Norwich City must learn the lessons of Premier League failure or commit the same mistakes

Norwich City's players face an uncertain future after Premier League relegation. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Norwich City's players face an uncertain future after Premier League relegation. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Thursday, May 8, 2014
6:45 AM

The pain will numb in time, the rawness will recede but the cold realisation Norwich City are now a Championship club is likely to take more than a few hours to sink in.

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"Norwich’s ambitious attempt at progression stalled along the way over these past nine months and they began to regress just as clubs such as Crystal Palace and Swansea City and even the Black Cats acquired the formula to survive."

Paddy Davitt

It will require a longer period of reflection and in certain quarters maybe even recrimination. Perhaps until the fixture list offers trips to Brentford rather than Chelsea, Bolton instead of Manchester City or United. At least there will be no need for the Canaries to fret about a nightmarish finale against the elite come next May.

Norwich made mistakes on and off the pitch, from top to bottom, but to indulge in the blame game is futile. City rose from the ashes as a unified football club. They must sink back a level now without the fractures and the divisions that characterised their decline the last time they exited the top flight.

To magnify the sense of loss and financial pain triggered by relegation would simply be counter-productive and damaging. Most knew this moment would arrive before Sunderland brushed aside a disinterested West Brom on Wednesday night in the north-east.

There has been a growing sense of inevitability ever since the turn of the year and the enduring failure to arrest a downward spiral of depressing performances and dire results. Chris Hughton was the first casualty but we will never know whether a swifter departure would have engineered a passage to safety. Cardiff City jettisoned Malky Mackay in December. Fulham indulged in a frenetic burst of managerial poker during the closing weeks and both join the Canaries in the Football League next season.

Those who shape the club from the inside must take responsibility in order to draw a line under a sour episode in a fertile period of growth. But there also needs to be a sense of perspective.

It is too simplistic to put forward one theory for City’s inability to build on two campaigns of consolidation and reap the benefits of a club record transfer outlay last summer. Trying to unpick such a tangled knot of contradictions will never produce one definitive answer.

You can look at managerial failings, or the deficiencies among this group of players, or even the response of the club to address what increasingly felt like a malaise. They are all factors for those who may seek to apportion culpability.

Norwich’s ambitious attempt at progression stalled along the way over these past nine months and they began to regress just as clubs such as Crystal Palace and Swansea City and even the Black Cats acquired the formula to survive.

Many who yearned for Hughton’s departure prior to the spring berated the club’s custodians for what they perceived as apparent inaction. The same charge must not be levelled now. It needs a decisive response to placate a frustrated fan base who have experienced similar turbulence before in recent times and who know the inherent dangers from a prolonged hangover.

Norwich as a club has so much going for it. That is hard to comprehend in the midst of fresh disappointment, but it is true. They have a loyal, passionate support and an enviable balance sheet.

In a modern era defined by financial instability they are a solvent and progressive club and they will need to maximise such favourable conditions. The Championship is a jungle, a gruelling test of endurance and only the delusional would confidently predict City can return imminently. To give themselves the best chance they need clarity in respect of the managerial situation surrounding Neil Adams, and they must limit the destabilising impact of an inevitable churn across the playing squad.

The Canaries were in a privileged position to recruit highly-rated talent in recent trading windows because they had the Premier League cache and financial muscle. Whether those individuals embellished their own reputations in a lost cause is highly debatable, but the pragmatic nature of this business means there will still be takers over the summer. City’s top brass have to decide who they want and who they can realistically keep on the playing staff. The two are not mutually exclusive, but given the contraction in their revenue streams they are in a weaker bargaining position than at any point since promotion to the Premier League.

That is just one aspect of the jarring reality they face from today. Norwich must embark on a new cycle; one they either embrace after digesting some harsh lessons or risk committing the same mistakes.

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