Norwich face an opening day trip to St Andrews, full of optimism and hope. The same as every fan across the bloody country. Jon Punt talked to The Football Lab’s Gabriel Sutton to get the lowdown on our first opponents.
Jon: On the face of things, Birmingham's appointment of Garry Monk might just be the first signs of stability you've had for a while. Full disclosure - I'm not his biggest fan, bit of a mouthy twat who courts controversy and just about manages to squeeze a par score out of the clubs he's been with. What's your take on his tenure so far?
Gabriel: I think Monk has done a good job so far. He hasn't got into skirmishes like he did once or twice at Leeds but he still has that drive and that intense focus; he works well with assistant Pep Clotet, who is a slightly different character. Not everyone would use the word stability with us at the moment, given the transfer embargo, but in some ways it's nice not to have a major overhaul of players which has been a big issue since Rowett left.
Monk might not be everyone's cup of tea - but, correct me if I'm wrong, hasn't Daniel Farke been criticised for not showing enough of that passion on the sidelines?
Ha, yeah sorry, not the best footing to start with - me calling your manager a bit of a twat.
Farke has received some minor criticism about his perceived lack of passion - I guess that works both ways though, in so much as his calm demeanour will help some of his squad and he now needs to pick his moments to shove the proverbial rockets up some proverbial arses. I think it was an easy stick to beat him with however, from some who weren't happy with the direction the club is heading.
Interestingly some pre-season tour footage emerged of Farke berating a referee in his native tongue - if he's getting that animated about a meaningless friendly we might see another side of him during this campaign.
Talking of the transfer embargo, in a way is that going to potentially help the squad a bit this time around? Everyone knows where they are (for now) and they can just get on with the job in hand?
I'll let you off this once, Jon.
I'd hope so. I think back to our 2012-13 season when we didn't have a pot to plant in and one of the major positives was the youth academy: Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland played a lot of games and we ended up making the top half.
That was under Lee Clark and it's fair to say Monk is a better tactician - he got us playing with a bit more positivity and creating more chances at the end of last season. Wes Harding was a breath of fresh air when he came through, Bez Lubala has had a good pre-season and I'm looking forward to seeing how Viv Soloman-Otabor does after a productive loan at Blackpool.
Because we aren't able to fix a problem by going out and buying the ready-made product, the kids will be given their chances to flourish.
I’ve always been of the view that the only way the kids will flourish is to let them sink or swim, often that’s out of necessity. Forest last season is perhaps a good example of that.
So how has the Blues’ pre-season gone? Is it looking likely you’ll be prepped and ready to go come 4th August?
It's going ok; I'm encouraged by the fact we won 3-0 at Cheltenham with a second string side, so hopefully the competition will be tight.
I still feel though we're short of a reliable goalscorer as Isaac Vassell is recovering from a long-term injury and I'm not a huge fan of Lukasz Jutkiewicz for his lack of pace (although he's lovely chap).
I'd also worry we don't have a deep-lying playmaker in our squad - all our midfielders are powerful and combative, but we lack a touch of composure to really control games.
Do you think Leitner can do that role for your lot?
That’s a brilliant question. There’s a school of thought that Leitner could step into the void James Maddison left – it’s not one I subscribe to. Kenny McLean is the likely successor for the number 10 slot. As you assert, Leitner’s talents, at least for my money, will be better utilised in a deeper role – his range of passing is excellent. Ally that to the steel of a Tettey or Trybull and we could have a decent pairing on our hands. There’s even young Ben Godfrey waiting in the wings, although through necessity he’s been employed in central defensive roles during pre-season.
So, given you’ve told us what you’re lacking, what do Norwich have to be wary of from a Blues’ perspective?
I can definitely vouch for Godfrey having caught a bit of League One last season - reckon you could have a top six Championship midfielder there.
Jacques Maghoma was arguably our best player last season so he'll be one to look out for; really quick wide man who has been given the freedom to roam inside under Monk.
Jota also improved after the change of manager and we're hoping he can recapture something akin to his Brentford form, cutting in from that right-flank. It helps that we're getting more numbers forward now as he's not the type of player that will carry you up the pitch but, put runners around him and his intelligence comes to the form.
Jota struck me as the one to watch, especially with our potential three/five-man defence, where a bit of intelligence to work the available pockets of space might just be key.
Conversely, where can Norwich get at Birmingham?
Possibly our goalkeeper. I believe we'd put David Stockdale on the transfer list at the start of the summer, hoping we'd get in someone better.
The problem was, partly no-one wanted to take on his ridiculous wages (cheers, 'Arry) and partly that we couldn't sign anyone else due to FFP so we had a bit of a stalemate.
Stockdale had a few good games for us last year but he made a lot of errors, too - remember seeing him concede a couple of comical goals against your lot for Brighton and I can't help wondering if he's just not been the same player since.
If he starts for us in the opener, it's important that he makes a decent save or catch early on just to get a bit of confidence back - but I suppose if I were thinking about it from your point of view, it's worth having a few more pops from distance.
I did see you were linked with our chums down the A140’s keeper earlier in the window then he signed a new deal so guess that is dead. Interesting you mention the legacy of Redknapp, which from the outside looks like to continues to cripple the club. That brings me to the ownership model, what’s your take on Norwich’s self-sustainability on a shoestring against that nasty foreign investment everyone likes to reference?
Good question. I admire in some ways that the club have stood by Farke - I'm not sure whether that means they didn't set the highest of targets straight away, or whether they see something special in him.
Maybe, after previous periods of over-spending, you've had no choice but to think selectively about the players you've brought in and certainly the sale of Maddison and Murphy might help. We've seen a glimpse of the German recruitment model working at Huddersfield, too.
It's great to have ambition as that's part of being a fan, but I also think there's been plenty of examples - like us with Carson Yeung - that show that change isn't always a good thing so you've got to be careful about the types of people you allow to run your football club.
As you mention, under Redknapp (but also under Zola to an extent) we tended to throw money at lots of players and it's harder for them to settle then. Hopefully we can have a more stable ship now.
You’re a bit too nice Gabriel, I will almost* forgive your lot for the Millennium Stadium now. Onto opening day then, what are you expecting? Score predictions please….
The play-off final was a couple of seasons before my time but watched the video a few times - your chap with the long teeth sticks in my mind.
As for a score, I’ll plump for a 2-1 Blues win; although I don’t think there’ll be much in it.
I’m getting old, not sure I’ve met many people who can’t remember Iwan Roberts...
0-1 in favour of ‘A Fine City’ for me. Jordan Rhodes opening his Canary account with a scuff-off-the-arse™
Thanks for your time Gabriel, good luck for the season.
Gabriel is a Birmingham City fan, who covers all EFL clubs via his website www.thefootballab.co.uk
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