Maddie MacKenzie joins us to wax lyrical about our Sporting Director and an approach which has drawn scorn from everyone who hasn't bothered to figure out what it is
Norwich are often a bit of a joke to the rest of the footballing world. You only need to look at Coca-Cola’s new ad promoting the Premier League to see as much.
How are Norwich shown? Delia Smith’s face is on a fish pie as she yells “let’s be ‘avin you!”
Yes, very funny. Our owner got a bit squiffy 14 years ago and had a shout at half time. Hilarious. Thanks for reminding us, just in case we’d forgotten.
Except if they looked a little bit closer at our club, perhaps one man would make them sit up and stop laughing.
Stuart Webber is unparalleled - there isn’t anyone else in football quite like him. His recruitment system is shrewd but gets results. His comments to the media are honest and soundbite free. He does things his way, because he knows it works.
It is in his comments to the press that you can really get a handle on the way Webber views the world. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to mince words: what’s the point in speaking to the media at all if you’re not going to be honest?
Take an interview Webber gave nine months after joining Norwich. While managers and players seem almost contractually obliged to tell the world that their current club is the single most supportive, passionate, dedicated fanbase in the entire history of world football, Stuart Webber doesn’t quite see it like that.
He was asked if the job he’d undertaken was bigger than he initially expected. Lesser professionals would give a soft answer: “It’s been really nice to work with the manager and the board. The financial situation is a bit difficult, but I think we’re doing the best we can.” Webber is no lesser professional.
“Probably the biggest surprise is the expectation on the club. How people almost don’t hear us when we talk about the financial situation… It’s surprised me how quickly people turn after a bad result.”
He wasn’t wrong. It’s easy to forget just how miserable things could be at Carrow Road before the dramatic upturn of last season. Even as the Preston match of last year finished and the team recorded their first win of what would become their promotion campaign, some sections of the stadium booed them off the pitch. There were plenty of matches during the early stages of Daniel Farke’s tenure where Carrow Road was not a nice place to be.
Even now, having convincingly won the Championship trophy, managing expectations is a large part of Stuart Webber’s role. Just days after securing promotion against Blackburn, Webber explained to Sky Sports News that the budget for the Premier League would be “low, probably one of the lowest ever spent in the competition.”
This didn’t sit well with some Norwich fans, who flocked to Twitter with the usual cries of “well, where’s the money gone?” Surely he didn’t expect to attempt Premier League survival by spending pennies?
Then the contracts started rolling in. One by one players from the title winning team began committing their long term future to the club, and it became abundantly clear that Webber had no intention of compromising on the principles that got us up in the first place.
It’s these contracts that best underline the contribution that Stuart Webber has made to Norwich. It’s important to remember where some of these players were before they linked up with Daniel Farke and his team. Christoph Zimmermann was considering leaving football to pursue a career in teaching. Teemu Pukki was best known for being a flop at Celtic. Tim Krul had seen three moves marred by injury.
All three players were crucial to the success of last season, thanks in no small part to Stuart Webber’s faith in his own system of recruitment.
It is this system that won us the Championship, that evolved our young players from being relative unknowns to becoming some of the highest valued young English talent in the market.
The issue that so many overlook is that, while we’re not spending the big money, we already have a team full of players worth more than the players our rivals are bringing in. Aston Villa can spend £14 million on a left back, but we don’t need to – we already have one who’s worth more than twice that fee, and is embedded into the team.
This is the genius of Webber’s business. If Josip Drmic had been bought for £20 million, Sam Byram for £10 million, and Ralf Fährmann for £15 million, there would be no complaints. Pundits would not be predicting our imminent relegation with quite the same levels of certainty. They’d still be exactly the same players, but we’d be spending money – which we all know is apparently the key to Premier League survival.
Webber and his team locate players who have something to prove, talent to showcase. Then they hand these players over to Daniel Farke and we get to watch them flourish. When Mario Vrančić scored his free kick against Sheffield Wednesday, no-one cared that we’d spent less than £1m on him, because the price of a player means nothing if they become a success for you on the pitch.
The ultimate proof (if you discount the nice new addition to our trophy cabinet) that Stuart Webber has been a success at Norwich is that other teams are looking to emulate our way of working.
Under the guiding principles of a Sporting Director with total faith in his own methods we showed the Championship that a self-financed team could win the league on a budget. With critics in the Norwich fanbase well and truly silenced (unless you look too closely at Twitter), attention must be turned to those external to the club. It’s now time to see if Stuart Webber can lay down a blueprint for how a club can flourish in the Premier League with limited finances.
Let’s just hope nobody hands him a flute of champagne and a microphone at half time.