The Along Come Norwich Roundtable – “What Happens Now?” Edition

02/11/21

Norwich are in a whole heap of trouble. Adam Brandon, Ben Stokes, Jon Punt, Maddie Mackenzie, Matthew McGregor, Terri Westgate and Nick Hayhoe put forward their analysis of the current situation.

What has been the most frustrating part of the season for you?

Adam:

I can’t just say one. Firstly, all my fears I had about this season are happening, but are actually somehow far worse, especially the bit about not even being able to recognise Daniel Farke’s Norwich anymore in possession.

Another major one is the frustration of finding myself on the same side of the argument as fans who go on to say things like “never rated him anyway” and “let’s get Paul Warne or Chris Wilder in”. It is depressing to see people so eager for the whole club project to be ignored or discarded, even though for the most part it has delivered us miles ahead of our rivals and many similarly-sized clubs. Changing Farke shouldn’t mean the whole club philosophy has to be ripped up. Ultimately, it really hurts that Farke can’t succeed in the Premier League – as if he was successful with us there I believe he’d actually be loyal rather than jumping ship like Lambert did.

Ben:

I expected it to be tough again, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. It was disappointing to begin the season with making the same mistakes as two seasons ago, frustratingly giving people legitimate reason to call us naive again, but now it seems to have gotten even worse than that. We continue to be the easiest game of the season for so many sides we face. One of the stand-out issues for me is that our pressing and intensity out of possession is terrible. Farke seems to have abandoned what has worked in the past, both in terms of formation and philosophy. I’m not against going back to basics and suring things up, but that should have happened immediately after Man City – make yourself hard to beat and frustrating to play against as an absolute bare minimum. Back-to-back clean sheets were later achieved but did that ever feel like anything other than a dead end? The midfield is a mess and the algorithm we laughed at a few weeks ago that predicted 9 goals scored for us all season now looks wildly ambitious.

We seem to have torn things up and are trying to feel our way into a season that will quickly be over before we even get started. Yet again it’s been incredibly frustrating to see teams that we finish miles ahead of in the Championship then take to the Premier League like ducks to water while we flounder about. There’s also been the horrible realisation that Emi Buendia really was as important to Daniel Farke’s sides as we suspected and that he was probably irreplaceable.

Jon:

It’s the slow, but now evermore apparent, regression toward a team that I barely recognise. A team that seems to aimlessly play long when we don’t have the players to execute that system with anywhere near the effectiveness required at this level. 

Norwich fans used to gleefully shout ‘HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOF’ whenever an opposition player launched a long ball in the direction of our defence, safe in the knowledge that we played our way, a way we’d all been briefed on and had bought into. 

By mocking our opponent’s more agricultural approach, we were in fact celebrating the brilliant football Farke and his team had delivered for us. That feels so far away right now and I’m not sure we can ever get it back. 

Maddie:

That the only positives of the dismal 2019/20 season seem to have vanished. We were woeful two years ago, but at least we were scoring goals, getting into winning positions, pressing, tackling. All of that is gone. There’s no energy on the pitch. No coherent plan. No Farkeball. Getting relegated is one thing; getting relegated having completely abandoned your playing style is something very different.

Matthew:

The pundits love to do us down. We’re not their sort of team, we’re a long drive from where they live, they don’t know us, and they don’t want to. At best they’re ignorant of our place, our values, our approach. The most frustrating part of the season is that we’ve given them the smug satisfaction of feeling right about us. I am no longer motivated by a desire simply to see Norwich successful, but because a turnaround would be the biggest fuck you possible to those who always wanted us to fall on our face.

Terri:

I can think of three games – Leicester, Arsenal & Brighton – where we deserved to get more than we did. If we had those 4 extra points, and most importantly that first win, Farke wouldn’t be under the pressure he is. Such fine margins can make a real difference to a season. So the biggest frustration is just not taking our chances.

