David Freezer: As experienced players continue to leave, what will be left at Norwich City next season?
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2008
As another of the experienced Norwich City players heads for the Carrow Road exit door, David Freezer takes a look at the continuing evolution of the playing squad as the Canaries search for a brighter future.
The times they are a changing at Norwich City – as another fans’ favourite heads through the Carrow Road revolving door.
Last summer the Canaries underwent a drastic facelift as the necessary work to slash the club’s wage bill and balance the books began. Necessary under a self-funding model, at least.
Sporting director Stuart Webber was empowered to lead a revolution of the club on and off the pitch, working alongside managing director Steve Stone to lay the building blocks for a stronger future.
Since Webber arrived just over a year ago, much has changed, kick-started by the release of seven big names last summer and continued by this week’s confirmation of Wes Hoolahan’s approaching farewell.
When the experienced group of seven, including John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett, Steven Whittaker and Seb Bassong, were cut loose City waved goodbye to over 700 appearances in yellow and green.
Along with fringe players Michael Turner, Youssouf Mulumbu and Kyle Lafferty that big decision signalled a shift towards wanting a younger and hungrier squad, after a failed attempt to bounce straight back to the Premier League.
With the sales of Jonny Howson, Graham Dorrans, Jacob Murphy and Declan Rudd also following last summer it was already clear that the new squad being shaped following the arrival of Daniel Farke as head coach was going to look dramatically different.
That was another 250 games of City experience out the door, as the revolution showed little sign of slowing.
Managing director Stone emphasised how important this was financially at City’s AGM in November, revealing that £17.4million in sales were generated and £293,000 per week in wages freed up.
Those were replaced by deals totalling £8.1m and wages of £120,000 per week during that window – or, in other words, a wage bill reduction of around £9m and a transfer surplus of another £9m.
All of that has allowed the Canaries to brace for the end of Premier League parachute payments this summer, which were expected to be worth around £32m for this season, down from £43m during 2016-17.
Tansfer rumours: Birmingham interested in giving Hoolahan another Championship chance
In came the likes of Marcel Franke, Mario Vrancic, Christoph Zimmermann, Marco Stiepermann and Tom Trybull from Germany, players with no experience at all of English football.
All of those players have shown signs of needing to adjust to the Championship style and achieved varying degrees of success, as can be said for January arrivals Moritz Leitner, Onel Hernandez and Dennis Srbeny.
Fellow summer signings James Husband and Marley Watkins have proved that experience of the English second tier is no guarantee of instant success but they have also had to contend with the same issues of getting to know a new club.
Such an influx of players risked fans feeling rather disconnected from a squad featuring so many unfamiliar faces but, despite a season of mid-table mediocrity, quite the opposite seems to have happened.
The enthusiastic and well meaning words of Farke, Zimmermann and Vrancic from early in the season filled a character vacuum created by the disappointment at a season of failure by high earners.
However, it is on the pitch where the experience counts and as yet City have been unable to regain upward momentum in the league standings.
When Hoolahan makes his 352nd and final appearance at Carrow Road on Saturday he will take a decade of experience as a Canaries player away with him.
Should Alex Tettey not sign a new contract at the season’s end as well it will take that tally to over 500 games, leaving a rather low total behind.
Josh Murphy could end up being the only player with more than 100 City appearances to his name, unless he also leaves, provided that former skipper Russell Martin – with over 350 Canaries games on his CV – doesn’t return to see out the final year of his contract.
Beyond that are Ivo Pinto, Nelson Oliveira, Timm Klose and James Maddison with more than 50 appearances as Norwich players.
So as the old furniture continues to be taken out and replaced by modern, German-engineered pieces to continue the changes at Carrow Road, the chance for the next generation of Canaries players to start building their legacy is there.
Hoolahan tasted relegation in his first season but leaves as an undisputed legend. Now it’s time for new heroes to emerge.
• You can follow Canaries correspondent David Freezer on Twitter @davefreezer