Michael Bailey: Adapting to survive could yet earn Daniel Farke’s Norwich City far more
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The declaration was made on TalkSport – but that isn’t the only place I’ve heard it, so stay with me.
The nuts and bolts are simple: you can’t just change a club’s system and expect the players you’ve got to make it work – instead, you have to bring in the right guys to make what the manager wants a reality.
I say manager. It also applies to the head coach and definitely sporting director.
It’s not an entirely foolhardy concept of course. Taking Norwich City as an example, part of their summer recruitment was about bringing in players who would be more used to playing out from their own goal line and building up with patient possession.
But just as important is the adapting. The players already there that can save you a few bob by pushing and challenging themselves to play in a way that isn’t their comfort zone – while crucially, maintaining productive performances in the team.
“I have to get used to the way of playing with this manager as well,” Yanic Wildschut told me earlier this month.
“He came with a new philosophy and I think you can see I’m making progress week by week, especially in the short space of the game where it’s little passes. I know I can do my thing where there is loads of space, but now I have to be better when it’s in the little spaces.
“I’m improving in that, it’s what I’m working on and I can only get better. Hopefully I can do my bit when I have the space and also when I don’t have it, and then go from there.
“You have to adapt because he came in and told us the way he plays, and in the beginning of the season we lost games but you could see we were playing well.
“And now maybe we don’t have the same possession in the same play, but we’re getting the results. So now we have to find a good balance.”
The job of coaching comes with all kinds of subjective elements. Alex Neil is thriving at Preston, in part thanks to the building blocks already in place from Simon Grayson’s successful tenure. Likewise, Grayson is struggling at Sunderland due to finding just too much to do. He isn’t the first to suffer at the Stadium of Light – in turn, their win at Carrow Road may well have given them a false sense of what the season would become.
And yet, what Daniel Farke did in the previous international break was nothing short of phenomenal: being open-minded enough to ditch some of his key principles and making the new framework an instant success.
The organisation of his compact side is now akin to a well-oiled machine. The covering, closing down the ball, aggression – there’s plenty to admire.
In fact, simply making sure Middlesbrough couldn’t slide in behind a single through-ball for Britt Assombalonga would have been a minor miracle for City just last month.
Some of the personnel changes have helped too, of course. But it’s the coaching and framework that has genuinely impressed me this month – organisation personified, meshed with a spirit that makes you grateful for such improvement, as well as leaving you to wonder how far this City side could actually go.
• So Tuesday night made it three wins in three away games, coming in the space of 10 days.
It took nine months – excluding the non-active June and July – and 29 road trips for City fans to experience three victories before their latest run.
We are now seeing real trends this season, but some are more curious than others.
Such as City’s team bus appearing to arrive only 75 minutes before kick-off, and the fact City are always out for the second half several minutes after their hosts.
The more often these happen, the less accidental they appear. They also seem to be the most annoying for their opponents.
Imagine it: English clubs getting most annoyed about a lack of punctuality?
It’s a fine line of course, and some have already seen it all as disrespectful. But it does rather filter into the current trend that City aren’t winning friends. Fortunately, winning points is more fun.
• I remember speaking to Burnley’s head of European scouting and ex-City hero Ian Butterworth during the summer.
Huddersfield came up: “The manager knew the players (he brought in) and thought they could cope with the Championship, and he was spot on in his judgement – but if you’d have said to me Christopher Schindler was any better than anyone else, I’d have just said no he’s not.”
Flick to Norwich City, and Christoph Zimmermann was brought in to back-up all City’s existing centre-back options.
It’s from there the young man has dug in, won admirers, picked himself up from some humbling defeats – and now formed a formidable partnership with Timm Klose.
When Daniel Farke brought in his former Borussia Dortmund II captain as a free agent, her said: “Christoph knows he’s not in pole position when he comes here…He is perfect for the group. At Dortmund he got the group together and built a team spirit. I know we’ve got a really brilliant character with him.”
That says it all. He may have been just a fourth division German defender. He is far from that now.