With the season effectively over bar the 'on the beach' style processions we're likely to see in the coming weeks, Jon Punt takes an early look at how things have gone. Warning, it's pretty happy clappy.
For those who’d been clinging onto the smallest modicum of play-off hope, Saturday’s capitulation at Hull left them hopeless.
Season over, post mortem date to be confirmed by the coroner imminently. It just confirmed what most had been saying for weeks, City never really had the consistency to mount anything resembling a concerted push.
However, as Gary Gowers ably alluded to over the weekend, it all became a little unsavoury. Haterz were gonna hate and anyone’s opinion that differed was to feel the full force of some pent up social media fury.
Twitter post-match inquests are best avoided if you can resist the temptation, yet it’s difficult to look away from the car crash sometimes.
The debate around City’s perceived failures isn’t an easy to have, such are the myriad of reasons which can be offered up as the potential sole cause for our current league position…
The problem is, we should all have been prepared for this. The club were at pains to point out, with alarming regularity, that this season was one of massive upheaval and transition. We didn’t listen. Why would we? Football fans across the country have unrealistic expectations of where their club should sit in the pecking order, any deviation from this now causes widespread pitchforky panic.
But we were told. Time and time again.
If it wasn’t Stuart Webber spreading the word through a number of candid media appearances, it was Steve Stone or Daniel Farke trotting out the same line. Norwich City Football Club no longer had the financial resource to expect to complete at the top end of the Championship. We had to do things differently, more creatively, and that probably wasn’t to come close to being enough during 2017-18. Unless Farke performed miracles with the personnel we had, we were set for another stint in the second tier.
There was to be no miracle. With his best players sold out of necessity, the books balanced (for now) and the wage bill plummeting, Farke hasn’t had it easy.
The ‘what if’ is the interesting question. Alex Pritchard’s injury hampered some fairly encouraging pre-season preparations, yet had he been included on the team sheet at Craven Cottage, then James Maddison’s lightning quick ascension to the status of City’s talisman may never have happened.
So let’s deal in facts. Norwich’s wage bill has been decimated. Reportedly the average player wage now stands at £10k per week, all when the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Matt Jarvis, 75% of Steven Naismith, Alex Tettey, Timm Klose, Nelson Oliveira and Ivo Pinto continue to collect something close to a Premier League pay packet. It’s fairly safe to assume Wolves, Cardiff, Aston Villa, Fulham, Derby, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham, Reading, Sunderland and Hull line their player’s pockets with significantly larger sums than we have chosen to pay our new boys.
A lot of our leading lights either wanted out, or their exits were dictated by their contractual situation. The rebuild wasn’t ever going to be a tinkering at the edges job, the foundations had to be laid again, all while tempering expectation with reality.
The frustration some feel is entirely understandable. Several seasons of competing for promotion or top flight survival lead to an increased sense of superiority over some of our direct rivals, even the national media have been slow to catch up on the fact we’re doing it differently.
Norwich now must stay the course. If October arrives and City aren’t competing somewhere near the top 6, or at least looking like they’re capable of it, then the masses will start to assemble. The groans around Carrow Road will be more audible and the half time booing more infectious.
Only this time the fingers will start to be pointed in a different direction that that of the current owners. Farke, and by association Webber, will come under heavier scrutiny than they have faced so far. That doesn’t mean the approach we’re taking is wrong, it just means expectation will continue to be high and City’s fortunes haven’t turned as dramatically as some would hope.
That’s not to say there’s plenty more that needs to be improved upon.
At times Norwich’s play has looked unbalanced, veering from placing too greater emphasis on offensive play in August, to bore drawing matches at home throughout the middle parts of the season.
Those who come to Carrow Road purely to be entertained have mostly left disappointed, City’s cumbersome build up play and over reliance on Maddison to create moments of magic is a source of concern. The fact they can’t find a way through the divisions lower lights, who more often than not have set their stall out to be difficult to break down, has perhaps been one of the defining characteristics of Farke’s tenure thus far.
There’s a huge but though.
Towards the tail end of 2016-17 most supporters called for wholesale change. They got it, and then some. Those same fans called for a revamp of a backline which had been too careless and lacked concentration. Norwich delivered on that, all while several high earners left the club. In came players who were able to organise themselves defensively, leading to a higher number of clean sheets than we’ve seen for some time.
There were calls to blood some of the academy products too. Jamal Lewis’ step up to first team duty has been seamless, should the club manage the likes of Godfrey’s and Cantwell’s pathways to senior football in the same manner the academy starts to pay for itself (or through a bond, up to you really).
The challenges are known and well documented. If Farke can manage to extract more belief, confidence and creativity from his offensive charges then there is genuine cause for optimism.
Ultimately, he will be assessed on his ability to do just that, while also managing the inevitable exits of further high profile players this summer.
Context is key in evaluating the German’s first term as head coach. He hasn’t been afforded the same wage budgets or transfer pots as either Neil Adams or Alex Neil, yet a lot of the signs are encouraging. Ok, 14th in the table is nowhere near good enough but immediate success isn’t just around the corner, yet the strategy unfolding at Carrow Road is clear for all to see. Whether you like it or not is up to you, but for the first time in a while at least we all understand the direction of travel.
While you're here. Two things; first, did you know we have a new podcast? It's available via iTunes and Soundcloud. Alternatively you can just listen to it in your browser via our podcast page. Barclat End Norwich's Neil Thomson was our recent guest as we debated the latest talking points regarding NCFC.
Second, to keep AlongComeNorwich advert free and to help us fund additional initiatives aimed at improving the Carrow Road atmosphere, we occasionally produce exclusive t-shirts/merchandise.
This time we've produced two t-shirts, celebrating the further German invasion at Carra Rud. Limited stock still left for those of a small or medium persuasion. As always, we take no profit from these and put all the revenue back into the site and things we can all enjoy.