SIX THINGS: 5 – Can Stuart Webber pull off this trick?

PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 May 2018

Sporting director Stuart Webber has plenty on his plate at Norwich City. Picture: Denise Bradley

Sporting director Stuart Webber has plenty on his plate at Norwich City. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Our Six Things Summer Special turns its attentions to sporting director Stuart Webber – Paddy Davitt looks at the key issue now facing the Canaries’ chief.

Stuart Webber has plenty on his plate. But bridging the gap between expectancy and reality could be his biggest task yet as Norwich City’s sporting director.

Webber is positioned firmly at the top of this footballing pyramid which is now 12 months into existence at Carrow Road.

But with that level of responsibility comes an acceptance he is culpable for everything from the academy re-development at Colney, to retaining the services of Daniel Farke and, in all probability, driving the hardest bargain for James Maddison.

Add in the wider makeover required to equip Farke with the resources to raise sights beyond the Championship hinterlands occupied for most of his debut season, and you get an appreciation of the scale of the task.

James Maddison finished the season on crutches. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesJames Maddison finished the season on crutches. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

But underpinning all of that; the spades in the ground at the training complex, the tough negotiations across the boardroom table, the horse-trading with agents and the telephone-number discussions with managing director Steve Stone, comes management of expectations.

Webber has already highlighted this facet in any number of public engagements he has undertaken to deliver on one of his earliest pledges - namely to improve the lines of communication and accountability.

Seeking a degree of detachment from the weekly cycle of trying to earn league points, compared to the wider strategic roll out of this ambitious plan, is a devilishly difficult balancing act.

The mood music after Wes Hoolahan’s emotional swansong in that final Carrow Road act to sweep aside Leeds United on a tide of tears was infused with so much positivity and expectancy for what could lie ahead.

Contrast that with the end-of-pier feeling the following weekend, when City’s tired forces trooped from the pitch at Hillsborough.

A sight made even more unbearable by the hobbling Maddison forlornly waving to the pocket of loyalists while Harrison Reed balanced his crutches, following that early injury exit.

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Thankfully, the intervening days have brought a positive health bulletin and a contraction in the timeline for Maddison’s expected summer lay-off after knee ligament damage.

Daniel Farke was Stuart Webber's first choice to become City's head coach. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdDaniel Farke was Stuart Webber's first choice to become City's head coach. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

But Webber well knows once he has navigated a hectic close season a lacklustre start to the Championship will see pessimism rise again.

That is the nature of the business he is in. Look at the chronic job instability among managers or the perceived lack of loyalty among the vast majority of players and is it any wonder a rump of supporters filter their views through such a short term prism?

The onus on youth and the focus on facilities all smack of mid to long term fruits.

But judgement will be swift next season if Webber and Farke 2.0 on the park exudes the same inconsistency, the same fitful productivity up top and on occasion brittleness at the back.

Jamal Lewis has blossomed with the commitment to young talent. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdJamal Lewis has blossomed with the commitment to young talent. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

All set against a backdrop of a fan base who have indulged in exposure to the Premier League or thrilling promotion rides from the Football League over these past eight or nine seasons.

Add another 20,000 plus season ticket renewals and expectations are unlikely to reflect the financial contraction in revenue streams any time soon. Most who follow Norwich still believe their club should be capable of far more than mid-table mediocrity.

That reservoir of acceptance Farke’s first tour of duty was light and shade is unlikely to persist.

Then we will see how adept Webber is at managing expectations.

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