Can history repeat itself for Norwich City 30 years on?
- Credit: Archant
Alex Neil's squad face a difficult road ahead. Paddy Davitt talks to a man who has been over this course before.
John Deehan was part of a Norwich City side who won the title in English football's second tier. Repeating the feat 30 years later would mark Alex Neil's squad out as special.
Deehan was directly involved in the Championship circus last season at beaten play-off finalists Sheffield Wednesday, but the former Canaries' player, coach and manager admits the bar has been raised again.
'I don't think the Championship has been as difficult as this one for so long because there has not been this many big clubs,' he says. 'There is six clubs, perhaps, who think we should be really filling one of those three promotion spots. Norwich is one of them, obviously, Newcastle, Brighton were there or thereabouts last year and Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood have a big challenge to do the same. Don't forget Derby County and Nottingham Forest, who won the European Cup within the last 30 years. There are so many you could make an argument for.
'I look back at the play-off final between Hull and Sheffield Wednesday last season. For me, they weren't closely matched. Hull were definitely the better team, they deserved to get promoted.
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'Steve Bruce has a fantastic record as a manager and of course, as I know well, he did well at Norwich when I was playing there. So many clubs at this level are desperate to get back to the big league. I know from my time at Sheffield Wednesday the supporters and many within the club still see themselves as a Premier League club who have endured a difficult period when it just hasn't gone there way.'
Newcastle United will be the team to beat with their vast spending power, support base and the galvanising presence of Rafa Benitez.
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'If you said to me, 'John do you want a £10 bet to stick on a team you think are going to win the Championship?' then I would be backing Newcastle,' he says. 'For me the interesting aspect there is the approach the manager takes when he plans his season out.
'Benitez might want to say we don't want to get involved in any cup competitions, it is all about getting back in the Premier League and that is our target.
'Sometimes that is the one thing that can distract you, if you find yourself in the fifth round of the FA Cup and with a feeling we might be able to get to the final.
'The Championship is such a difficult league to get out of because you are playing, more often than not, Saturday, Tuesday or Wednesday and you want to try and keep continuity in your team.
'The only thing that could catch Rafa Benitez out is if he tries to rotate his players, like he would have done at a club like Real Madrid, where he has 24 players who any given time can win a game, apart from when you face the likes of Barcelona or Atletico Madrid.
'In the Championship it is not like that, it is competitive every Saturday. There will be a lot of expectation on him to get them back up, a lot more than the Norwich manager.'
Deehan, who is biding his time before looking to return to the game after leaving the Owls, is a big fan of Alex Neil's work.
'He came down from Scotland and I was very impressed with him early on,' he says. 'You could see how he got his team organised and I know Norwich will have done the required groundwork to know he is the man to give them a really good chance of coming back to the Premier League.
'I am glad they decided to keep him on, because unless you get some continuity it is hard for football clubs to go down and then suddenly sack a manager, bring a new one in, and have success. It can actually take you 12 to 18 months before you get anywhere near a progressive team. A lot of clubs maybe are learning that lesson.
'You look at both Norwich and Newcastle last season and they were in that pack of clubs right until the end with clubs like Sunderland and Crystal Palace. They were not cut adrift at the bottom. It was disappointing to see them relegated, but they can look at things realistically.'