Michael Bailey: The proof there is long-term in football, and the regret of losing a man like Pritch

PUBLISHED: 09:27 12 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:27 12 January 2018

Sign of the times - Bristol City fans hold up a banner calling for manager Lee Johnson to be sacked. That was less than a year ago. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Sign of the times - Bristol City fans hold up a banner calling for manager Lee Johnson to be sacked. That was less than a year ago. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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In his latest weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and Pink Un Show host Michael Bailey cheers on the progress of Saturday’s Championship hosts and boos a genuine Canaries missed opportunity.

Lee Johnson during the troubled times at Ashton Gate - now Bristol City look a side and club genuinely able to push through their Championship ceiling. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesLee Johnson during the troubled times at Ashton Gate - now Bristol City look a side and club genuinely able to push through their Championship ceiling. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Some clubs are overtly rich. There is no subtext. They just shell it out, show it off, pay the premium and wait for the success.

Clubs can achieve their ambitions without copious backing, of course. Likewise, money doesn’t guarantee you fulfilling them.

But what it does do is allow you to get it wrong. Just like Wolves did last season. Their only penalty was waiting another 12 months before giving it another go.

For the record, this January transfer window has already seen speculation that the runaway Championship leaders had a £34m bid rejected for AC Milan striker Andre Silva – otherwise known as the rough equivalent to three Alex Pritchards. Sadly.

Alex Pritchard was the big headline departure at Norwich City in January. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesAlex Pritchard was the big headline departure at Norwich City in January. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

However, not everyone does it that way. Some clubs have the backing but also the patience. The plan and the planning. Arguably they are the ones that really sting when Norwich City – fresh from seven seasons of Premier League income – come calling and ultimately, unavoidably compare bricks and mortar.

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I remember visiting Ashton Gate on the last day of the 1998-99 season, where there really was nothing to write home about – both from the 1-0 defeat and spending an afternoon at Bristol City’s rather dated home.

The Robins finished bottom of the second tier that season. The feeling around the place seems so much different now.

Arguably, the feeling now also appears so much different to the visit last March – when most home fans wanted manager Lee Johnson gone and for the club to take a new direction.

In the end it was Alex Neil who lost his job following that 1-1 draw, while Johnson achieved something beyond most football bosses – he turned things around.

There were also barely 17,000 fans inside the ground that night. The Robins’ previous home game this season – a 2-1 defeat to the loaded leaders – was much closer to a 27,000-plus sell-out.

Ashton Gate now stands as a glorious, state of the art stadium in the centre of a huge English city, waiting to be filled by both fans and success.

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Billionaire owner Steve Lansdown has led that redevelopment, alongside recently unveiled plans for a new, purpose-built elite training ground that may well push through eight figures in cost.

And sure, they have spent some money on players too. And wages. The Robins make sure they compete, as well as having the room to make the odd mistake.

But it’s hard not to admire the way Lansdown and his boardroom colleagues are going about their Bristol City mission, genuinely fuelled by a long-term benefit and improvement in the experience and in the area.

In a city the size of Bristol, it won’t be long before the supporters join them in long-term commitment too.

Tougher tasks may yet lay ahead. Four successive defeats – albeit against opponents ranging from tricky to unplayable – mean Norwich City’s visit on Saturday will ask a few questions of Johnson’s squad and its mentality.

Likewise, Lansdown’s money won’t keep players in the Championship indefinitely if their ticket to the Premier League will only arrive via another club. The likes of Aden Flint are primed for the top flight come the summer, whether it’s with the Robins or not.

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The same could arguably be said of their gif-maker – that’s one for you Twitter lovers out there.

Some will want to draw the comparison with Norwich City, and there are plenty of reasonable discussions to be had about that – from alternative football ownership models to investment, planning and patience.

But I’m not going to dive into all that today. Instead, while Wolves, Bournemouth and Aston Villa go about smashing their football accounts on fees and wages bills, I’ll be looking forward to visiting a club that seems to be doing things in an altogether better way.

And hoping Norwich City beat them, naturally.

It’s worth noting that City’s March trip to Ashton Gate last season saw Alex Pritchard left as an unused substitute.

He came on for the final 19 minutes of the 5-1 defeat at Hillsborough a few days earlier and 11 minutes of City’s East Anglian derby draw the Sunday before.

His lack of regular selection under Neil last season was even more bamboozling than James Maddison’s disappearance, while Pritchard’s four-month absence after ankle surgery in pre-season may not only have cost City a shot at the top six – but in itself brought forward Pritchard’s exit by six months.

Some signings just don’t work out. Others feel like an entirely missed opportunity, and they are the ones you really regret.

For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on the following channels…

Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey

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