Michael Bailey: Sometimes the cycle just inevitably breaks – but at least Norwich City are being proactive about what happens next
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It’s the S word. It kept popping up time and again, and not just this season: Sunderland. It’s always been Sunderland.
It was September 18 when it looked painfully clear the Black Cats – this time under David Moyes – were finally going to run out of lives and drop out of the Premier League.
So clear I tweeted it: “The Premier League. David Moyes. Only one of these two things will still be at the Stadium of Light come May.”
No doubt it helped that Norwich City wouldn’t be around to bail them out over the final weeks, given that is exactly what happened both in 2014 and 2016.
It’s almost impossible to imagine what the world would now look like had Alex Neil started with Nathan Redmond and City not been thrashed in a mid-April Premier League game that could have taken City seven points clear of the bottom three with four fixtures to play.
Now, if you think this is unnecessary wallowing in the past, then allow me to remind you that this is football. Wallowing in the past is part of the furniture.
We had a sizeable ‘what if?’ moment at Colney before Sunday’s season-ending QPR smash – when captain Russell Martin opened up over much, but most of all his belief that had Alex Neil been sacked sooner than March, City would have made the top six.
That will go down alongside the many and varied regrets that line the long and deep history of Norwich City Football Club.
Yet to bring the whole thing full circle, you wonder if there is some freedom that modern football supporters should look to embrace – freedom that those who have followed their club longer may feel more connected to.
“I can assure you, I hope I’m wrong. I hope City’s cycle doesn’t break and the yo-yo continues its momentum,” – my words before a ball was kicked, when I feared the lack of fresh energy at Carrow Road would mean Norwich’s cycle of Premier League relevance was going to suffer its most severe break since 2009.
And as proven with Sunderland, you really don’t have to wait for hindsight to be able to see where things are going.
In reality, football history says Norwich City were not going to immediately bounce back to the top flight every time they got relegated from it.
Much like the chances of Sunderland – there they are again – become a permanent fixture in the top flight.
The two clubs can now boast a record four Premier League relegations, alongside Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough.
And of course, there’s nothing to say Palace’s second-tier return isn’t just around the corner – because for all the money in the world, clubs have their life span in certain divisions.
If several of Watford, Bournemouth, Swansea, Burnley and even Stoke, West Ham, Leicester and West Brom avoid dropping out of the Premier League over the next 10 years, I would be amazed.
But of course, it’s far from fatalistic. Good choices and astute decisions will prolong your success and swerve exacerbating your failure.
Even despite such a needlessly frustrating season, City came down in good enough financial health to have given the Championship a real push. The issues they did have, came down to failures elsewhere.
Maybe more worthy of praise is the fact City are taking proactive steps to make their second shot at promotion a success – something that has often proven to be far harder to achieve than at the first time of asking.
On the same issues, Sunderland look like having a far greater job on their hands.
• I remember writing my final column last season and struggling to think of many highlights from all the football in yellow and green I’d seen – and none once 2016 arrived.
So at least most City supporters this time around will be able to recall some stunning goals and stunning games, in among the all too frequent lows.
From the Murphy twins finally taking their potential into the first team, to enough Wes Hoolahan magic to earn him player of the season. From Ivo Pinto’s consistency to Nelson Oliveira’s potency. And from Sunday’s superb reception for John Ruddy’s sad but inevitable departure, to the sight of Alex Pritchard single-handedly whetting the appetite going into next season.
If there is only one wish this summer, it’s to make sure Pritchard is at Carrow Road to build the team around next season – because Alex Neil’s inability to properly utilise that one signing while he was at the helm, raises serious questions he will need to answer if and when he returns to work elsewhere.