Michael Bailey: So what's left in your tank, as City bid to buck the Championship trend?
PUBLISHED: 06:07 07 June 2018 | UPDATED: 15:10 07 June 2018
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Have you renewed? Will you be hopeful? Have you got doubts? Michael Bailey paints a Norwich City picture, as the rest of the Championship figures itself out – and some of it falls apart.
Time, money, emotions, relationships, money, merchandise, pies, time, fingernails, money – each a cost that comes with supporting Norwich City.
But you will already know that. As someone who has chosen to read this piece, you most likely either support the Canaries or have an external interest and appreciation of what it takes to support any club.
We all recognise those costs – as well as what they are worth to us when trading them in for the boys in yellow and green. But that shouldn’t preclude the asking of a profound question this summer: why do you support Norwich City Football Club?
Is it habit or socialising? A baton passed down from family? For the entertainment or regional pride? To see victories or enjoy football?
Perhaps now more than at any time in the last decade at Carrow Road, it’s a question that deserves full attention and a considered answer – because where City head from here is entirely different to recent years. A sea change that will ask a lot more of people than some may be willing to give – yet it won’t stop it being asked of them.
Wasn’t that supposed to be the case last summer, I hear you cry? Well this time – away from the excitement of new coaching staff, philosophies and approaches – the reality is we haven’t seen anything yet.
That is because, to be quite frank, next season isn’t about promotion.
No one from the club will say it, of course. The lack-of-ambition alarm bells would deafen everyone inside a 100-mile radius of Norfolk.
But that doesn’t alter the reality of City’s inability to secure a Premier League return inside two seasons – a far more common result than succeeding. That reality being a 12-month landscape of managing a huge financial hole and not letting it cost the club its midtable Championship platform.
Improving a couple of places on last season’s 14th finish would be an added bonus of course, but nothing compared to recent seasons of setting sights on automatic promotion, hoping to recreate Huddersfield’s success, earning a return to where the club ‘belongs’, booking Premier League survival or even kicking on to secure a top-half top-flight finish.
No, this is a game-changer.
It starts with a £20m-odd hole to fill. Guarantees the club can fill it need to arrive before the end of the summer transfer window.
City can count themselves fortunate it’s a problem they can potentially solve in one hit, thanks to last season’s extraordinary efforts of James Maddison – but even that fee, whoever it eventually comes from, will most likely arrive in instalments and minus chunks owed to Coventry City and HMRC. We’re not talking about Aston Villa here, after all. More on them shortly.
So the sale of Maddison will buy Norwich some leeway, but without settling the score – and let’s be honest, Daniel Farke’s squad needs more work than the sale of its prized asset.
From there, it’s more likely the real player trading can begin – a balancing act between players City want to leave, those they’re happy to sell and assets they get bids for.
As for those who come in, all the caveats of last summer will still apply – the adjustment time, need for homegrown players, physicality, potential over proven quality. It will just carry more baggage and theoretically, less expectation.
It won’t be dull and shouldn’t fail to excite. The impending arrival of Emi Buendía and others will deliver the customary summer buzz.
But if you’re pinning your sights on where City can reach next May, you will probably need to adjust your gaze.
In 12 months time City’s parachute payments will be a figment of imaginations, while the pricey Premier League-legacy contracts of Steven Naismith, Matt Jarvis, Timm Klose – even to an extent, Yanic Wildschut and Michael McGovern – will be over.
That, right there, is the sound of a clean slate and if handled correctly, a genuine foundation to build upon.
More importantly it’s a long way from the current reality of scrambling up the crumbling sides of a coal pit, trying to get out.
The prospect owes much to the Canaries resisting a gamble on their Premier League return – credit to the City board for that. One look at Aston Villa’s perilous summer plight shows exactly how badly that can go; their final cost may not become clear for a while.
It looks a strong Championship division for the 2018-19 season but likewise West Brom, Stoke and Swansea will have their own relegation fires to put out while still receiving their parachute payment carrots.
Middlesbrough and Hull are halfway through their trough of money. Previously big-spending Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City are all intimating their belts have tightened – and financial fair play rules appear to be having their intended effect.
It could be that after 12 months of looking at Millwall and Brentford wondering ‘how have they finished above us’, Norwich can plan for a future where they exceed those bars – and success can follow.
But this isn’t to underestimate the challenge. While head coach Daniel Farke had all manner of issues to deal with in his first City season, he heads into his second with big questions to answer: can he extract the maximum out of his players, utilise his entire squad and provide a pragmatic, flexible Championship strategy with fewer pitfalls.
It’s also worth noting Farke’s own current deal with City runs only until next summer – a discussion point certain to arise over the coming year.
Sporting director Stuart Webber has similar issues to address. His recruitment decisions need to carry the trust of Farke and ensure City remain competitive.
It isn’t overdramatic to suggest that a couple of big sales and poorly chosen replacements, accompanied by all their financial pressures, could hand City an extremely uncomfortable season.
That is nothing those involved don’t know themselves – on the flip side will be the expectations of supporters, some of whom will be expecting all the pieces of the jigsaw to now click into place a season into ‘the project’.
In a world where football and time are mutually exclusive, it remains to be seen whether a bigger picture alongside the Championship fires being fought elsewhere can buy the Canaries’ plan a little more time.
So ask yourself again: why will you be supporting Norwich City Football Club from here?
Because while the cost may continue to feel – and in some cases is – higher than some can afford, there is still a future to fight for and a hope that better Norwich City days do indeed remain on the horizon.
Such days that so often prove worth the wait.
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