The Big Interview: Chairman Ed Balls on chief executive search, Nathan Redmond, Norwich City sponsorship and more
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
With a crucial summer ahead, Michael Bailey spoke to Norwich City chairman Ed Balls on the key issues surrounding the Canaries short and long-term future…
Balance was a word that came up time and again in Norwich City's action on the pitch last season – but it has taken on a whole new meaning now.
David McNally's shock resignation as chief executive barely a fortnight ago left a lot of questions for the remaining Canaries board members – and the perception of little time to provide answers.
All that, in the context of football's most unstable backdrop – Premier League relegation.
'The combination of losing the chief executive and also of relegation, it's been a double whammy over the last few weeks,' conceded City chairman Ed Balls, who himself has only been in situ since the very end of 2015.
But City's chief summer task is arguably more important to the long-term future of the club than any transfers or contract negotiations, which in turn fuel the desire to not only find the right candidate as Norwich's new chief executive – but to do it in double-quick time.
Balls said: 'It's a really important decision for any business. A change of chief executive is always a real challenge, but when you have somebody who has been with the club for seven years and also has a lot of footballing experience – football is a very specialist business – it's a big hole to fill. I want to do it as quickly as we can, and we are going to take our time to get it right because this is not only about this summer. This is a chief executive who needs to come in and do the next 10 or more transfer windows.
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'So we're not simply going to do it on the basis of who gives who a ring over a weekend. We're going to have a very professional process.
'I said at the beginning when I did this job, I wasn't expecting to be doing this quite as quickly as it's turned out. But the chair and the board's job is not to think day to day and week to week about the football. That's for the manager.
'Our job is to make sure we're planning one, three, five years ahead and choosing a new chief executive is probably the most important decision we will make in the next year for the club's long-term future.'
It was confirmed yesterday City's Premier League revenue came in at £67.1m for last season – more only than Aston Villa, although in excess of the totals taken home by each of the previous season's relegated trio. Rebuilding with City's subsequent loss of income will represent a significant chunk of the new chief executive's brief.
That said, the current board and City boss Alex Neil have been determined to buy more time to make that appointment without hampering their chances of a promotion push next term.
'The interim structure is very important because when we sat down at the beginning of last week with Alex, what we all knew from the start was the reality of the summer window would start straight away – and we had to hit the ground running,' said Balls.
'Clearly losing a chief executive leaves a gap and we couldn't wait to fill that gap until we went through a long, proper process – but nor were any of us willing to cobble together a long-term solution to meet the short-term need.
'We put in place immediate structures that started last week to fill the immediate gap. We've had constant discussions with Alex, and Steve Stone is really stepping up into the role of interim chief executive.
'We have also made sure we bring into our existing structures the kind of expertise and quality we need. I'm not going to go into the detail of that because I don't really want our competitors to know how we're doing it. But we've brought in more than one person, we've got a strong team working really closely together and there is a real sense of common endeavour of what's got to be done.
'I think we've got a Premier League-quality team doing our immediate summer business and the fact we've been able to move immediately with Steven Whittaker, you know there are discussions with Gary O'Neil – but many other things are going on as well.
'I think that could reassure supporters we are determined to make sure we have the best summer we can, so we can get back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, and we can do that without needing to rush a long-term decision on the chief executive.
'We are going to take our time to get this right. It's going to take us into the summer and I'm not going to say when it's going to be completed. But what I can guarantee supporters is I'll keep them in touch with what we're doing and that we're going for the best long-term solution for the football club.'
• It may well feel like Nathan Redmond is being courted by every Premier League club going, but Norwich City are far from resigned to losing their England Under-21 winger.
The 22-year-old Wembley goalscorer hit a peach of a drive in the under-21s' latest Toulon Tournament victory over Guinea on Monday night – which sits alongside speculation numerous clubs are keen to help Redmond remain in the Premier League.
So the rumour mill goes, Stoke are the favourites to land Redmond – with an £8m bid being touted. But chairman Ed Balls hopes City's best players will be trying to get them back to the top-flight next term.
'Nathan is showing his stuff out in the under-21s at the moment, scored a great goal last night and I think everybody at the football club wants to keep all of our players – and our best players – with us into the Championship next season,' said Balls.
'As Alex Neil has said, the reality is there are going to be people looking at what's happening at Norwich.
'But we have no need to make any short-term, foolish decisions that are bad for the best interests of the football club – and we're not going to be doing that.'
• Norwich City's Premier League relegation struggles meant they had to put off one of their key financial decisions until the summer.
Aviva announced in August they were ending their eight-year association with the Canaries as main club sponsor. A community partnership has since been set up but City still had to find a new main and shirt sponsor for next season – a search significantly dictated to by which division they would find themselves in come August.
Ed Balls said: 'It's just one of those commercial issues that Ben Kensell (director of commercial) has been dealing with, where it wasn't possible to conclude until we knew where we were at the end of the season. All of us wanted that to be clearer earlier, but that wasn't to be.
'We didn't really find out until the last few days. But we've worked hard on both scenarios and we'll make an announcement in due course.'
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaelbailey