How Norwich City’s pursuit of Dean Smith unfolded
- Credit: PA
Norwich City have their new head coach in place but the process of bringing Dean Smith to Norfolk was an international story of negotiation and patience.
Sporting director Stuart Webber is understood to have made up his mind that a change was needed after the 2-1 home defeat to Leeds at the end of last month. Going a tenth successive Premier League match without a win led to Webber advising the City board that he thought it was time to make a change.
After getting that approval on the morning of the next game - undoubtedly with heavy hearts - Webber was then waiting to talk to Farke in the dressing room after a 2-1 win at Brentford.
What made that conversation all the more difficult was that Canaries players and staff had been celebrating with the travelling fans in west London after relieving some pressure, with Farke able to enjoy his trademark celebratory waves.
The German completed his media duties but then received the news he had been dreading ever since a 7-0 implosion at Chelsea a fortnight earlier, despite signing a four-year contract in July.
Along with assistant Eddie Riemer, coach and analyst Christopher John and fitness boss Chris Domogalla, over four years in charge of the City first team was over, with two memorable Championship triumphs to treasure from their time in England.
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Having travelled back to Norfolk separately from the players on the team coach, who had been told the news by Webber before they departed, Farke and his staff met the squad at Colney for a final meeting and some fond farewells ahead of players heading off on holiday or international duty the next day.
The available Frank Lampard was swiftly installed as favourite by the bookmakers and Bodo Glimt’s rising coaching star Kjetil Knutsen was also backed heavily, seeming to very much fit the mould for a Webber candidate ahead of retaining the title in Norway.
Former City players Russell Martin and Mark Robins were also among the early favourites but neither are thought to have been considered. Less than 24 hours after Farke was sacked another name entered the mix though: Dean Smith.
Dismissed by Aston Villa after a fifth consecutive defeat, he had seen a bright start to the campaign slip to 16th and 10 points from 11 matches. After three years in charge of his boyhood club that included play-off glory, two seasons of top-flight survival and a League Cup final, would the 50-year-old be interested in getting straight back to work?
With Smith planning to fly out to New York to see his son, Jamie, who is studying and playing football in North Carolina, Webber had to move quickly to find out the answer.
Smith met face-to-face with Webber and assistant sporting director Neil Adams in Birmingham on Tuesday before he flew out to the US, and the initial feedback was good from a man that the City chief had long admired for his coaching skills and personality.
Inevitably though, with his Villa exit so fresh, further talks were needed and some time to consider options was required for both parties. A big decision was in the offing.
Talks were also held with former Chelsea and Derby boss Lampard, also bringing an international feel as he was on holiday in Dubai. It's believed initial talks with other candidates were held as well but that Smith was swiftly in pole position.
However, with a Premier League and England legend involved, media coverage was widespread on national channels.
By Thursday morning, Villa had brought Steven Gerrard in from Rangers as Smith’s replacement and Lampard was also featuring among the favourites for the vacancy in Glasgow. However, within hours TalkSport was reporting that the Chelsea icon would be the new Norwich boss.
With the 43-year-old's uncle, former Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, a regular pundit for the radio station it seemed likely that their sources were pretty reliable.
Not so, it would seem. Sky Sports managed to get hold of the more accurate narrative, that in fact Smith had thoroughly impressed with his in-depth knowledge of the Canaries and their playing squad.
Knutsen was also said to still be in the running but with reports in Norway suggesting no contact had been made with Bodo Glimt, it seems an imminent title success and active Europa Conference League campaign had meant the timing hadn’t worked.
SEALING THE DEAL
As talks continued, the momentum was with Smith, with City in a delicate position of negotiation as a club bottom of the Premier League that are unlikely to be able to offer a huge amount of money to spend during the January transfer window.
By 3pm on Friday the Lampard camp moved to spread word that their man was dropping out of contention for the vacancy, with messages sent to several high-profile journalists. That was the public game via the media though. In private, the wheels were already in motion.
With Smith signalling he was ready to jump straight back into action and with assistant Craig Shakespeare set to accompany him, City had an experienced duo with a point to prove that valued the overall project at Carrow Road.
All that remained was for the final details to be worked out with the new men over the weekend, complicated slightly by Smith still being in the US with a five-hour time difference.
That prevented official club photos and video interviews being completed ahead of Monday’s 8am announcement, with the remaining contract details preventing a Sunday announcement.
Smith will be back in the UK on Tuesday and is set for his first full day in charge on Wednesday, with many of the City players back in full training from Tuesday.
It’s understood goalkeeper coach Ed Wootten is likely to remain in place and that other coaching appointments could come from internal promotions, with City having an ethos of developing both playing and coaching talent. Wootten, for example, was promoted from the academy ranks as Dean Kiely’s replacement in 2017.
Those final details will be confirmed in the days and weeks ahead but the priority for the former Brentford manager now is to get going at the Lotus Training Centre with his new squad.
He held a video call with senior staff on Sunday night as plans were put in place, with plenty of similar calls no doubt planned ahead of getting stuck in fully on Wednesday.
Todd Cantwell is expected to return to contention after being left out in the cold recently and is sure to be one of the players Smith will want to speak with.
The influential trio of Teemu Pukki, Max Aarons and Mathias Normann are the last of the international contingent in action, on Tuesday, so should be back in training at Colney on Thursday at the latest.
So as the squad pull together and try to impress the new boss, it’s full steam ahead for the arrival of Southampton at Carrow Road on Saturday and a chance for Smith to swiftly avenge the 1-0 defeat to the Saints that sealed his Villa fate - to kick off his new project in the best possible style.
NCFC OPINION: Smith a Premier League upgrade for Norwich City