Chris Goreham: Cardiff City and Ipswich Town show there’s still a place for ‘old school’ bosses
PUBLISHED: 10:30 22 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:47 22 August 2017
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Football is changing, or so we keep being told.
In recent times Norwich City supporters have had to learn what a sporting director does, pub conversations now include observations about how high teams are pressing and Match of the Day has started telling us about ‘Expected Goals’ in its rundown of stats after each set of highlights.
I am yet to fully understand what that last one actually is but I will endeavour to find out.
Keen to not appear as some kind of dinosaur and with new signings from Bundesliga 2 to learn about as well as a new Norwich playing style to get used to I have been determined to approach this season with an open mind and accept that recent performances of the English national team and our club sides in the Champions League suggest that, even in this age of Brexit, our continental cousins can teach us a thing or two about how to play, watch and set up a football team.
I thought I was doing the right thing, especially when Gary Lineker recently tweeted and endorsed an article about Hoffenheim’s manager Julien Naglesmann, one of the brightest young coaches in world football, during which he talks of his dislike of players tackling and about how he thinks the best way of winning back the ball is to force an opponent into making a mistake.
Having been brought up on the merits of a thundering challenge I was starting to doubt all I had ever assumed about what is good and what is bad on a football pitch.
The growing awareness of how clubs on the continent structure themselves off the pitch and organise tactically on it and the rise in foreign ownership outside the Premier League coupled with the success of Huddersfield Town in getting promoted under David Wagner last season has inspired many Championship clubs to refresh the way they do things.
Leeds United remain unbeaten under Danish boss Thomas Christiansen, relegated Hull City surprised many with their appointment of the former manager of the Russia national team Leonid Slutsky this summer, while at Wolves the influence of the agent Jorge Mendes saw Paul Lambert replaced by Portugal’s Nuno Santo.
The second division of English football has never had such an eclectic mix of coaches, tactics and philosophies in the ongoing search for the magic formula that leads to Premier League promotion.
Then I looked at the Championship table.
For all the innovative appointments, signings and ideas at work this season the only two teams with four wins out of four are Ipswich Town and Cardiff City who are managed by Mick McCarthy and Neil Warnock.
If ever there were two ‘gaffers’ who epitomised the phrase ‘good old fashioned English football’ it was those two and they can happily spend the next week at least looking down their noses at the rest of us hipsters.
The other advantage McCarthy and Warnock have over many of their touchline rivals this season is time.
The latter may only be in his second season at the Welsh club but by Championship standards that makes him long-serving.
He’s been in post for longer than more than half of the other managers in the division. McCarthy will clock up five years at Portman Road in November.
Still, it’s early days, and if there is one football lesson that I really do want to hold onto at the moment it’s that you must never write off the Germans.
Let the fans meet the players
There’s a hardcore group of Norwich City supporters that can still be found in the Carrow Road car park a good hour and a half after the final whistle.
I know this because they tend to stand close to the BBC Radio Norfolk car and getting round them all to head for the exit requires the sort of dextrous weaving often employed by Wes Hoolahan when surrounded by opposition defenders. It wouldn’t be a smart move to run over a potential listener.
They’re not there for us. It just so happens that we tend to leave the ground at the same time as some of the players.
This unofficial ceremony isn’t exclusive to Carrow Road, all clubs have a group of fans who see getting to meet the players they have been watching as an important part of the match day experience and are prepared to put in the extra hours to do so. It doesn’t matter that they probably got the same 15 autographs at the last home game, there are always new programmes, photographs and replica shirts that need signing and in a social media age, everyone needs the guaranteed likes and retweets that come from a post posing alongside Josh Murphy. Some of the signed merchandise is probably uploaded to eBay before we have finished our drive through the post-match traffic back to The Forum, it would be naïve to think otherwise, but the vast majority of this extreme fandom seems very genuine to me.
I’d been taking the traditional Canary quest for signatures for granted until a couple of episodes over the past week. The first was when Christoph Zimmermann delighted supporters inside the ground with an extended selfie session by the side of the pitch after the win over QPR. The attention this gesture received made me remember how much of a thrill it was to meet the odd Norwich City player when I was a Junior Canary.
Then after seeing the Canaries lose away from home yet again, I walked past the Villa version of this 6 o’clock Saturday tradition. Here supporters are kept away from the players by big claret and blue metal fences that mean the closest they can get to their heroes is the hope of perhaps spotting James Chester, Alan Hutton or Glenn Whelan putting their kit bags into the boot of their posh cars somewhere in the distance.
I know there are security implications to be considered but the value of a footballer spending just a few seconds with a fan cannot be underestimated.