At last the inevitable has been confirmed and I, at least, almost feel like it is a great weight lifted from my shoulders. Just like most of you, I carry this football club with me wherever I go. It is part of my life like nothing else other than loved ones, friends and family, ever has been.
As I sit here writing this on Sunday morning, I’m glad that I gave myself the best part of a day to write down my feelings, rather than launch into a rant on Saturday afternoon. I’ve always tried to be measured when I write these articles although occasionally that does change. I would say that yesterday, City made Antonio look like Pele though.
I am resigned once again, as I’ve just witnessed a “record” fifth relegation for the Canaries, to a summer, albeit a short one, of questions. What happened? Why did it go wrong so badly? For a club who just a year ago had defied all the odds with a team of virtual unknowns, journeymen and youngsters and won the Sky Bet Championship title. That wonderful day out at Villa Park will live long in my memory and yet, here I am now pondering my club’s future once more.
The backdrop is one that will barely be examined outside of Norfolk. The model that Norwich City are trying to operate under is one of financial restriction like no other Premier League club has used in recent times. The owners are wealthy compared to you and I but they are small fry in football terms. They do not have enough personal wealth to make a difference at this level or the one below and perhaps, as many would assert, that is the biggest problem of all. We just cannot compete at this level without spending money, whether that be the bank’s or whoever’s, anybody’s, just spend some money or we will always be relegated from the Premier League.
I try to stay off social media after a bad defeat because it brings out the worst in our fan base. I say that but I do, of course, recognise that plenty of sensible, measured people do not just jump on social media and sound off. It’s a bit like being in the pub (remember that?) and shouting as soon as the game is over “They’re f*cking rubbish, I’m done with them” and storming out. The next morning you’ve sobered up but not given up, like you did when you mis-typed last night’s tweet.
There will be questions that need answering within the club, naturally. Stuart Webber has already admitted that the recruitment this season simply wasn’t good enough. The only real positives that I can see are the signing of Sam Byram, although he has been injured a lot and the progression of Tim Krul. Would Tim have been pushed to such performance levels without the arrival on-loan of Ralf Fahrmann? Maybe, maybe not.
Speaking of last summer, the general perception is that Norwich spent only £750k when they bought Sam Byram from West Ham and that this was our entire outlay. The club did though, spend a lot more than that, it just didn’t register too much outside of Norwich. All of the significant first team squad members received new improved contracts that, by all accounts, took their salaries up to near to Premier League levels, some players will have tripled their salaries, albeit with relegation clauses built in. Emi Buendia actually cost around £5m rather than the £2m that romantics like to quote, so another £3m was due in payments to Getafe. There were numerous youth signings for the future as well and then there were the loan signings made for the first team.
Patrick Roberts and Ralf Fahrmann joined with the latter’s loan thought to be costing in the region of €3m for the season. I doubt that Roberts was cheap, either. Ondrej Duda was also brought in and again, his salary was likely to be covered in full. Lukas Rupp was signed in January and, if played in a central midfield position, looks to be a good addition. Don’t let his mediocre performances on the wing distract you or make you hang your head in despair. He is better than when he has been asked to play as a winger, which he isn’t.
Then we had to pay good old Steven Naismith a £1m promotion bonus. Well, he did say that Norwich made him a “great offer” recently.
My back of a fag packet maths makes me think that Norwich actually spent around £9-10m all told this season and that was before the global pandemic struck too.
The real test now is does the model actually work? Will we be able to keep hold of our best youngsters, what about some reinforcements? Jacob Sorensen seems certain to be announced in the next few days and the EDP think that Norwich have three more signings in the pipeline that are yet to break cover. That all sounds promising but does anyone have to leave to pay for it all?
In the meantime, I feel that same, grey misery that relegation has brought me five times now in my time watching/supporting the Canaries. We seem to be in a better financial place than ever before but the proof will be in the pudding. Does Daniel Farke stay, or will the lure of a big Bundesliga club, coupled with the inevitable moaning that he will catch here, tempt him away?
Stuart Webber has two years left on his contract and that is reassuring but last season proved that he and his staff are fallible. If Norwich are to mount a promotion challenge and achieve yet another leap into the top flight next season then we have to be able to make a better attempt at staying there. I am never going to be happy if this is our thing. Too good for the Championship, more often than not, and never good enough for the Premier League.
If it comes down to a change of ownership and a new owner is found that can take us forward then I am all for it. However, the recent troubles of Wigan should cast a cautionary shadow over any club looking for a new owner. If you don’t know the full tale, I urge you to seek it out. The new owner took over on 24th June and put them into administration a week or so later.
In the meantime, we are looking at the barrel of a season that will go down as the worst in the club’s top flight history. We still have three games to play but I can see us getting nothing from those and the trip to the Etihad Stadium on the last day looks ominous. Keeping the score down to only five goals would probably look like a success there.
I could write a lot about what looks like a mood of being resigned to relegation from our players since the re-start and that’s perhaps the worst thing about all this. It really is. If we had really believed then we could surely have got some points out of these nine games. As it is, I reckon we are on for a worst ever losing run in the league. Prove me wrong guys, please!
I’ll write some more when I feel able but I’m just going to switch off from football for a while and watch the Formula 1 this afternoon, do a barbecue and give the dog a bath. It’s not all champagne and Ferraris over at Vital Norwich, you know!