Nick:

What we have lovingly called “Farkeball” has disappeared. While it would occasionally be naughty and piss on the floor when handled incorrectly, we couldn’t help but love it because of what it was and how amazing it could be when it all went right; which, by last season, was pretty much all of the time. Now, though, in its place, we have a mutated monster of ugly long balls and non-existant final product. Something that even its own mother would be quick to leave on the doorstep of the local orphanage.

The attacking threat has become, by this stage, laughable. Balls chipped round near the corner flag for a defender to easily recover, instead of that lovely slide-rule pass through into the galloping Teemu Pukki. Centre backs hitting the square button on the controller and lumping it up for a defender to clear it away. Josh Sargent never quite managing to slip past his defender as he runs onto the bouncing ball.

After such a long time spent baking that philosophy into the club (including that difficult first season), and convincing and winning us all over, sometimes so stubborn to the point of foot shooting – why has he abandoned it, just like that, at the drop of a hat?

Have there been any bright spots?

Adam:

As a team, I don’t think there has been, especially given that the last 2 games feels like they have discredited the two clean sheets we basically played for and got pre-Chelsea. I know some have enjoyed our performances against Liverpool and Everton, but to be honest I was perplexed at that. We never looked like winning either and I can barely remember any shots on target.

I’ve liked the look of some individuals – Omobamidele and Normann especially don’t look out of place but the latter’s constant injury niggles during games bother me. I really liked the look of Cantwell in a couple of games he played at the start of the season, I felt he was one of the few Premier League looking players in the side. By that I mean he could play passes quickly and he pressed well, he also worked really hard. This makes it even more baffling he has barely been seen since. Aarons is still pretty good too despite what I often see on the socials. I’m refusing to judge a lot of our players anymore though because when a team is this badly set up, nobody is going to look that bright. We’ve all seen before how players look transformed once a new coach/manager comes in.

Ben:

If a second round League Cup game against Bournemouth’s reserves continues to be the sole source of the season’s fun by the time it’s November, then you’re in trouble.

The uncanny assuredness of The Baresi of Kildare, Andrew Omobamidele, continues to delight, tempered though it is by the knowledge that after just a dozen appearances he’s already in the Enjoy Him While He’s Here category.

Jon:

Sure, the summer recruitment doesn’t look great right now, but Mathias Normann’s performances suggest he has the required quality, desire and steel to compete in the Premier League. There were flashes against Leicester where we seemed to flicker into life for moments, but those moments have been all too fleeting.

Maddie:

Normann’s been good. Tim Krul is still shithousey. Omobamidele looks promising. Oh, and Lungi was on the bench once or twice, so I got to watch him warm up. That’s all I’ve got.

Matthew:

The fans in the stands. A lot of what Webber said was right but his comment on the fans was way, way wrong. The noise on social media – especially from those chasing clicks – has turned extremely negative, but it’s not the experience of most people at games. The support has been excellent, especially in the circumstances. I’ve only been to away games so far this season but it’s been rock solid, and from what I’ve heard on TV/radio, Carrow Road has been generally superb too. Can you imagine what the fans of most other teams would be like in the circumstances we face?

Terri:

Other than the sheer joy of being back in full football stadiums after nearly a year and half, being back with my football mates has been the highlight for me. Also that cup win against Bournemouth was pretty good, when the squad seemed to have so much promise.

Nick:

Normann and Omobamidele. I am also quite proud of the fanbase for not turning Carrow Road as toxic as some were fearing. Other than that, pints bought before 2.30pm before the Brighton game were half price, which certainly took the edge off.

What did you make of Stuart Webber’s comments to the media?

Adam:

If he was being completely honest throughout, then it was pretty disappointing. If he was simply refusing to put more pressure on Farke by not saying he only had a certain amount of games left to get points, then I can understand that. Whatever the truth, it is starting to feel a bit like an experiment now, which I’m not entirely comfortable with. It was a shame not to see Webber questioned about Farke abandoning his style in recent weeks, this is a key point in justifying any dismissal I feel. Both Webber and Farke said they believed they had the tools to stay up this season, but we’ve never looked more out of our depth at this level. Surely they can see why so many fans now feel like it is the end of the road for Farke.

