathan Redmond. Granted, Hughton knew him well from his time at Birmingham but this was an individual with something to prove. Still making his way in the game, he was young, hungry and ready to take things to the next level. He also had over 50 league appearance under his belt, despite his tender years he was ready to step up.
Redmond aside, we just haven’t rolled the dice in this manner for some time. Lambert tried, with some success, to integrate lower league players into his line up. Pilkington, Crofts, Holt (although signed by Gunn) and Martin were important parts of the team’s meteoric rise through the Football League. They all wanted a taste of the big time.
Recently I spoke with a member of the scouting team from the Hughton era. Without naming names he told me how he’d recommended two players to the club, who were at the time playing in lower league football and the Conference respectively. Neither were considered worthy of signing. Both are now Premier League stars, the former representing England. The latter was available for £50k and is now worth an eight figure sum. The talent is there if we do our due diligence.
Alex Neil may have recognised this of late, the additions of Maddison, Godfrey and Ebou Adams from the lower reaches of the football pyramid seems to be shrewd (hope you’re listening Jez) business. The problem is, they’re just not quite ready yet, introducing youngsters into a nucleus of a squad which boasts competition for places is difficult. Effectively it seems we’ve signed them for a future which is yet unknown.
For a club the size and stature of ours, Carrow Road is the perfect stepping stone onto bigger and better things if you have any desire as a player to become established at the top end of the game. As much as it might hurt, maybe its time to accept that without wholesale investment Norwich simply cannot compete with a Swansea, Southampton, Villa, Newcastle or even Bournemouth. We may need to start to change our tact. It’s not how much money you have, but how you spend it. The lower tiers aren’t full of players ready for Championship football, but they’re there. Why shouldn’t we find them before the others?
The potential failure to recruit the requisite personnel may well come back to bite us this year and 99% of us watching Norwich City could have identified where we’re lacking. The forwards we sorely need may well be plying their trades in Leagues 1 or 2 right now, eager to progress up the ladder. Wouldn’t it be nice if they did that in yellow and green?
I’m not suggesting a wholesale change in approach, for what its worth I believe we’ve been punching at around about our weight for sometime. Many supporters of other sides aren’t afforded even that luxury and maybe we’ve been too accustomed to the relative success we’ve achieved.
What we might need is to widen the net, taking a punt on the talent that’s available domestically a bit more often while continuing to look for value abroad. It’s easier said than done and requires a top class scouting network, over to you Lee Darnborough….
You can follow Jon on Twitter @puntino