Norwich City’s 2017 review: The more things change. The more they stay the same.
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Out with the old, in with the new. Norwich City embarked on a voyage of discovery in 2017 after calling time on the end of another bright young thing. Paddy Davitt reflects on a tumultuous year at Carrow Road.
You could hardly accuse Norwich City of favouring the tried and trusted.
2017 saw the end of one bold experiment and the start of another foray into the unknown.
Not for the Canaries a lurch into the past and the return of managerial talent with plenty of miles on the clock.
Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Alan Pardew. Even Tony Pulis has swiftly found alternative employment since leaving West Brom.
City dispensed with the unheralded Alex Neil and found a replacement with an more obscure back story to anyone in this part of the football universe.
Not only was Daniel Farke the club’s first overseas appointment but a head coach under a sporting director in a continental football structure still trying to infiltrate the traditional, conservative outlook that characterises much of British football.
Hence perhaps has that revival of the old elite.
Neil was dismissed in March after a stay of execution around the turn of the year, following a prolonged downturn, and the realisation lightning was not about to strike twice.
City’s quest to buck the trend a second time and bounce back immediately from Premier League relegation disappeared down a dark hole.
To quote David Cameron when he signed off from frontline politics in 2016 ‘I was the future once.’
Neil was the hottest of hot properties when his first six months at Carrow Road ended in triumph at Wembley but football is an industry like no other.
A season of top flight toil stripped away much of the sheen and his inability to galvanise a squad with one of the biggest wage bills in the Championship ultimately proved his downfall.
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But even amidst the recriminations and the bitterness that always accompanies any managerial departure and the acceptance of the end of an era, Neil retained a dignified air.
The Scot admitted he had paid for misplaced loyalty to his experienced players in that relegation summer.
Many of those same players only earned a stay of execution.
Stuart Webber’s arrival and the financial constraints that now weigh heavily at Carrow Road combined to jettison John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett, Seb Bassong and the core of those who had been so entwined with the good times and bad in recent seasons.
Jonny Howson and Jacob Murphy went at the end of the same summer, as Webber and managing director Steve Stone strived to lower the wage bill and generate a transfer surplus.
Farke was always the number one choice, once City’s top brass had turned to Webber to sort out the mess and bring some of the alchemy he had helped generate at Premier League-bound Huddersfield Town.
Little wonder he looked to Germany again after his success in appointing David Wagner.
Farke had the pedigree and the glitter of Borussia Dortmund on his coaching CV.
That and an unbeaten pre-season fanned the optimism - for all that you can place any store by a series of practice games.
But the landing was hard when the bold, new era collided with the brutal reality of Championship combat.
Results have lurched from club record clean sheet runs to sobering away defeats. Derby success to Carrow Road frustration. Yet Farke’s demeanour has been a reassuring constant.
Whether it is sifting through the wreck of events at the Den or the joy of Portman Road the German has plotted a steady course.
The manner he defused Nelson Oliveira’s blow-up at Fulham on the opening weekend or Josh Murphy’s apparent lack of professionalism ahead of the away win at Middlesbrough earned him plenty of credit on the terraces.
Reminders of what a privileged position he and his players are in, who they represent and the importance on the name on the front of the shirt were public relations masterstrokes delivered with sincerity rather than superficial intent.
Farke is the sort of individual you want to see do well.
Honest, professional and determined to bring success to Norwich City.
But Neil was cast from the same mould. That goodwill can swiftly evaporate once results head south and frustration outstrips expectation.
City’s German head coach may be an integral part of a brave new experiment but he might wish to recall the lessons of recent history as his club prepare to wave 2017 farewell at Burton this weekend.
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