Finally, it’s time for Norwich City fans to look forward to better times
PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 May 2017
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The final game of the season is always something of a bittersweet affair because that cosily familiar weekend routine of the last nine months is about to be replaced by wondering what to do on a Saturday afternoon – and August seems such a long way away.
And, of course, close season always brings change as we all hope that our favourites will stay, with departures limited to those we hold in less esteem. However, this one is likely to be a very different experience as Stuart Webber continues to work towards making the 2017/18 version of Norwich City fit for purpose, and I suspect we may all have to face some disappointments.
Sunday’s win, whilst meaningless in terms of a season which had long since withered on the vine, at least gave us both some lovely flowing football from City and the chance to bid farewell to John Ruddy, the first of what I suspect will be several high-profile departures.
In my view, Ruddy has never fully recovered his best form since that awful thigh injury at Everton and the loss of his England squad place, but he has been there throughout a memorable period in the club’s history. I have no doubt that he’ll soon find a new club and hopefully that will inspire him to get back to his best.
I suspect that Sunday may also be the last we see of Alan Irvine at City, but he deserves a lot of credit for doing an impressive job of steadying the ship as the restructuring process gathered pace, and there is no doubt that the players have appeared much happier and relaxed under his stewardship.
Could he have guided City into the play-offs had he been given the job earlier? Personally, I doubt it, simply because of how poor defensively the team has proven to be when up against quality opposition, but I suspect that he would have got more from the players than Alex Neil did in the latter stages of his tenure.
Ultimately the squad this year carried too many passengers and was too unbalanced, with a plethora of midfield options set against shortages in defence and up front, to succeed. Much of the blame for that must lie with Neil and the recruitment team, but with most of the main culprits having left the club it’s time to look forward, rather than back.
The board have taken plenty of flak from many sources, including myself, for leaving Neil in post so long, and I believe that criticism was justified. However, their decision to radically change the structure of the club is equally deserving of praise and, more importantly, support.
Stuart Webber’s revolution must be given time and expectations will need to be managed over the coming months, but there is a real opportunity now to fully heal the wounds that were developing in the relationship between fans and the club as this disappointing season progressed.
In reality, that process started almost as soon as Jez Moxey, who had appeared to be a sound appointment on paper but proved to be considerably less so in the flesh, left the club.
Steve Stone, Tom Smith, and Webber himself have all shown a refreshing willingness to communicate with fans and the media and there is a growing sense that we are all in this together, and that has to be good for the long-term health of the club and its relationship with its fanbase.
It won’t be easy to carry out a major rebuild on a limited budget, particularly with several high earners still in contract, and patience will be needed. However, with words like “hunger” and “desire” recurring in Webber’s lexicon when talking about new signings I’m already starting to look forward to next season.
Until then, thank you as ever for reading this column and I’ll see you all in August.