All or nothing in the court of King David at Norwich City
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
David McNally's departure from Norwich City brings to a close an eventful period in the club's history. PADDY DAVITT looks at his legacy.
It was an ignominious end for David McNally in a messy exit from Norwich City.
A candid tweet to a frustrated supporter at 8:35pm on Saturday evening, as the fallout from that 1-0 Premier League defeat to Manchester United raged on social media, signalled the closure of a tumultuous chapter of soaring expectations, numerous promotions, a financial rollercoaster, managerial upheaval and in all probability a second relegation in the past three years.
Norwich City's board of directors 'unanimously' agreed to accept his resignation on Monday to smooth the formal process of a footballing divorce which graphically illustrated a season rooted in promise had dissolved into a thirst for answers.
All manner of theories collided with the views of those who rushed to barrack or back during the void between McNally's ill-advised Twitter conversation and the official club announcement regarding the departure of a man synonymous with Norwich's epic rise from the depths of League One. The reality is far less glamorous than any conspiracy theory. City's corporate figurehead accepted his responsibility for a leading role in a decline this season that looks set to end in a return to the Championship, which they left behind in such glorious technicolour at Wembley.
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That in itself is perhaps a fitting epitaph for a hard, uncompromising operator. McNally was not in the business of winning friends. It was all or nothing. A fear of administration, when he first joined, to a record January transfer window outlay just a few short months ago. Promotion or relegation and not much else in between that passed for mundane or routine.
To judge McNally's impact since he was unveiled as Neil Doncaster's successor in 2009 is to consider a distinction between events on and off the pitch. McNally drove a remarkable fiscal turnaround, from a debt pile in excess of £23m, to a position where the club's last full set of accounts revealed the Canaries were now free of external debt.
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McNally's mantra of self-sufficiency may have increasingly grated with a growing number of supporters who demanded ever more ambitious expansion plans. Particularly when the likes of Bournemouth and Watford appeared to recede into the distance this season after making the same journey from the Football League. A by-product of the post-mortem appears to be a renewed focus on the potential for new investment, but that overlooks a record transfer spend, which far from building on a productive festive period was unable to arrest the decline. Only Timm Klose was emerging as an influential figure from the new intake prior to his season-ending injury. Perhaps City's failure to deliver to the same degree last summer is why McNally's detractors now cast him in an unfavourable light. It is the league table rather than the balance sheet where the critics inevitably focus ahead of tomorrow's final home game of the season against the Hornets.
That gnawing sense Norwich squandered a chance for a great leap forward this season produced a tipping point with a damaging defeat to Manchester United, coupled with another victory for Sunderland at the weekend.
Alex Neil was brutally honest again on Saturday when he conceded Norwich's recruitment strategy was not fit for purpose following promotion. Norwich tried to rectify the mistakes in January but City's overall success rate in the market failed to bring an immediate dividend. That is a record McNally would find harder to defend. Go back even further to the expensive purchases of Leroy Fer or Ricky van Wolfswinkel - a Dutch duo inextricably linked to a previous failed stab at Premier League consolidation.
The launch of a football executive board during Neil Adams' tenure was envisaged as a way to ease the burden on a young manager, but Neil made it clear when he arrived there would be only one voice that counted in the final analysis. It was an experiment that failed to produce the goods.
McNally's record of four seasons in the top tier of English football, allied to that wonderful ascent from the depths of League One in two consecutive bounds, plus a play-off success were stellar achievements. The astute appointments of Paul Lambert and then Neil marked him out as an innovative operator, willing to take a risk and broker a degree of gamble, while Chris Hughton has gone a long way to restoring his reputation at Brighton after a sour end to his Carrow Road spell. Neil re-paid that faith in stirring fashion at Wembley, but on both occasions Norwich climbed the mountain, under McNally's stewardship, a lasting formula to bridge the divide has proved elusive.
McNally casts a sizeable shadow over every Norwich achievement and failure since 2009. His legacy is that of the football club he served. Now he is gone.
Once the dust settles and the furore dies, there must be clarity on the way forward. Should Norwich begin life next season in the Championship it requires a collective strategy and pragmatism in the boardroom as well as on the pitch.
City can not afford to repeat the mistakes in the transfer market that undermined the former chief executive's seven-year stint.
Director of finance Steve Stone may have taken over on an interim basis but it requires swift action to find McNally's long-term replacement and herald the start of another pivotal period in the history of Norwich City football club.