Ben:

I wasn’t overly impressed and they left me wondering what happened to “ignore the noise”. I resented the repeated point about it being easy to support the team when they’re winning and the implication that we aren’t getting behind them now. Well firstly, it wasn’t easy to support the team last season as we weren’t allowed inside the bloody ground. Along Come Norwich sending a personalised message of thanks to each squad member at the end of that season to make sure they did all have a sense of connection with the supporters was a big undertaking by a lot of people going above and beyond to give up their time and skills for nothing.

I’d also make the point that the club should consider themselves pretty lucky to have had the level of support that they have so far this season – an awful lot of fan-bases wouldn’t have put up with what’s been on show now across the majority of two top-flight seasons.

Jon:

Read them back and they’re all pretty reasonable, if you can take the emotion out of it. Yet none of us want to take emotion of it, and our emotions are running pretty high. 

Comments about Norwich going for it with the 11th highest spend in Europe didn’t seem to chime with Farke’s post Leeds ramble, but it is factually correct. We’ve shelled out big (for Norwich) money on players with potential, and for our model to work potential has to be realised. That just isn’t happening yet.

Maddie:

I was surprised at the fact that he doesn’t seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet as Farke, who keeps claiming that our performances against bottom half teams have been good and that we can’t expect to win games against the Top 6. Webber essentially said the opposite of that; at times his comments felt like more of a rallying call for Farke than for the fans. I’ve wondered a fair few times this season if there’s any disharmony going on behind the scenes, and for me this interview had the opposite of what I think was the intended effect – I now think Webber and Farke may not be as ideologically aligned as they have been over the past few seasons.

Matthew:

I thought 95% of what he said was spot on. As usual with Stuart, the 5% that was a bit off-piste is what gets the attention and the keyboard warriors go off. He was wrong to say the fans have given up on the team. It wasn’t a smart thing to say, but it was also just wrong. But apart from that, he made a lot of sense, and I felt reassured that for all the travails we face, there is the sort of leadership at the club that we need at the moment.

Terri:

I stopped listening to Webber after he threw me – and other supporters who spoke out about the BK8 fiasco – under a bus in the summer. He likes to be combative, and isn’t scared to upset people. That’s his MO. He’s never going to change.

Nick:

Confused. Because I think supporters have been perfectly reasonable en masse and outwardly in stadiums, so for him to think that we haven’t been good enough was quite annoying; and if he’s not referring to that and is actually referring to what we all see on Facebook and Twitter from time to time, then what happened to “ignore the noise”?

How many games does Daniel have? Or is that not going to solve the problem?

Adam:

It seems like he has until the end of his contract, but the pressure over the next few weeks to sack him will surely become too much for the club. That kind of toxic atmosphere would be a real shame to see. I’ve increasingly come to the conclusion that Farke’s preferred style of football isn’t in touch with what’s required of players at the highest level of the game and this is what has led to his panicky gamble of change of style and formations – now he’s lost. Top level football moves quickly while we stand still and I’m not just talking about our defensive actions on the pitch.

Two years ago I thought it was mostly the case he didn’t have the right players, but I feel now that the key things that often make teams overachieve in the Premier League he’s not particularly good at coaching – defensive structures in transitions, high intensity pressing, and drilling set pieces (at both ends) are all issues combined with a general low tempo that we rarely can lift at the top level, which is why we never look like coming from behind to win.

I feel the players (the newer ones especially) don’t believe in him anymore at this level and it is clear he doesn’t believe in some of them either. The players probably need a fresh voice.

So with that in mind, I think we have to roll the dice at this point and just give someone else the chance to salvage some pride from this season. Farke already holds numerous unwanted records at Premier League level and there is little to no evidence to suggest we won’t add to that tally if he remains in charge.

