Paddy Davitt: Cuddly Norwich City will not cut it
PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 May 2017 | UPDATED: 08:19 10 May 2017
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I was reminded of a conversation with Alex Neil as John Ruddy and his family took their bow at Carrow Road.
Norwich City’s Championship finale against QPR was in essence a farewell tour for a long-serving player who richly deserved his standing ovation.
There were audible pockets of Carrow Road who broke into spontaneous rounds of ‘sign him up’ as the big man disappeared down the tunnel for the final time in a Norwich shirt.
Neil departed by the back door. The Scot was jettisoned by the board in what some deemed ruthless fashion and others felt was long overdue; just hours after addressing the media where he had plotted his route to a summer overhaul of a tired squad.
Stuart Webber inherited that task and amongst his first meaningful acts since arriving in Norfolk was the removal of senior figures in Neil’s recruitment team and a chunk of the playing squad, headed by Ruddy.
That cultivates the image of a strong man, a no nonsense operator. Webber is well aware of the public perception but there is far more nuance to his early forays. The departures of Ricky Martin and Ruddy sent a message to those who remain, and those outside the football club, that sentiment is in short supply. Neil, you can be sure, would approve.
The Glaswegian may have lost his way and failed to man-manage a set of complex characters but in the early part of his reign exhibited the same traits. You need only reflect on two words. Bradley Johnson.
The midfielder practically hauled Norwich onto his broad shoulders and deposited them at Wembley in 2015, but was gone in dramatic fashion at the end of that summer’s transfer window. That was a clear signal of intent from Neil. Given City’s brief membership of the Premier League and the absence of Johnson’s unique brand of combat back in the Championship it now looks like a major oversight. The money men would disagree, Johnson arrived from Leeds on a free transfer and went to Derby for many millions. Nevertheless it was a decisive act from City’s then manager.
Fast forward to this time last season in the wake of Premier League relegation. Neil had been feted on a lap of appreciation against Watford the same night he told his family to stay away from Carrow Road for fear of a hostile reaction towards him. He was still trying to comprehend that when he told me at the club’s end-of-year dinner the problem in Norwich was people were too nice. For him, such warmth was a weakness in the brutal world of top level football. Whether he was talking about his players, staff, the board or even the fans the implication was this inviting part of the country was not a conducive environment for the nasty, hard nosed pragmatists required to flourish in this insular sport.
Norwich City, as a football club, cultivates an image of a family friendly, stable, community-rooted entity. Many rivals would cast envious glances but its best recent seasons came under the stewardship of a chief executive who took no liberties.
Time will tell if Webber ranks alongside David McNally on that measure.
McNally would admit he made mistakes along a turbulent journey, and the ending was suitably sour, but there was a common thread and a clear direction of travel.
Webber shares one thing in common. You can forget any sentimentality from here on in. Financial reality is a sobering current.
Ruddy has gone. Mitchell Dijks was serenaded with the same plea from some fans on Sunday, as City weigh up whether to turn his Ajax loan stint into a permanent move.
But the club’s sporting director told me at Colney earlier this week any longer term deal will be on Norwich’s terms.
“He has done well, I don’t think he has done brilliantly,” he said. “You wouldn’t say you have been blown away by him but if it made sense financially then he has done strongly enough and he has proven he can help us at this level. We have a bit of time with Mitchell. We have the option to buy him.
“We haven’t agreed personal terms. It is not an easy deal, it is an expensive deal. The benefit is we have a little bit of time so we can see what happens over the next two to four weeks, in terms of the squad and new head coach coming in. Then we will decide if we make that deal happen.
“He has enjoyed it here, he is keen to stay but he is also realistic that if a Premier League club come in they can offer him far more. So it is fair to say he is keen to stay, to a point.”
To the point. That may just be the new mission statement.