Paddy Davitt verdict: Time to end a loveless marriage at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's players and management appear locked in a loveless marriage. Separated in all but name and trying to keep up appearances in a Championship union neither wants.
Another defeat of epic proportions triggers fresh recriminations. Disrespect, no guts, selfish individuals under a manager and coaching team seemingly incapable of imparting instructions.
How did it get to this? How does a squad who started the campaign as one of the pre-season favourites, and briefly went top in September, find themselves bystanders as the rest scrap for Premier League spoils? You can blame the manager who assembled a group of talented yet temperamentally flawed footballers. You can blame the board for sticking with Neil during a pre-festive slump that would have claimed the Scot at virtually every other club in the land. You can blame a set of players who collectively appear unwilling or incapable of mustering the fight, spirit, intensity and hunger required to be serious contenders.
No wins against any of the top 10. Defeats at outposts such as Rotherham and Burton. A shocking concession rate away from home only eclipsed by the League One-bound Millers. These are damning statistics which cut through the brutal soundbites.
Neil tried to rectify the situation with January moves for Yanic Wildschut and Mitchell Dijks. It was too late. The same as the previous January, when a multi-million pound outlay failed to halt a relegation slide. The manager is not solely responsible for a recruitment strategy which bar the odd success accelerated the decline amongst a squad with too many miles on the clock. But these are his players. He either signed or coached them for the past 26 months.
In the interests of accuracy, Neil has attempted to cultivate a seam of young talent but reverted to the tried and trusted in the pursuit of promotion, promotion, promotion. To salvage anything from a wretched campaign it is time to see Ben Godfrey, James Maddison and Alex Pritchard. They may not be ready. They may still be learning. Norwich in all probability will lose more games than they win, given they face plenty of genuine top six contenders, but it can be no worse than the diabolical displays witnessed too often away from the secure confines of Carrow Road.
Cameron Jerome's lacerating post-match verdict and Neil's brutally honest assessment are not knee-jerk reactions. We heard the same at Brighton from the captain. We have heard the same from Neil on too many occasions. What unfolded at Hillsborough merely confirmed those deep divisions still exist and the fractures will never heal. Bullying teams on home soil merely masks the scars. Place this Norwich collective in a stressful environment and they capitulate. That will to resist, the will to do whatever is required out of desperate self-preservation is beyond them. We saw it at Brighton, we saw it at Reading, we saw it at Rotherham, Burton and now Sheffield Wednesday.
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Loyalty is a commendable commodity but the 35-year-old should not rely on it. City's top brass will come under increasing pressure from a support who crave change. If not in the dugout then it must be on the pitch.
You can understand why Neil publicly refuses to throw in the towel with 11 games left. But this season is gone. The planning for next should begin with a trip to relegation-threatened Bristol City, who will target the Canaries' soft underbelly. Neil must prove he is capable of overseeing a changing of the guard. The Scot hinted at evolution ahead of the trip to Yorkshire; that timescale has shifted dramatically.
City must now minimise the debilitating effects of a summer of upheaval. Those deemed surplus to requirements must be jettisoned, however difficult the financial process of extricating young men on large contracts who quite rightly will refuse to budge unless they can find another stop on the gravy train. Norwich's support must also brace themselves for departures of some of their brightest talent.
If City had to sell to buy in the most recent transfer window that will become ever more marked this summer, as they adjust to an increasingly challenging fiscal environment.
Norwich's best assets will attract interest. That is inevitable. The future is uncertain, the side effects painful. But this mess is entirely of Norwich's making. They have to be bold and decisive or risk a prolonged period of Championship mediocrity.