Ben:

Farke has barely begun a new contract, he and Webber enjoy a good working relationship as far as we know and the club’s ownership have usually always looked to give managers time and the benefit of the doubt. These are all reasons why I wouldn’t actually be that surprised if the club style it out and we start next season with Daniel still in charge. If a decision is left much longer it increasingly becomes an impossible job for any new coaching team and you’re then left pondering who would be a really good manager who’s proven at getting a team out of the Championship… Daniel Farke anyone?

I’ve flip-flopped all over the place with my thoughts on the matter. Immediately after the Watford defeat, I said Farke should be sacked. But then I talked myself around to the idea that it could start off a chain of unforeseen events. This season may well be doomed already anyway and you could easily imagine starting next season back in the Championship with no Farke, maybe no Webber, Aarons and Cantwell sold, the expensive summer signings loaned out and perhaps even Pukki getting a good offer of one last big pay day somewhere. But it’s not really a ringing endorsement of Farke at present, to not sack him because of what might happen. Is it really the height of our ambition, to be contemplating what’s best for another Championship season when we’re barely into November?

Jon:

Continue with this winless streak and it feels like he has a couple of matches at best. We’d then be three games into the five ‘winnable’ game streak without registering a victory, which would suggest we’re nowhere near good enough.

However, this is Norwich City and I’ve yet to see us hand a manager their P45 at the right time, it’s generally always 4 or 5 games beyond the point of no return.

Yet there is this nagging part of me that thinks if we can find a way to win a couple of games we could still make a fist of it under Farke, that maybe confidence and belief would come flooding back and with it Farkeball could return. It just needs to happen very soon.

Maddie:

Webber himself said it doesn’t work like that and I think his logic was sound. So many of our problems on the pitch stem, I think, from psychological issues. You only need to look at the body language of any given player immediately after going behind to see that something’s not quite right at Colney; there’s no belief that we can achieve a result after going a goal down. Every single person in the ground knows that Norwich will not be picking up points the moment the opposition score their first goal – that’s psychological. Of course, one of the manager’s jobs is to instil the belief in his players that points can be secured no matter what, and I’m a bit uncomfortable with the message Farke’s been giving out on that front.

Maybe he’s saying ‘we didn’t expect to get anything against Chelsea’ to the media and saying something different to the squad (I’d be shocked if he wasn’t), but it’s still a poor attitude to show to the fans. The only way to grow from mistakes is to admit you’ve made them, not to pretend they were never mistakes in the first place.

Matthew:

The focus is on Farke because Farke is, realistically the only thing that can be changed. But to me, the question should be who is the person most likely to bring back Farkeball, and the answer to that question is, to me, Daniel Farke. He does need to bring that back – most fans can accept us going down as long as we go down fighting. The current surrender, abject as it is, is what should cost him his job if it continues. If he won’t come out fighting by Boxing Day then change is inevitable.

But I also think we need to be realistic. A change of manager might be the only thing we can change, but it’s not the only thing we need to change. Farke didn’t miss an open goal, or give the ball away just outside the penalty area, or fail to make a regulation save. Farke didn’t recruit players who don’t have it, or aren’t ready. And Farke certainly didn’t knacker football to bits by pitching a self-funded club against a plaything of billionaire human rights abusers. None of those constitute reasons he should keep his job, but they all represent things that won’t be fixed by his exit.

Terri:

I want to give Farke lots of games, but ultimately it will be down to the crowd. If the atmosphere gets really toxic in the stadium, as it did with Worthy and Hughton, then the board will be forced to act. However changing the head coach doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates a new one. Finding the right replacement, on the right wages, who can make an instant impact with the current squad is no easy task.

