Grant is going to have to sell well
CHRIS LAKEY Peter Grant is a man of many words, but there are a few he used in the course of last season which were repeated again and again - simply because they were the key issues that he had to contend with, deal with and, now, eradicate.
Peter Grant is a man of many words, but there are a few he used in the course of last season which were repeated again and again - simply because they were the key issues that he had to contend with, deal with and, now, eradicate.
First of all there were the injuries. It's been a long time since the Colney physio's room was so busy: it's hard to recall a significant member of the playing staff who didn't knock on Neal Reynolds' door and ask for help. The problem was, it was like Noah's Ark: they went in two by two, meaning key areas of the field were suddenly exposed, weakened and, ultimately, exploited.
It took Grant until the end of the season, in his post-match press conference at Sheffield Wednesday, to finally say what we all knew but which he believed would only have been seen as an excuse at any other time: that injuries were a major factor in City's downfall.
The problem with injuries is that you can't stop them: they happen, usually just when you don't want them to as well. Robert Earnshaw was flying in January, but just when City needed to impose themselves on the Championship, he succumbed on the training ground. Likewise Gary Doherty, whose absence was covered by Dion Dublin - but at the expense of losing Dublin's influence elsewhere. So Earnshaw out and his partner in crime Dublin forced to play in defence - one very good attacking partnership is no more.
So, while there is no stopping injuries, the manager has to find a way of dealing with them, and that means having players who can slip into other roles unnoticed.
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Which is where another of Grant's buzz words comes in: imbalance. From day one, Grant complained of an imbalance in his squad. It meant that if Lee Croft was injured he couldn't properly replace him on the right-hand side.
It meant if Jurgen Colin was out of form, he had to replace him with a midfielder. Chris Martin, Mark Fotheringham, Lappin, Darren Huckerby, Andy Hughes - and more - have all been switched around this season. And it benefited no-one. Some aren't exactly square pegs in round holes, but they have more important roles to fill in specialised parts of the team.
What Grant needs to do is make sure he has a balanced squad, that he has replacements to call on when players lose form, are injured, when he needs to freshen it all up a bit or when he needs to cater for a particular opposition's armoury. His room for manouevre has been restricted - free him from the shackles and we might just see a major improvement.
It will be a major test of his managerial nous and know-how to work within a limited budget yet still produce a team capable of challenging for promotion. For that he clearly needs either money or a brilliant scouting system. Gone are the days when City could look at Premiership squads and pick up the fringe players, the likes of David Bentley, Robert Earnshaw and Lee Croft. You might get one if you're lucky, but the money simply isn't there now that the parachute payments have gone. A £2m interest-free loan from new directors is a bonus, but it ain't going to buy you another Dean Ashton or another Earnshaw, is it?
The facts of Norwich City's footballing life are that they now have to look down and across rather than just up for new players. Down may be as far as the Conference - usually the destination for those who have failed to make it rather than those charged with bringing the good times back to Carrow Road.
And while transfer fees won't be of the £3m mark, the salaries won't be fantastic either. We had Premiership salaries, we had Championship salaries with the parachute payments. Now we have Championship salaries with no parachute payments to help out. Peter Grant is going to have to sell Norwich City FC to prospective new players, because they aren't going to come here to get rich quick.
Which leads us nicely to another Grant-ism: “I can tell from the first look in their eyes if they really want to play for this club or not.”
If that's true, it's a terrific ability, knowing who's after your money and who wants to go places. Perhaps a few players of recent years are guilty of belonging to the former category.
Assuming Grant has identified the four to six players he needs/wants, then he has to go out and sell the club to them. So what does he have on his side?
On the upside he has a terrific stadium; one of the best, if not the best, sets of supporters in the division; a board that eschews stability and shuns reckless actions; a set of current players that compares favourably with most, but not all, of the teams in the division; and a fine county in which to come and live.
On the downside, he has little money; no guarantees of what the future holds; seven months experience as a manager; a 16th place finish in a division most people thought they were capable of leaving; and the competition of at least half a dozen major rivals with far more cash to spend.
As Grant often says - “I'm not a gambling man, but if I were ...”
Are City worth a flutter or not?