Chris Goreham: This season isn’t Norwich City’s one shot at glory as the Paul Lambert era showed
PUBLISHED: 19:00 04 September 2017
Focus Images 2011
The old adage that empty vessels make the most noise rang true again when the transfer window closed last week.
As the deadline hoved into view there was growing hysteria and hyperbole about where Alexis Sanchez, Virgil van Dijk and Riyad Mahrez would be heading only for all three players to stay at exactly the same clubs they played for last season.
I will never get back all that time I spent over the summer reading about Philippe Coutinho’s supposed move from Liverpool to Barcelona, Diego Costa’s Chelsea’s departure or Ross Barkley leaving Everton.
The recent silencing of Big Ben felt like a satirical comment on the biannual transfer meltdown when 11pm mercifully arrived without Sky Sports being able to feature those famous Westminster bongs.
That’s not to say that money wasn’t spent. Millions and millions of pounds and euros did move between clubs with an ease that Sanchez, Costa or Coutinho could only admire.
This brings us neatly on to Norwich City’s current predicament. The perceived wisdom is that this being the last season for which the club is entitled to parachute payments means life will get a lot more difficult if they are not promoted this season.
I am not naïve enough to deny the fact that Norwich City’s financial model means that it needs all the help it can get in terms of top flight TV revenue when it comes to remaining in the black. Having access to that sort of funding makes life a lot easier for those who have to work at the club and make the books balance on a daily basis.
However, I have never really bought into the idea that money and success on the pitch are entirely correlated for a club of Norwich City’s size.
If we want them to be challenging for Premier League titles and Champions League qualification then, yes, dizzying amounts of new investment would be needed but for now, and for most of the past 45 years, City has been a club trying to either hold on to top flight status or work out a way of getting it back.
When they have had big money, at least by their standards, after managing four out of five seasons in the Premier League recently they struggled to spend it effectively. Too many misfits and players whose careers were on the decline cost a lot of money in fees and wages.
Yet some of the most thrilling football played at Carrow Road has been in those whirlwind three seasons under Paul Lambert.
He arrived with the club at its lowest ebb for half a century and fighting hard just to stay out of administration. Despite those circumstances the Canaries found a way of building a squad and moulding a team that had what it took to win two promotions in as many years.
The fact is that more money in the game doesn’t equate to the players getting any better, they just become more expensive.
One of the stand-out transfers of the summer to underline this point was when Jack Cork moved from Swansea to Burnley. He’s a perfectly capable, reliable Premier League midfielder with plenty of experience and no full England caps. Burnley had to pay in the region of £10 million to sign Cork because they are a Premier League club and so Swansea knew they would be able to afford that sort of fee.
It puts into context the merits of having a scouting and recruitment system that finds players before they have several zeros added to their values. Two of last season’s promoted clubs, Huddersfield and Brighton, had no access to parachute payments so, in a purely football sense, perhaps promotion this season isn’t the be all and end all for Norwich City.
Norwich City’s big signing in the final week of the window was Grant Hanley from Newcastle.
It is always dangerous to start talking up the significance of a transfer before a ball has been kicked but here goes anyway.
The big centre back’s arrival is reassuring. The 4-0 defeat at Millwall had many reporters and supporters decrying the lack of an old-fashioned Championship defender to help stand up to a bullish approach from a side who had clearly spotted a weakness in this new look Norwich City.
The fact that those in power at Carrow Road felt exactly the same and moved to do something about it by signing Hanley within four days of that harsh lesson being dished out is a good thing.
There will be plenty of justified questions as to why this potential issue wasn’t spotted sooner but we are where we are and having criticised previous Norwich City regimes for a stubborn unwillingness to change their plans it would be churlish not to be encouraged by the comments from managing director Steve Stone at a meeting with The Canaries Trust supporters group last week. He talked about some frank discussions taking place after the debacle at The Den and that a way of filling the void was found even if it may well have flown in the face of the budget constraints that exist at the club.
The minutes from that meeting are available on the Trust’s website and worth reading in full. There is talk from Mr Stone of “between £4m and £5m” being used on settlements for departing staff. The full details of this will become clear between now and Christmas when the club’s accounts are published but for anyone confused as to why City are talking in terms of not having a lot of money to spend on players, plenty of clues are already out there.
One signing doesn’t make a season and with the window now closed it will be January before any other glaring issues that may arise can be properly sorted out. It will be interesting to see how far reaching that Millwall defeat will be in terms of what other changes it brings about to Norwich City’s plans, particularly as to whether the approach to away matches will be any different.