Nick:

I strongly believe that, if the trigger is to be pulled in an attempt to salvage the season, regardless of whether or not this is the best course of action (which I am still not sure on personally), it needs to be pulled now, because if there are five more games with barely any points then we’d have already gone past the point of no return and anyone new will not have enough time. This isn’t like the Championship where within 7 days you can pick up 7 points and things look far better near-instantly.

I don’t agree that he’d be the best man to take us back up next time around as, if we finish rock bottom with the near record low we are threatening, we’ll be in such a drastic acorn seed spin with the players’ confidence and trust in Farke there’d be no recovery. The slide to relegation won’t exist in a vacuum even if the season is sacked off internally by the club.

So, where do we go from here?

Adam:

If the current club project functions as well as we’ve been told, finding a suitable replacement to work within the club’s structure shouldn’t be so difficult. It needs to happen sooner rather than later if we have any ambition of staying in the league this season. More than four years at one club is quite the achievement in football these days and if Norwich and Farke parted ways now, he’d retain a lot of goodwill still. If the club does stick with him then you have to feel the anger will turn to those running the club above him.

Ben:

Well there’s an obvious quick answer, it begins with “Champ” and ends with “ionship”. I think there’s been a level of acceptance from the fans of what’s happening this season, partly due to the fact that a lot of us have seen enough relegations for this not to feel very surprising and also because, well, we’ve all seen how terrible we’ve been. But that patience and goodwill isn’t infinite, if we continue heading towards a record breakingly bad season of national humiliation every week then it will eventually turn toxic. Farke could survive if there’s some fight, but I do keep asking myself this season: “What’s the point of this?”

Jon:

We’re Norwich City. We limp on, with plenty of natives restless enough to turn on social media but without the will to do it in the ground. 

The rest of us are probably too polite to demand change even when we reach the point where we think it needs to happen, maybe as some kind of weird sign of respect for everything Daniel Farke has given us and maybe because we’re all just too jaded with it all.

Maddie:

It has to be acknowledged that it’s now November, we have 2 points, and we’re well on our way to becoming the worst Premier League team ever, so what have we got to lose? Rediscover Farkeball. Allow your creative players the freedom to express themselves. Press the opposition. Challenge for every ball. Tackle. Run. Fight.

That’s what I’d like to see happen. The reality? I think we’ll continue with the soulless performances and a lack of any truly identifiable plan until the bitter end; whether that end is the end of Farke or the end of the season, I don’t know.

It’s just so miserable. I love Farke – I don’t want to see things become as toxic towards him as they will if results don’t pick up. As fans we all spent the summer defending our club from pundits who seemed delighted at the thought of us failing because we genuinely believed they were wrong, that things would be different this time around. The club have repaid our faith with abysmal performances and humiliation on a global stage.

Matthew:

We are probably going down, that’s where. A trade union leader I admire a lot used to say “If we fight, we might not always win – but if we don’t fight, we will always lose.” Yes, I think we should play 4-2-3-1. Yes, I think we should get Gilmore and Tzolis in on the action. Yes, I think we need to find new ways out of the back to beat the press. But I am thick when it comes to tactics and formations. What I really, really care about is signs of fight. Of rage from the players that they’re being embarrassed like they are – that they are embarrassing us. If they fight, they might not win games, but they will win us back over – whatever the results.

Terri:

I’ve no idea. I do not, nor have I ever wanted to run a football club. I don’t think it’s bad enough for the board to act yet, so it all depends on the next few fixtures. For me, the only downside to the club being relegated is financial. I’ll be turning up Carrow Road for every game I can, while I can, no matter the results or the division.

Nick:

As we are reminded frequently, Norwich are a self-funding, self-sustainable club; the merits of which I am very proud of – it’s shoving it up modern football’s arse and I love it. It’s how football is meant to be. I do not buy into the fact that this is something that has contributed to us being in this position (as we did spend money), but I also accept that we aren’t exactly going to run away into the Champions League spots either. And that’s fine, I get that. Money in modern football is shit and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

This season we are not just losing a few games in a row and then scrapping in the relegation places. This isn’t a nail-biting “come down to the wire”. We have lost 8, drawn 2, scored 3 and conceded 25. All after winning the Championship title the previous season by a furlong. The performances even, perhaps, reflect a situation even worse than the record shows. And herein lies a big question: at what point does it all go from “well we are punching above our weight anyway” to “is this is damaging the club too much”?

In bars from Los Angeles to Tokyo, footage from us playing or anything that ever actually remotely discusses us is left with laughter. “Norwich getting beaten again is it?”. “Classic Norwich, go up and then go straight back down”. “Is the lowest points total record incoming?” We are becoming (no matter how much I will fight to the death to disagree as I do, because for me this isn’t what football is about and I, of course, love my football club dearly), an international laughing stock on the harshest of lit stages. The “jesus they are shit” in pub banter conversation. The incredulous laughter from a pundit on Match of the Day when asked to analyze our attacking. The banter odds on us scoring less than 20 goals in the season from Paddy Power. A joke at the end of a broadsheet football podcast. We got away with it a bit towards the end of the last Premier League campaign, mainly because the mitigating circumstances of Covid really were mitigating circumstances, but right now we are completely exposed to ridicule with the usual defenses we use to protect us (self-funding, style of football etc) melting away with each passing weekly shocker of a performance.

Not only is this very painful for us fans to go through (and god is it painful), such a situation can, will and does, damage any football club regardless of what division they are in – whether or not they are “punching”. This sort of reputational and confidence damage could potentially undo all of the incredible work over the past four years of the Webber era. No amount of incredible training facilities, soccer bots, youth set up and great food in the Colney canteen will make up for it if we become, to potential new players, youth prospects and staff alike, a “bit of a joke” and a place where confidence is non-existent. This season, the way it is going, could, as a result of its own humiliation, threaten the huge amounts of work to build the brilliant model of sustainability we have – and not because we “aren’t spending money” as some ignorant wags put it (because we have), but because the performances on the pitch are laughable – to the point of harming us inside and outside, almost entirely as a result of a manager, players and coaching staff abandoning their philosophy to one that is failing dismally.

There is precedent for the “killer reputational blow” season. While the story of how Derby County finished with their infamous record low points total of 11 in 2009 is well known, what is often less mentioned is the fact that they never recovered from it. Derby have not been promoted since. They’ve made the play-offs four times and not won, gone through a succession of managers and are now completely on the brink. After that season, Derby’s reputation and everyone’s confidence was in tatters, they became a joke, a pub quiz question and a laughing stock: and they never recovered from it. While comparing Derby and Norwich really is like comparing apples and oranges (especially when you consider the club’s respective owners over this period), it does really put into sharp focus how much of a problem things can get to when it all starts to collapse downwards out of control – even if the accounting sheets still, thankfully, look okay.

As such I cannot help think that, painfully and regretfully, we need to do something drastic quickly before the g-forces of this tailspin become too much for anyone to arrest.

Comments

  1. Cityfan says:

    Farkeball isn’t dead, it can come back overnight.

    Of ten games we’ve played six of last season’s top ten, four of those from the top six. We expected no points, we got no points.

    Of the other games, we could say we might realistically have hoped to have been four points better off (beat Watford, draw v Leeds).

    So we’re four points behind where we might realistically had hoped to have been. With 28 games left to play.

    Bring Farkeball back and we’re in with a shout.

    Maybe that’s what we focus on instead of this poisonous narrative of ‘worst team etc etc’ / ‘fewer points than Derby etc etc’. Because none of that is true, yet.

    So how about we focus solely on demanding Farkeball comes back and stop worrying so much about what outsiders think of us. Fuck ‘em.

  2. Richard says:

    A lot more sanity/less hysteria on this site than others: measured, thoughtful. Thank you all.

  3. Kevin O'C says:

    This article really does show the strength of this site. Passionate, intelligent and honest. Thank you.

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